An exciting new edition of Bella Bathurst's epic story of Robert Louis Stevenson's ancestors and the building of the Scottish coastal lighthouses against impossible odds. 'Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors,' wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in 1880. 'When the lights come out at sundown along the shores of Scotland, I am proud to think they burn more brightly for the genius of my father!' Robert Louis Stevenson was the most famous of the Stevensons, but not by any means the most productive.
The Lighthouse Stevensons, all four generations of them, built every lighthouse round Scotland, were responsible for a slew of inventions in both construction and optics, and achieved feats of engineering in conditions that would be forbidding even today.
The same driven energy which Robert Louis Stevenson put into writing, his ancestors put into lighting the darkness of the seas.
The Lighthouse Stevensons is a story of high endeavour, beautifully told; indeed, this is one of the most celebrated works of historical biography in recent memory.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 304 pages, 16 b/w illus
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 07/03/2005
- Category: Maritime history
- ISBN: 9780007204434
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Review by Helenliz
This is as much a hymn to Scottish lighthouses as a biography of the family who built them. As the author acknowledges in the introduction, this can't be a complete biography of the Stevenson family, that would simply be too long. Instead it concentrates on those members who built the lighthouses and looks at the lighthouses they built. The complicating factor is that one of their number wasn't an engineer, he was Robert Louis Stevenson and he's famous for an entirely different sphere of work. He wrote a book about his family, and that is referenced, several times. Individually the Stevensons are a mixed lot, some are nicer than others, some are more suited to being an engineer of this kind than others, but they all manage to be interesting, and the tales of the lighthouses they built (and which still stand) are on a common theme, but all present with different challenges. The book does tail off, with the next generation being introduced, but they are not followed beyond their youth. I didn't realise that (at the time of writing) lighthouses were still being built, with three being added in recent years for the oil tankers that ply the North sea. This manages to be interesting and informative about quite a specialist subject. It sets their achievements against the technical and social background of the task at hand and describes how the issues were overcome. It is limited in scope to just those of the family with a part in the family business, but it acknowledges that at the start - a complete biography of 4 generations of a family would be extensive. This is well worth reading.