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The Lighthouse Stevensons

by Bella Bathurst, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

ISBN 0060932260 / 9780060932268 / 0-06-093226-0
Publisher Harper Perennial
Language English
Edition Softcover
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Book summary

"Whenever I smell salt water, I know that I am not far from one of the works of my ancestors." --Robert Louis Stevenson
The 14 lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland's most famous novelist. Surprised? Bella Bathurst throws a powerful, revolving light into the darkness of this historical tradition. Robert Louis was a sickly fellow, and--unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family--certainly not up to the astonishing rigors of lighthouse building, which is vividly described here. Constructing these towering structures in the most inhospitable places imaginable (such as the aptly named Cape Wrath), using only 19th-century technology, is an achievement that beggars belief. One thinks of the pyramid building of ancient Egypt. At the Skerryvore lighthouse, the ground rocks were prepared by hand (even though the "gneiss could blunt a pick in three blows") in waves and winds "strong enough to lift a man bodily off the rock" and that "it took 120 hours to dress a single stone for the outside of the tower, and 320 hours to dress one of the central stones. In total 5000 tons of stone were quarried and shipped"--and all by hand. It is mind-boggling stuff: you'll look at lighthouses with a new respect. --Adam Roberts, [via]