Robb has a good eye for the small and seemingly ordinary things that convey a sense of remoteness —of place and time ... Robb intercuts the past and present, the intimate and the impersonal, to wonderful effect. Few authors write so well about things lost and neglected—or have such sharp ears and eyes for the natural world.
Graham Robb’s book offers the story of the Debatable Land, but at the same time it’s the account of his own explorations and reflections there ... Robb—a graceful and imaginative writer—describes vividly the frozen rivers, the flash floods, the cruel winds, and the general hardiness required of the traveler ... [Robb's book is] luminously observant...introspective...rich with anecdotes and scholarly reading ... But when it comes to politics...less convincing ... The final part of Graham Robb’s book is less accessible ... Toward the end of The Debatable Land, Robb wheels off into ingenious but perilously high-wire historical speculations ... His enthusiasm and his delight in his own wide-reaching research are likable. But there’s something of Jeddart justice in his handling of historical evidence: hoist the conclusion first and then select any data that back it up. In the same way, his vision of the Debatable Land as a melting pot in which Scots and English could become a single people doesn’t reflect the gathering flow of nationality politics in both countries.
No one can say Robb is not brave ... The border lands were my home for a while; he catches their introversion beautifully ... I am inclined to indulge him his kite flying about the wretched Celts. He has earned the romance. His skill as a writer is to understand, without being fey, the fourth dimension: peeling back the modern landscape to find buried stories and forgotten paths, metaphors for life. He has the ability to bring alive quirk and coincidence—although sometimes too much—in the resonance of place and time.