Allen Lane, £25, 396pp. £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

To The Ends Of The Earth: Scotland's Global Diaspora, By Tom Devine

Two hundred years ago, on 28 August 1811, the Rev Dr John Leyden, lawyer, soldier, folklorist, poet, linguist extraordinaire, died at Batavia (Jakarta) – of a chill contracted in the Dutch archives he had, with his laird Governor-General Lord Minto, just captured. "A distant and a deadly shore/ Holds LEYDEN's cold remains," mourned his friend Walter Scott, about to publish Waverley, the greatest of all historical novels - whose influence on imperialism Professor Devine presciently acknowledges.

Leyden doesn't appear in Tom Devine's book but somehow typifies it. The idea-image of a "diaspora" – originally a Jewish coinage – that implies gain as well as loss seems to fit a Scots story ranging from deserted sheilings to Andrew Carnegie's millions and the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which reversed the Diaspora. This multivalence is never entirely cleared up, but the book fascinates.

Devine excels in demographic and economic themes, reflecting two classic books with a Scots-imperial hinterland: JA Hobson's Imperialism, written in an early Scots settlement, Manchester; and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: written on Jura with a language, Gaelic, dying around him. Both are about the commodification of people, by capitalists or communists, and the unstable "surplus value" this creates.

Here Devine extends himself to manufacture, which figured only briefly in his Scotland's Empire. His key chapters – on slavery, technics and investment, and migration – are magisterial, particularly when compared to Niall Ferguson waffling about "Killer Apps" in Civilisation.

The idea of "diaspora" complicates rather than simplifies, particularly given Devine's conclusion that migration meant people becoming elastic rather than exiled. "Returners" were important, living feedback-loops, or like poor Leyden, vivid tabulators and reporters. Women had to manage much of this, and Devine (like the rest of us males) could do better. There is good stuff on their preponderant role in missionary work, but barely 20 index entries.

Devine is limited on literature and the "new church" of journalism, though they supplied the elastic. Thomas Carlyle produced that phrase, and it was the Americans who really discovered him. Other non-appearers: Rupert Murdoch, whose grandfather set out in 1886 to foster the Australian Free Kirk; prototype "Mad Man" David Ogilvie; the eminently sane JK Galbraith. Plenty of names are cited, but are there enough of the "ologies" that fired up the Leydens and produced useful synergies of cash and engineering with horticulture, stockbreeding and so on? In the 1870s, the New Zealand Scots combined the steam engine, the refrigerator and the clipper to start the chilled meat trade.

On the military dimension, Devine shrewdly interrogates the reputations. In and out of uniform, the Scots lived with a homeland whose low wages and poor housing propelled them abroad; while exported profit captured the land, and grew the trade, that enabled them to thrive. In 1861-71, other peoples' wars - in Europe and America - coincided with the Scots' great moment of iron, cables, and steam. They stretched it to 50 years. In the new lands, the English upper class replicated cathedral close, quarter-sessions and country estate; the Scots had the machine shop, technical college and public library.

The most recent diaspora has been that of the "offshoremen". They are now to be found wherever oil can be (increasingly riskily) pumped out of the deep, but return to a near-deindustrialised country. Devine explains why, ending intriguingly on the boom in Scots-American heritage. The Alex Salmond SNP government in Edinburgh has staked a lot on "homecoming", though you reach the Catalan-designed Holyrood parliament down a bizarre Royal Mile of tartan-tat shops run by engaging Sikhs with accents broader than the Forth, who would certainly have held their own on Kipling's Grand Trunk Road.

Scots deployed synoptic ideas on efficiency and economy, but also in simple, sensible things like Sanford Fleming's time zones and the marvel of MacMillan and Dunlop's safety bicycle. Did the relentless US nemesis begin in Vietnam, where its hi-tech billions faced "these little guys pushing bikes who just kept on coming, moving thousands of tons", as a US strategist put it after the defeat?

The last Scots shipyards are building two aircraft-carriers commissioned by Gordon Brown, supported by the Scots-Irish Tory Liam Fox, and indeed by Salmond. The previous "Prince of Wales" was sunk off Malaya in 1942 by Japanese bombers. Their builder and its founder? Mitsubishi and Thomas Glover of Fraserburgh: another of Devine's men.

Christopher Harvie's most recent book is 'Broonland' (Verso)

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders