The Immeasurable Wilds – Alastair Mitchell
by Ceri Patterson-Nairn The Immeasurable Wilds an engrossing read; I discovered this with some surprise as I am not someone who is normally absorbed by non-fiction. I anticipated it being interesting, certainly; however, I expected to skim and scan, pick it up and put it down. I thought I would delve into a chapter because I liked the sound of it or search the pages for places I have been to. That I would seek a connection to the book through something relatable or to learn more about a particular area of interest. However, unusually, I started right at the beginning and I’m very glad I did. Often, books which are written to educate end up excluding people. This may be because of the ‘Curse of Knowledge’ which makes experts assume everyone has a basic understanding of their subject and so they skip over details that give context and help put the jigsaw together in the reader’s mind. Other times, the language can be unnecessarily complicated and used to gatekeep knowledge. I have been put off by both in the past when doing research of my own. I think this is why The Immeasurable Wilds is so engaging; it never assumes.
Mitchell writes each chapter as though it is a narrative, breaking up data heavy sections with well selected quotations from his meticulously researched sources. Skilfully weaving them together with respect for the subject matter and the occasional use of wit, with occasional signposting of what’s to come to help bridge the gaps between chapters. Incredibly, the (not insignificant) research carried out for the book was (as he mentions in the acknowledgments) ‘a solitary effort’. He breathes life into the accompanying sketches and photographs of the great rocky outcrops of the far North, the hostile sea, and the proud people. He describes the incredible efforts of the early surveyors leaving you feeling a mixture of awe at what they accomplished mingled with anger on behalf of the people who lived in these wild spaces. The chapters follow a clear path, he navigates you deftly through centuries of Scotland’s history with the thread of commodification, displacement, and profit sitting clearly throughout.
Whether you have an interest in Scotland’s landscape or her history, or if you are looking to read an informative text that reads like a novel; you will not be disappointed. Ceri Patterson-Nairn