In 1969, John McPhee moved his family from New Jersey across the Atlantic to live in the land of his forefathers, the island of Colonsay – seventeen square miles of dew and damp twenty-five miles off the coast of Scotland. They rented a crofthouse, his children enrolled at the local school, and they soon were accepted into this tightly circumscribed community of 138 people.
Intertwining history and legend, McPhee gives us a comprehensive portrait of this remote and misty land. He battles the fierce gales on the outer shoals of the Ardskenish Peninsula, listens to the crofters complain of the laird over drams in the island’s sole pub, and meets perhaps the last of the Great Highland bagpipers.
A blend of anthropology and travelogue, The Crofter and the Laird presents us with a perfect mirror of daily-life in the Highlands. McPhee writes with insight, sensitivity, and fondness for these hardy people – resulting in an account that’s as honest, humorous, and frank as the locals themselves.
‘McPhee brings to his book about the island of Colonsay in the Scottish Hebrides a visual precision and a grace of language that are quite rare.’ – Harper’s
‘A small masterpiece of penetrating warmth and perception.’ – Time
‘One always has the sense with McPhee of a man at a pitch of pleasure in his work, a natural at it, finding out on behalf of the rest of us how some portion of the world works.’ – New York Times
‘Quite astonishing. And even the Gaelic names are spelt correctly. The book is in many ways unusually frank and the portraits incisive … neither sentimental nor judgmental, but clear-cut and sensible.’ – Iain Crichton Smith