Serious Minds

The Extraordinary Haldanes of Cloan

October 2022 9781787387928 424pp, 24 colour illus
Available as an eBook
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The Times hailed Richard Burdon Haldane as ‘one of the most powerful … 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. Their mother Mary, friend and advisor to top politicians and churchmen, nurtured these exceptional minds.

Mary’s grandchildren swapped her traditional roots for radical socialism, but continued the brilliant family legacy. Naomi Mitchison was a doyenne of Scottish literature; one Nobel prizewinner called her brother, the geneticist J.B.S. Haldane, ‘the cleverest man I ever knew’. Like the Darwins and Keyneses, this clan of 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 details scandal, tragedy and achievement within a dynasty that shaped modern Britain–from the welfare state, education system and military, to our understanding of energy, the human body, and the origins of life itself.


‘The Haldane family is a phenomenon to this day. . . Now their achievements have been chronicled by Richard McLauchlan, whose book Serious Minds charts their astonishing range. . . Remarkable.’ — The Times

‘In this ambitious biography Richard McLauchlan looks back over two centuries and explores the Haldane family’s influence on British law, politics, science and social welfare. . . . McLauchlan tells their stories with verve.’ — TLS

‘[A] riveting biography.’ — Morning Star

‘Superbly researched … this excellent family history effortlessly weaves its way through two centuries of societal change.’ — Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine

‘Lucid and witty, and… based on impressive new scholarship… this excellent book is also a threnody for a Scotland that has irrecoverably passed.’ — Scottish Affairs

‘A refreshing and very stimulating read, covering a vast canvas in an effortless way.’ — Sir Anthony Seldon, British political biographer

‘An engaging and uplifting account of one of Britain’s greatest intellectual dynasties.’ — Brendan Simms, Professor of the History of International Relations, University of Cambridge, and author of Britain’s Europe

‘A story that needed telling: the achievements of the extraordinary and eccentric Haldane family are woven into the past two centuries of British history.’ — Sir Roderic Lyne, former British Ambassador to Russia

‘Richard McLauchlan revives with gusto the rich connected stories of this extraordinary family. A wonderful weaving together of so many brightly coloured threads.’ — Sir Tim Hitchens, President of Wolfson College, University of Oxford

‘A great read. The female Haldanes in particular are an object lesson in what women can achieve, whatever obstacles are put in their way, yet also of how higher education transformed possibilities for women in the course of just a few generations.’ — Alison Rose, Principal of Newnham College, University of Cambridge

‘Lively, interesting, and very well researched, weaving together a tapestry of anecdote and achievement, full of life’s colour and texture.’ — Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History, University of Cambridge


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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