The late poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman, said that Edinburgh was the most beautiful city in Europe. Like some other great cities it is set on seven hills. But only one of these, Rome, rivals Edinburgh in matching the beauty of its setting with the stateliness of its buildings. A romantic landscape of sea and hills, broad vistas and hidden corners is embellished by a style of architecture combining stern classicism with antiquarian whimsy. Edinburgh, too, provides the backdrop to much of the dark drama of the Scottish past, but the 1,500 year history of the city itself deserves wider telling. Long ruled by a strait-laced professional bourgeoisie, Edinburgh never suppressed a livelier side, peopled by figures comic or brutal, eccentric or gruesome.
Michael Fry, who has lived and worked there for nearly 40 years, provides a compellingly readable account of this great city, from the earliest times to the present, balancing Edinburgh's cultural, political and social history, and shows how they have borne on one another. He draws on a wide range of untapped archival sources, especially private papers and oral records, and paints a vivid picture of the city of John Knox and James Boswell, of David Hume and Walter Scott, a city – that like Stevenson's Dr Jekyll – is both dark and light, both Auld Reekie and the Athens of the North.