Issue 218
September/October 2021


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Sep 27, 2021

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ArtWork Newspaper Issue 217
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The Rev. Stirling's revolution

THERE ARE ONLY three things worth addressing in a short review of this book about Stirling engines by Pip Hills. First: what is a Stirling engine? second who is Pip Hills? and thirdly, is the book any good? So here goes.

First the engine can best be explained by the story of the author buying one off a stall in the Portobello Road. It was basically a tube attached to a fly wheel and he discovered that if you heated the tube over a gas stove the wheel went round. Heat being turned into mechanical energy.

He investigated it and found that not only had this machine been invented two hundred odd years previously by a Scottish Minister of religion called Stirling but that the current world, desperate for new cleaner sources of energy were discovering that this simple device was quite extraordinarily efficient and having been largely ignored for the last hundred years was now highly relevant to modern needs in everything from cars to space craft.

So who was this Stirling and who is my friend Pip Hills? Well strangely they seem to be rather similar to each other. Both come from traditional Scottish working class backgrounds and made the most of what was once amongst the best educational systems in the world.

Stirling was a farmer's son who went on to be a minister of the kirk. Pip, the son of a Bo'ness docker, was a successful accountant who went on to revolutionise the Scottish whisky industry by starting the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and bringing the delights of unfiltered malts to the attention of the public.

One of the many delights of the book is that Pip is no scientist and so able to communicate in plain and simple language the story of how Stirling, who again was no scientist, managed to invent and deliver a machine that played an important part in the industrial revolution.

As well as being the story of a man and his machine, this book is also a story of Scotland at its peak, not only as a cultural entity that led the world, but also as an industrial power, with both being fed by an educational system that gave opportunities to the able. It's a tale worth telling and exquisitely told. Anyone with an interest in the energy crisis should buy it.

The Star Drive. Phillip Hills. Birlinn. £14.99.

MAXWELL MACLEOD


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