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London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd

London: The Biography (2000)

by Peter Ackroyd

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Very engaging read. I love walking London, and this introduced me to some places unfamiliar to me. The stories he told were fascinating, and made old things come alive again with depth and interest. Good book. Well written. Informative. Definitely worth re-reading, too. ( )
  Crotchetymama | Feb 20, 2014 |
Atrociously bad. It could be turned into a drinking game -- drink any time Ackroyd uses fallacious logic or uses a completely unrelated and non-universal example to "prove" an absurd point. Of course, then you'd have alcohol poisoning by the end of the first chapter.

If his thesis were that London, as a city, has a particular culture unlike other cities in Britain, then this book might be an interesting amble through different elements of that culture. However, his thesis is that the city itself, in its pavement, sewer systems, buildings, etc., literally speak to the residents and dictate their ways of life.

Yes, that is exactly as crazycakes as it sounds. Up to including his claim that the actual tarmac of the street told the poor, nonwhite protestors to riot against their white oppressors. Also, there's the constant impossible superlativing, making ridiculous claims that London was the first city ever to do ______ in all of history. As if Rome and other ancient metropolises had never been. Calling it shoddy scholarship is generous.

This book IS kind of interesting as an adjunct to Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London series, if you pretend London is actually fiction. I only made myself finish the book because the anecdotes he paraphrases are fascinating. Sadly, there are no footnotes or endnotes, and he doesn't list his sources for particular stories, so this book is pretty useless as a diving off point into something better.

So...yay badly quoted anecdotes? ( )
  sageness | Feb 7, 2014 |
Wow, this thing is massive! I got the hardback used, not realizing that I could use it to do weight lifting. So I was probably silly not to get the ebook (it was a cost thing). Still I can't wait to start this, as I've had a long love affair with the city. If I can finish this by December this is just the sort of thing my father would love as well - but finishing it in that time seems a bit of a stretch.
  bookishbat | Sep 25, 2013 |
First, let it be said, that at almost 800 pages, this book is, perhaps, 500 pages too long. In spite of its curious subtitle "The Biography", there is almost no chronology here. Rather, it is more of a pageant, parade, or slideshow, with each chapter covering a small topic in turn. Within the chapters there is a prodigious amount of information. Ackroyd wants to stress the continuities of London and his presentation is aggressively non-chronological, sometimes skipping forward and backwards by centuries multiple times within one paragraph. One can almost see the thousands of note cards stacked in order, each one waiting for its little commentary. Indeed, if something can be said once, Ackroyd is likely to say it three or four times with a portentousness that outweighs the analysis. While very interesting, I don't know what this book is: it's too rambling and chaotic to be history, not analytic enough to be sociology, and not personal enough to be memoir. ( )
1 vote sjnorquist | Sep 5, 2013 |
Part history, part homage, London: The Biography tells the story of London from its mythical beginnings to the end of the 20th century. The opening chapters, from prehistory to the middle ages, are conventionally chronological, as are the closing chapters from roughly 1880 to 1999. Everything between is thematically organized, though there is a general chronological drift. There are chapters on food, prisons, mobs, children, plagues, trade, fires, smells, sounds and so forth--over sixty topics in all.

Though Ackroyd's history gives the impression of being based on sound research, he writes more from a novelist's perspective about ideas, feelings of identity, and cultural traditions. Most of the quotes he offers come from the fiction or travel writings of literary figures rather than histories and biographies. This is a history that will especially please those with an interest in literature and local heritage; it's likely to disappoint those who want to learn London's place in the larger picture of British or European history.

There are several sections of black and white and color plates, as well as a couple of rudimentary maps. One could wish for more, especially when specific paintings or photographs are mentioned in the text but not included in the illustrations. Instead of footnotes and bibliography there is a twelve-page essay on sources. All of the sources appear to be previously published works; the book makes no claim to include original research. There is an index, but it is not comprehensive. When I tried to find the first reference to Whitehall, I discovered that the term is omitted.

London: The Biography is highly readable, entertaining and imaginative. It is meant for popular rather than scholarly consumption, and its informal thematic organization may frustrate those who want to learn more about a particular period in London's history. The author's love for his subject is obvious and occasionally carries him away. He is apt to see mystical connections where there is only coincidence, and the notion "only in London" is overused. But Ackroyd makes a convincing case that London is not only a great city, but perhaps the greatest, and one whose history and heritage are certainly worth our attention. ( )
5 vote StevenTX | Aug 18, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
London is what was meant to be, secured across the centuries in a multiplicity of races, ways and tongues. You could not re-create it; you cannot destroy it. This London is our London, and if you want to know it better, to see it with eyes wide open, then Ackroyd is your indispensable companion.
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For Iain Johnston and Frederick Nicholas Robertson
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If you were to touch the plinth upon which the equestrian statue of King Charles I is placed, at Charing Cross, your fingers might rest upon the projecting fossils of sea lilies, starfish, or sea urchins.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385497717, Paperback)

Here are two thousand years of London’s history and folklore, its chroniclers and criminals and plain citizens, its food and drink and countless pleasures. Blackfriar’s and Charing Cross, Paddington and Bedlam. Westminster Abbey and St. Martin in the Fields. Cockneys and vagrants. Immigrants, peasants, and punks. The Plague, the Great Fire, the Blitz. London at all times of day and night, and in all kinds of weather. In well-chosen anecdotes, keen observations, and the words of hundreds of its citizens and visitors, Ackroyd reveals the ingenuity and grit and vitality of London. Through a unique thematic tour of the physical city and its inimitable soul, the city comes alive.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:15 -0400)

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A chronicle of the city from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century discusses its ability to grow and change, and describes stories of London's wealthy streets and impoverished alleys.

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