The Lighthouse Stevensons, Bella Bathurst

This work is not quite a biography and not quite a history. It tells the story of the Stevenson family, the most famous member of which is Robert Louis Stevenson. This book focuses on the family business of engineering and, more specifically, lighthouse building, that Robert Louis rejected in favour of a literary career.

Oddly enough, this book reminded me of George Mackay Brown’s Beside the Ocean of Time, because it is very much tied to specific locations, although in this case those locations are Edinburgh and Scotland’s coasts. I had never really paid much attention to lighthouses before, but I really enjoyed this book. The drama and complexity of building a structure in some of the most treacherous conditions in the UK were well-represented, as was the family story played out relating to Robert Louis Stevenson’s ancestors. It also painted a fascinating picture of mid-nineteenth century Edinburgh society, describing certain aspects of the Scottish temperament that still exist in a more mellow form today. This book helped me understand more clearly the importance of engineering in Scotland’s history and gave me a deeper appreciation for those who worked to establish lighthouse building in Scotland.


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