Ian McIntyre's biography, published to mark the bicentenary of Burns's death, strips away myth and legend and explores what lies beneath. It is based meticulously on documentary and archival sources, and uses only the first-hand testimony of those who knew the man. It sets Burns in his historical context, and paints both his emotional life and his political views in vivid colours. On public matters he had no difficulty in holding simultaneously two views that were contradictory.
In his private life he could be effortlessly in love with several women at the same time, appallingly cruel one moment, wonderfully tender the next.
McIntyre offers a more extensive evaluation of Burns's songs and poetry than most previous biographers. He stresses the importance and quality of the satirical verse, as well as the haunting love poems for which Scotland's 'bard' is best known. In an illuminating final chapter, he examines the extraordinary ramifications assumed after the death of the poet by the Burns legend, a fantastical 'afterlife' bearing little resemblance to biographical reality.