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In search of London (1951)

by H. V. Morton

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1694116,869 (3.95)7
H. V. Morton turns his traveler's intuition and his reporter's eye for detail to the city that has fascinated him since childhood--London past, present, and timeless. He explores the City and the Temple, Covent Garden, SoHo, and all the "submerged villages beneath the flood of bricks and mortar," uncovering layer upon layer of London's history. Morton follows the thread of imagination back and forth across the city, tracing unforgettable scenes: the Emperor Claudius leading his war elephants across the Thames. . .the grisly executions at the Tower. . .the world of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Queen Victoria. . .and the shattered yet defiant city of the Blitz as well as the postwar London of "ruins and hatless crowds." Morton's quest for London's heart reveals how its daily life is rooted in a past that is closer and more familiar than we might think, making the book as informative, entertaining, and rich in human color today as when it was written fifty years ago.… (more)

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Showing 4 of 4
Fascinating glimpse of a vanishing London, detailing the history and the post-war state of the bomb-ravaged capital. Beautifully written, endlessly erudite, and full of interesting nuggets for even a long-time resident of the city. An excellent read. ( )
  imyril | May 29, 2013 |
Whenever I (re)read anything by Morton I am always astounded – and thoroughly enjoy – his scholarship. And his casual, amazing access to people and places that most of the rest of us are disbarred from, by reason of upbringing (class?) and security. An early broadcaster with the BBC (British Broadcasting Company) and newspaper editor and journalist Morton became one of the most published and celebrated of the English ”travel writers”, writing books and broadcasting pieces that were perhaps most popularly reflected in his series on the lands and characters from the Christian religion ( In the Steps of The Master, … of Saint Paul, Lands of the Bible). Whilst I have read none of those I seemed to have acquired most of his other series; the In Search of.. and enjoyed the reading and rereading of these travels, wanderings and historical musings on London, England, Wales, Scotland, Italy and his ardent love affair with Ireland.
He can, in just one paragraph, combine references to the architecture of Rome, the divergent and contentious religions, the monarchy and the generosity of ordinary people from history … all before the ease of the internet research of our time.
In his apparently casual (and therefore deceptive) strolling around his usual daily haunts of London he brings the historical character of this great city alive for our enjoyment. A book to be carried in the travel bag, referenced before a visit and read with deeper understanding after, this affectionate work is a treasure.
1 vote John_Vaughan | Nov 10, 2011 |
Published in 1951, this book pictures a very different London from the one we know today. There’s no London Eye looming over the Thames, no Gherkin peering over the skyline, and not a single Starbucks or Costa Coffee to be seen. Instead, there are piles of rubble and cellars of bombed buildings now open to the sky, and there are people still recovering from the fear of living through the Blitz.

But there is much in H.V. Morton’s London that is familiar to anyone who visits the city today. Morton’s descriptions of the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and Westminster Abbey took me right back to my own visits to these sites. Morton doesn’t just describe what he sees; he talks about the history of each site and imagines what it would have been like to visit these places centuries ago. And he also gets into some places where the ordinary visitor cannot go, as when he walks through the Underground after the trains have stopped running.

This book is not an exhaustive guide to London. It’s one man’s observations, and his own preferences and biases do come through, but overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s well written, and, frankly, I just love reading about London, which made the book an easy sell. This isn’t the kind of book that would make it into my travel bag to carry around with me during the day during a London holiday, although it might make it into my suitcase so that I can revisit some of Morton’s descriptions in the evenings after seeing Hampton Court Palace or Greenwich. The information he provides would certainly enrich any visit.

See my complete review at my blog. ( )
  teresakayep | Apr 3, 2009 |
just a paperback, but its a great read, this guy really knows and appreciates London ( )
  swsmith3 | Mar 3, 2007 |
Showing 4 of 4
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As the air liner came up the Thames the passengers crowded to the windows and looked down upon London.
Behind everything in London is something else, and, behind that, something else still; and so on through the centuries, so that London as we see her is only the latest manifestation of other Londons, and to love her is to plunge into ancester-worship. London is a place where millions of people have been living and dying for a very long time on the same plot of earth, drenching it with their blood, glorifying it with their nobility or degrading it with their villiany, pulling it down and building it up, generation after generation, yet never destroying the vision of an earlier day.

I cannot remember a single occasion when I have spoken to a fellow bookman; for we are a silent, misanthropic and lonely crowd. Also I have never met a book-woman. I suppose these exist, but it so happens not to have been my good, or bad, fortune to have met one. Women come into a second-hand bookshop with a definite request and are out again in a flash. They do not moon about all day in search of they know not what. In fact, after all, I am inclined to think that probably book-women do not exist; for one cannot count girl students and young females turning over books on the ballet. If they do exist, they are probably young and sprightly, for it is inconceivable that the female sex should produce the equivalent to the ancient, dusty bookworm, with his spectacles on the end of his nose, who is such a constant feature of Charing Cross Road. No elderly woman would surely spend a whole day looking for nothing.
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