Last Updated on August 18, 2023 by Louisa
Scotland’s mesmerizing landscapes, culture, and long-standing history dating back more than a thousand years are what make this country a hauntingly beautiful setting for literature.
For us bookworms, books set in Scotland offer tales of mystery, bloody and fascinating history, and sometimes fairytale-like fantasy.
Fictional Scottish novels tend to be full of darkness and suspense, which is perfect for those who love to dive into a suspenseful thriller novel or two.
There are so many must-read novels set in Scotland that you could fill a whole library, and we couldn’t possibly list them all.
However, I have listed what I believe to be the absolute best of Scottish literature. Go take a look…
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Non-Fiction Books Set in Scotland
The best way to understand a country and its culture is through non-fiction books. So I’ll begin my list with the best non-fiction books about Scotland.
These books have been crafted by some of the best Scottish authors and offer a glimpse into the life and landscape of this fascinating land.
1. A History of Scotland – Neil Oliver
A History of Scotland is a Scottish history book that takes readers on a captivating journey through Scotland’s long and epic history.
Learn about the foundation of the country, its origin, and the political action throughout its history.
Scotland’s history is as long as it is bloody, and you’ll soon learn about the intense drama and the violence that Scotland has gone through in the past, as well as the events that shape the modern nation it is today.
You’ll learn all the iconic landmarks, historical architecture, Scottish myths, and iconic battles alongside the growth of patriotism, political developments, and ultimately, the nation’s sense of identity.
2. The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
The Diary of a Bookseller is a much-loved Scottish autobiography that tells of the life of Shaun Bythell, owner of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop.
His bookshop contains an insane amount of books, 100,000 to be exact.
Bythell has a humorous take on the trials and tribulations of his life in the book-seller trade.
It is a rollercoaster of a journey but one that is full of passion, love of literature, and authentic Scottish culture.
As you learn about Bythell’s life, you’ll meet Scotland’s delightfully odd locals, the unusual bookshop staff, and eccentric customers.
He also shares some buying tips for tourists visiting Scotland.
3. Daunderlust – Peter Ross
Daunderlust is a Scottish travel book that combines a collection of articles full of insight and wit, offering a piece-by-piece portrait of Scotland as it evolves through time.
Rather than big alterations and hugely defining moments in Scotland’s history, it presents the less well-known events in the country.
It defines Scotland to be a hopeful country that is made up of great people who live, love, laugh, and graft there.
Get ready to weep tears of sadness, joy, and laughter when you opt for reading this epic book set in Scotland!
4. Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart – John Guy
Another Scottish biography worth your bookshelf is Queen of Scots by John Guy, a biography of the most famous monarch in Scottish history.
Mary Stuart, famously known as Bloody Mary, was one of Scotland’s most famous women. In this book set in medieval Scotland, you get an intimate and fascinating characterization of her life.
It dispels the popular image of the queen as a romantic leading lady that achieves success through her powerful feminine ways.
Instead, lead by the author’s pioneering research and superbly readable prose, the novel succeeds in decoding a very complex, sophisticated, and almighty woman as a ruler.
This historical fiction book set in Scotland is both fascinating and utterly gripping.
Get your tissues ready, for this biography will pull on your heartstrings and leave you inspired to embody generosity.
It’s the moving true tale of a poor farm boy, Andrew Erwing, who earned his fortune by building a quintessential grocery empire, before giving it all away in his final ambition to die poor.
The story has been made up of many lovely stories from the customers and employees, affirming what an extraordinary man Andrew Erwing was.
6. Calum’s Road – Roger Hutchinson
Calum’s Road is a Scottish biography about one man’s determination to follow his dreams.
Beautifully written, and incredibly emotional, its pages are full of adventure and emotion.
As you read, you unravel the life of Calum MacLeod, a resident of Raasay, Scotland, who sets out on an endeavor to build a 1 ¾ mile-long road linking Arnish, (his home) to Brochel and the around the world.
By doing so, he hopes to preserve and revitalize his beloved home.
Packed with integrity, fortitude, and compassion, alongside the wonderful Scotland scenery – this is by far the most heart-warming Scottish novel.
7. The Shetland Bus – David Howarth
This iconic history book is an interesting first-hand account by David Howarth, second in command of the Shetland base during WWII, as he attempts to rescue Norwegians after the Nazi invasion.
In this biography, he recounts the hundreds of fishing boat trips he made in the dark, over the Arctic Ocean, in an attempt to resist the Nazi onslaught attacking Norway at the time.
The Shetland Bus is based in the Shetland Islands, and details the heroic account of not only Dabid Howarth, but the men fleeing Norway through dangerous storms, ship attacks, dangerous conditions, and more, to escape Nazi-Occupied Norway.
It is beautifully written, and absolutely insightful. Perfect for those who are fond of true historical novels.
8. Rebus’s Scotland – Ian Rankin
This is a Scottish biography, guidebook, and travel memoir in one.
As Ian Rankin unravels the places in Scotland that inspired his bestselling novel, Rebus.
It takes you on a journey through the side of Scotland tourists never see.
It’ll make you forget what you classically know about Scotland, and be replaced with a gritty, dark, Stoic nation you’ll end up loving even more.
Complete with over 100 evocative photographs, it’s the perfect book for fans of Ian Rankin.
9. Sea Room: An Island Life in the Hebrides – Adam Nicolson
Sea Room is a Scottish non-fiction novel that is written in a part memoir style. It has the makings of a travel book, combined with a science reference journal.
In this radiant and powerful book about travel and self discovery, Adam Nicolson describes his love affair with an enchantingly gorgeous property.
He inherited at the age of twenty-one in the Outer Hebrides, a selection of 600 uninhabited islands off the coast of Scotland.
As the islands grew to become the most vital thing in his life – they began to offer him more than an escape, but a sea room – a sailing term used to describe the feeling of enlargement that island life can generate for you.
10. The Crofter and the Laird – John McPhee
The Crofter and the Laird is a thoughtful and heartwarming Scottish autobiography with some travel memoirs thrown into the mix.
Set in the 1960s, when John McPhee decided to return to the land of his ancestors, the island of Colonsay in Scotland, the story unravels the life and times of those living on rural Scottish islands.
As you read, you learn more about the relationship between the landowner (the laird) and the tenants (the crofters).
The book is a quick read but it is filled in abundance with Scottish history, reflections on the landscape, and philosophical lessons about the way of life.
Fiction Books Set in Scotland
I mentioned before that books set in Scotland tend to be full of mystery, suspense, and dark thrillers.
Well, now let’s look at some of the most well-loved fictional Scottish literature.
11. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
First on the list is a Scottish fantasy and romance novel that is an international bestseller and a much-loved Scottish novel.
It is set around the time of the Second World War and follows the journey of a nurse, Claire Beauchamp, who travels through time to 18th-century Scotland where she finds herself in a series of thrilling adventures and romance.
It has themes of love, resilience, compassion, and women empowerment.
12. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
Trainspotting is a timeless classic. It’s a dark comedy and bizarrely written piece of Scottish literature that has been described as “the voice of a punk who has grown up, grown wiser, and grown eloquent.”
It’s made up of a series of short stories that centers on various residents of Leith Edinburg, who either use heroin, are friends of heroin users, or engage in destructive activities that are effectively addictions.
The characters are colorful and interesting, and the novel is unfailing in giving a fascinating exploration of political and social marginality.
It was also turned into a motion picture starring Ewan McGregor, so it’s no wonder this book has such a high reputation.
13. To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
To The Lighthouse is a fictional book set in Scotland about modernism.
The story follows the Ramsay family and their visits to the Isle of Skye in Scotland around 1910 and 1920.
The plot is a philosophical introspection, full of thoughts and observations.
It recalls childhood emotions, adult relationships, and marriage, and covers themes such as loss, subjectivity, the nature of art, and the problem of perception.
14. The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan
The Bookshop on the Corner is a Scottish romance novel that everyone can relate to.
It reminds us that while books can give us an escape from the world without human connection, we may miss out on life.
It follows the story of Nina Redmond, a matchmaker who lost her job but is determined to make a new life for herself.
She begins to change one life after another with the power of storytelling.
Soon she learns that she can write her own happy ending, not just for other people.
15. Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Macbeth is a world-famous Scottish tragedy novel made by one of the greatest writers to have ever lived, William Shakespeare.
This novel is a violent caution to those seeking power for its own sake, and to this day, it still hails as one of Shakespeare’s most popular and influential masterpieces.
It entails the life of General Macbeth who encounters three witches foretelling he’ll become king of Scotland.
Seeing the prophecy then led him to greed, paranoia, tyranny, madness, and eventually, murder.
16. The Anthology of Scottish Folk Tales – Donald Smith
If you’re looking for Scottish books on mythology, fantasy, and fairytale that reveals the best of Scotland’s folklore and legends.
It’s an enchanting compilation of stories that combines all the legends from Scotland in one special volume.
It gives readers an insight into the stories behind Scotland’s beliefs, customs, and dialects.
If you are yearning to learn more about Scottish culture, this book will enlighten you.
17. Winter Solstice – Rosamunde Pilcher
Winter Solstice is a warm, uncomplicated, and delightful novel that tells the story of five different people, who’s lives become intertwined around the winter solstice.
Told through the perspective of these five different people, the story tells of how these five strangers come together after a tragedy strikes in a neglected estate in the Scottish fishing town of Craegan.
It has powerful themes of love, loyalty, and rebirth.
18. The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith is a crime and mystery novel set in Scotland about a curious philosopher and female detective on the hunt for answers.
Isabel is fond of problems that, quite frankly, are none of her business. She is irrepressibly curious and has an unstoppable thirst for finding the truth about everything.
After she sees a man fall to his death from the upper balcony of a concert hall in Edinburgh, despite the protests of the people around her, Isabel goes on a quest to learn the truth about what happened to him.
Not only is this an action-packed book set in Scotland, but it also offers a glimpse into Scottish culture and landscapes.
Another popular book by Alexander McCall Smith that I love is 44 Scotland Street, if you have already read The Sunday Philosophy Club.
19. Pine – Francine Toon
If you’re into suspense, then this contemporary thriller and crime novel set in the Scottish Highlands should be next on your reading list.
It follows the life of Lauren and her father Nial who live in a small village in the Scottish Highlands, which is surrounded by pine forests and no more.
Where they live, mysterious deaths and disappearances have become a normal way of life.
But after local teen Ann-Marie goes missing, Lauren wants to find out why.
It gives readers a peek into the unsettling possibilities of life in a small town at the edge of the world.
A perfect suspenseful horror story and a crime novel to keep you on the edge of your seat.
20. Girl Meets Boy – Ali Smith
Girl Meets Boy is a Scottish romance, feminism, queer, and contemporary book that is unfailingly funny, freshly poetic, and political.
The story follows Andrea, who falls head over heels for Robin, a gender-fluid protester.
Andrea’s sister then struggles to come to an acceptance of both their relationship and her own self-esteem.
While the book is about all forms of love. The story is old, but it’s told through the ideas of gender-fluid characters and the LGBTQ perspective, which is a story not often written in today’s society – making this novel more prevalent today.
21. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson is a highly acclaimed Scottish novelist, essayist, poet, and travel writer.
His most famous works are The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.
One of my favorite books by Stevenson is Treasure Island, which tells the story of pirates, explorers, and “buccaneers and buried gold”
The story follows the adventures of Jim Hawkins as he searches for the buried treasure of an evil pirate, Captain Flint.
22. The Waverley Novels – Sir Walter Scott
Another classic Scottish novelist is Sir Walter Scott, who was known for his poems and plays.
His most famous works were The Waverley Novels, or ‘Tis Sixty Years Since which is a series of historical novels about an English gentleman, Edward Waverley, who joins the army just before the Jacobite uprising of 1745.
When he’s on leave from army training, he visits his friends and family back in Scotland, where his head is full of romantic notions. He also finds himself hanging out with loyalists of the House of Stuart and the Stuart prince, Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Whilst standing in the middle of two sides of an uprising, he falls in love with two women and has to choose one.
Although the novels were originally published anonymously, they are a marvelous piece of 18th-century literature and some of Sir Walter Scott’s best work.
23. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
If you’re looking for exciting books about Scotland, then you’ll like The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The story is set at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, where a teacher and extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie works.
She’s unmistakably outspoken and passionate about her unorthodox teaching methods, and she wants to bring out the best in her students.
She strives to teach them independence, passion, and ambition. And while some of the students love her, one of them will betray her…
24. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks
If you’re looking for science fiction Scottish books, you’re going to love The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
It’s a coming-of-age story about a 16-year-old boy named Frank who lives with his father in a remote Scottish village.
They live an unconventional life after his mother abandoned them years ago and his elder brother was sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Frank vents his frustrations through strange acts of violence, which bizarrely offer him some solace.
When his brother escapes from the hospital, Frank has to prepare for his brother’s inevitable return, which comes with it a whole host of mysteries.
25. Lanark – Alasdair Gray
This is the debut novel by Scottish author, Alasdair Gray. It was originally published in 1981, and has since been hailed as the most influential Scottish book of the late 20th century.
With a writing style similar to Dante, William Blake, James Joyce, and Lewis Carroll, Lanark is a must-read for anyone who loves classic literature and poetic prose.
The story follows a man named Lanark, who wakes in a subterranean hospital cured of his affliction. But despite his protests, he’s forced to act as a doctor.
He then meets a former lover who he cures of her apparent terminal dragonskin.
This is both a mystical, fantasy book and an odyssey of literature.
26. The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan
The Panopticon is the debut novel by Scottish author, Jenni Fagan. It follows a fifteen-year-old Anais Hendricks, who has been arrested and is on her way to Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders.
Only she’s not sure what happened. All she knows is a police officer is in a coma and her school uniform was covered in blood.
Raised in foster care from birth, she has been in 23 homes before turning seven. Anais has been let down by every adult she has ever met and can only rely on herself.
Though strangely, she finds a sense of belonging at Panopticon – they form intense bonds, and she soon becomes part of an ad hoc family.
As the adults confine them, she learns to live life in prison. Though soon she realizes she is, and always was, part of an experiment.
27. Knots and Crosses (The Inspector Rebus Series) – Ian Rankin
One of the most famous Scottish books are The Inspector Rebus series, beginning with Knots and Crosses.
The series follows Detective John Rebus as he unravels a series of baffling murders, whilst also being tied to a maniac by an invisible knot of blood.
With ghoulish killings mounting up and tabloid headlines screaming, Rebus must hurry to put together all the pieces of the puzzle.
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Final Thoughts on Best Books Set in Scotland
Scottish authors are some of the world’s best writers, and these novels effortlessly capture the essence of Scottish culture.
In my list of the best Scottish novels, I am sure you will find one or two novels that will make you fall in love with Scotland.
But if you’re still not sure, I would personally recommend Calum’s road. This is a heartwarming tale set in Scotland about a man fighting for his dreams. It reminds us that if your determination is strong enough, your dreams will come true.
Do you have a favorite book from my list? Let me know in the comments.