Serious Minds

The Extraordinary Haldanes of Cloan

October 2022 9781787387928 424pp, 24 colour illus
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The Haldanes were a dynasty of Scottish polymaths. The Times hailed Richard Burdon Haldane as ‘one of the most powerful, subtle and encyclopaedic intellects’ British statesmanship had ever seen. His brother John, a great physiologist, invented the first gas masks used in World War One. Their sister Elizabeth was among the first women to become a senior public servant. Nurturing these exceptional minds was their mother Mary, friend and advisor to politicians and churchmen including the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mary’s grandchildren may have travelled from her traditional roots to radical socialism, but they continued the family legacy of brilliance. Naomi Mitchison was a doyenne of Scottish literature, while one Nobel prizewinner called her brother, the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, ‘the cleverest man I ever knew’. Like the Darwins or the Keyneses, this clan of leading thinkers lived in rapidly changing times, and helped to remake the world around them.

Drawing on extensive family interviews and previously unseen private papers, Serious Minds weaves a tale of scandal, tragedy and intrigue within a dynasty that shaped modern Britain–from the welfare state, the education system and military power, to our understanding of energy, the human body, and the origins of life itself.


Richard McLauchlan is a Scottish writer, educated at the Universities of St Andrews and Cambridge. He collaborated with John Campbell on acclaimed biography Haldane, also published by Hurst, and has written on the Welsh poet R.S. Thomas, in Saturday's Silence. Richard co-founded the educational charity Light Up Learning.  

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