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London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this unusual and engaging work, Ackroyd brings the reader through time into the city whose institutions and idiosyncrasies have permeated much of his works of fiction and nonfiction. Peter Ackroyd sees London as a living, breathing organism, with its own laws of growth London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this unusual and engaging work, Ackroyd brings the reader through time into the


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London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this unusual and engaging work, Ackroyd brings the reader through time into the city whose institutions and idiosyncrasies have permeated much of his works of fiction and nonfiction. Peter Ackroyd sees London as a living, breathing organism, with its own laws of growth London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this unusual and engaging work, Ackroyd brings the reader through time into the city whose institutions and idiosyncrasies have permeated much of his works of fiction and nonfiction. Peter Ackroyd sees London as a living, breathing organism, with its own laws of growth and change. Reveling in the city’s riches as well as its raucousness, the author traces thematically its growth from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century. Anecdotal, insightful, and wonderfully entertaining, London is animated by Ackroyd’s concern for the close relationship between the present and the past, as well as by what he describes as the peculiar “echoic” quality of London, whereby its texture and history actively affect the lives and personalities of its citizens.London confirms Ackroyd’s status as what one critic has called “our age’s greatest London imagination.”

18 review for London: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gergely

    Nobody can doubt the incredible amount of research the author collated to put this mammoth of a book together. His subject matter is fascinating and rewarding. However, Ackroyd's writing style is very particular and surely a matter of taste - unfortunately this reviewer finds it annoyingly loose, try-hard artistic and peppered with sweeping generalisations and over romanticisation. Small sections of the book stand out for their accuracy and fluency and undeniably, the book is crammed with reams Nobody can doubt the incredible amount of research the author collated to put this mammoth of a book together. His subject matter is fascinating and rewarding. However, Ackroyd's writing style is very particular and surely a matter of taste - unfortunately this reviewer finds it annoyingly loose, try-hard artistic and peppered with sweeping generalisations and over romanticisation. Small sections of the book stand out for their accuracy and fluency and undeniably, the book is crammed with reams of fascinating facts and mini-histories. Nevertheless, great subject material was for the most part dragged down by an over-worked writing style to a level that made reading this book a real slog - one that was self-imposed due to the fear that this city's most amazing history might not be covered in such depth for quite some time again.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    London: The Biography is a junkshop of the heart, more or less: Peter Ackroyd's heart, or the heart of anyone else who has fallen in love with London's 2000 year history, its transformations, its theatricality, its poverty, its wit, its preposterousness, its influence on the English language. This is a book that's too densely packed with interesting data, arranged in short, thematic chapters, to be read from front to back, much as London is a city that's too large and infinite to be visited thor London: The Biography is a junkshop of the heart, more or less: Peter Ackroyd's heart, or the heart of anyone else who has fallen in love with London's 2000 year history, its transformations, its theatricality, its poverty, its wit, its preposterousness, its influence on the English language. This is a book that's too densely packed with interesting data, arranged in short, thematic chapters, to be read from front to back, much as London is a city that's too large and infinite to be visited thoroughly even during a long, hyperactive visit. Instead, I think most readers will end up doing what I did--skipping around to find items of interest: the history of the stage in London, the experiences of the Londoners during the Blitz, the effects of Henry VIII's decision to break with the Roman Catholic Church, the persistence of Chaucerian character-types.My experiences in London over 4 decades correspond in some measure to Ackroyd's insistence on the Dickensian quality of the place...the fogs, low ceilings, narrow alleyways...but his book does drop the ball in conveying the influence of parks and gardens on the London experience and fails to convey the full impact of London's cosmopolitanism--its infinity of peoples, costumes, and cuisines, in the post-Imperial, post-Colonial, post-modern era. I also wish there were a more extended meditation in it somewhere on literary London (writers are quoted all the time, but their London lives aren't stitched together in what you might call a cultural appraisal of the life of letters in London).That said, Ackroyd has no qualms about emphasizing London's dingy quality, its patched-together architecture, and its continuous (for millennia) construction and deconstruction. This is his overriding theme: here's a city with a strong, peculiar personalty with which no one can do anything; it must be accepted as it is for what it is; tear it down and it will twist and torture your plans to build it anew; bomb it and it will survive underground; make it a "fashionable" destination, and it will satirize its own fashionableness. As a "book," this text strikes me as something of a marketing enterprise: here's the biggest, most comprehensive, last word on London, so you have to have it. It probably would have been more effective had it been edited down a bit. But that's exactly what Akroyd says people have tried to do to London, and in the end, it overflows all measure and restraint

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sage

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. 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, 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?

  4. 4 out of 5

    F.G. Cottam

    London has always possessed the presence of a character (and a major character at that), in the quite brilliant novels Ackroyd has chosen to set there. His love of and fascination for the city has always been apparent. Here he demonstrates his scholarly expertise on a subject that clearly beguiles him and with what incredibly enjoyable result. The best praise I can offer this book is that it is worthy of its subject. It is deep, mystical, multi-layered and endlessly fascinating. I lived in Londo London has always possessed the presence of a character (and a major character at that), in the quite brilliant novels Ackroyd has chosen to set there. His love of and fascination for the city has always been apparent. Here he demonstrates his scholarly expertise on a subject that clearly beguiles him and with what incredibly enjoyable result. The best praise I can offer this book is that it is worthy of its subject. It is deep, mystical, multi-layered and endlessly fascinating. I lived in London for 20 years from the age of 21 and trying to describe it as it was in 1937, in my novel The House of Lost Souls, was probably the most enjoyable fictive challenge I've taken on.This is not fiction - though it reads so compulsively it could be - but Ackroyd is the master, the London writer everyone should look up to. This book is a perfect mix of passion and erudition. I've just read it for the second time and look forward to reading it again. I can't recommend it strongly enough.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David

    What a book. Ackroyd has created the ultimate portrait of London as a living, breathing entity, not just a collection of old buildings and monuments. Rather than a dry chronological trawl through the history of our nation's capital, instead Ackroyd chooses themes and explores them through time and space, focussing on specific areas or ideas. Thus he paints a picture of an ever evolving city that defies all attempts to change or control it. London is its own master.Ackroyd ranges back and forth t What a book. Ackroyd has created the ultimate portrait of London as a living, breathing entity, not just a collection of old buildings and monuments. Rather than a dry chronological trawl through the history of our nation's capital, instead Ackroyd chooses themes and explores them through time and space, focussing on specific areas or ideas. Thus he paints a picture of an ever evolving city that defies all attempts to change or control it. London is its own master.Ackroyd ranges back and forth through time in pursuit of his themes and as a consequence throws up facts that are never less than interesting, frequently fascinating. All the while he slowly moves us through London's development through the centuries, and my only quibble would be that he skips through the 20th century rather too quickly. But considering the book is 800 pages long and he had a heart attack after finishing it, I'll forgive him that.If you are looking for a dry history book, look elsewhere. If you are in search of a book about London that is full of ideas and facts backed up by a wealth of research then London: The Biography is for you. Not to everyone's taste, but I found it a great read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ravi Prakash

    I have never been in London, but someday in future I would love to visit. .Being a student of English literature, I was always fascinated about this city- the city where Shakespeare lived, wrote and performed; where the best english poetry and dramas had been written and sung; the city of an empire on which the sun had never set; the city which was prospered by the financial exploitations of British kingdom's colonies- most particularly India- I wanted to know London's history, and I would say t I have never been in London, but someday in future I would love to visit. .Being a student of English literature, I was always fascinated about this city- the city where Shakespeare lived, wrote and performed; where the best english poetry and dramas had been written and sung; the city of an empire on which the sun had never set; the city which was prospered by the financial exploitations of British kingdom's colonies- most particularly India- I wanted to know London's history, and I would say that Peter Ackroyd succeeded to elucidate it to a non-londoner..As far as the critical criticism of the contents of the book concerns, I find myself unable to analyse it. Had I had lived there, I might have been able, but as far as the writing style concerns, I am fully satisfied.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    This book is a massive undertaking, both for the author and the reader, and the amount of extraordinary, fascinating and brilliant detail in here is mind-boggling. It pulls from an awe-inspiring number of primary sources to provide the most delectable quotes on everything from pubs to fashion to murders to popular food. In fact, I can't think of a subject that isn't in here, and it's all woven together in a form that is almost like fiction. It muses, ponders, revels in minutiae. This is the firs This book is a massive undertaking, both for the author and the reader, and the amount of extraordinary, fascinating and brilliant detail in here is mind-boggling. It pulls from an awe-inspiring number of primary sources to provide the most delectable quotes on everything from pubs to fashion to murders to popular food. In fact, I can't think of a subject that isn't in here, and it's all woven together in a form that is almost like fiction. It muses, ponders, revels in minutiae. This is the first book I started reading after my father died about a year and a half ago, I hadn't been able to read anything at all for a month or two and this was perfect for getting back into it, reading a couple of chapters at a time, setting down, coming back to. I loved loved loved so much of it, both the tidbits of history, but also the ways in which Ackroyd combined them, sometimes by theme or period or area. It's changed how I walked around London streets, how I see the Thames every time I cross it, the ways I contrast old and new and am always seeking out the echoes of past times. I was a bit that way before, I confess, but now I have a much better feeling for what might be there and understanding of what I find. It's hard to judge a work of this size and scope with so much that is amazing in it. But as I read I became increasingly critical of the celebration of commercialism. It all comes to a head in the final chapters which left me angry. A sort of mystical view of London had been steadily emerging, a sort of organic living creature of a city with its own requirements and demands of its inhabitants. I liked playing with ideas about the ways in which a city shapes its residents, but was disappointed to find Ackroyd's jubilation at the financial centres surviving the blitz as proof that the living beating heart of London might well be commerce and finance. There is a celebration of Thatcher's big bang of 1986 loosing regulations on bangs -- that would ultimately lead to our current economic crisis. And he writes If the city had a voice it might be saying: There will always be those who fail or who are unfortunate, just as there will always be those who cannot cope with the world as presently constituted, but I can encompass them all. ...Lincoln's Inn Fields was occupied once more by the homeless, after an interval of 150 years, while areas like Waterloo Bridge and the Embankment became the setting for what were known as 'cardboard cities'. ... Despite civic and government initiatives, they are still there. They are now part of the recognisable population; they are Londoners, joining the endless parade. Or perhaps, by sitting upon the sidelines, they remind everyone else that it is a parade. How infuriating! As though the homeless and the masses of poor are a natural phenomenon like weather, and not caused by deindustrialisation, the roll back of the welfare state and Thatcher's own policies channeling wealth away from them towards the already wealthy. That Lincoln's Inn field should have been free of the homeless for 150 years was an accomplishment of society hard fought and bitterly won. Their return is an indictment of our current direction, not an ornament to London's wealth, or a gaze that seeks to remind the well-to-do of how wonderful they are. Had I only stopped reading with the Blitz I would have unqualifiedly loved this book, as it is I am torn between giving it a five and giving it a one. I look back and wonder how much of this view seeped into the history. I am sure it did in celebrating trade, muting struggle and resistance. But in terms of how theatre changed over time, the love of jellied eels and pies, the roles of gravediggers, the building of churches, the vast panoply of literary views and all such topics,this is quite wonderful.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Arabella

    As a native Londoner, I found parts of this book very interesting. For example, I knew there had been other rivers in London such as the long-lost Fleet river, what I hadn't realized is that they are all still there, buried under the city. I also didn't know much of anything about London pre-Romans.Apart from being really, really long, there were a few things I didn't like about this book. One was the way Ackroyd described things as being unique to London, for example quoting all the references As a native Londoner, I found parts of this book very interesting. For example, I knew there had been other rivers in London such as the long-lost Fleet river, what I hadn't realized is that they are all still there, buried under the city. I also didn't know much of anything about London pre-Romans.Apart from being really, really long, there were a few things I didn't like about this book. One was the way Ackroyd described things as being unique to London, for example quoting all the references to London as a theater, or a stage. I expect any city has been described in this way at some point. It's also full of randomly linked miscellany with which Ackroyd tries to make a point, but often seems like stretching just a little too hard. Also, while I see the point in not writing the book chronologically, at times it made it hard to understand what period of time was being referred to.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hilary "Fox"

    This book was truly extraordinary.I was looking for an in-depth history of London, and I certainly found it between this book's covers. Peter Ackroyd truly did write a biography of London, from its sprawling streets to its strange citizens. His writing is fluid, and fascinating to read; his use of primary sources is utterly astounding, and somewhat maddening, as the cockney can be a bit hard on the eyes.Peter Ackroyd's book is told in a very loose chronology. While the 'story' begins with prehis This book was truly extraordinary.I was looking for an in-depth history of London, and I certainly found it between this book's covers. Peter Ackroyd truly did write a biography of London, from its sprawling streets to its strange citizens. His writing is fluid, and fascinating to read; his use of primary sources is utterly astounding, and somewhat maddening, as the cockney can be a bit hard on the eyes.Peter Ackroyd's book is told in a very loose chronology. While the 'story' begins with prehistory, and ends in the 80s, not much in this book is linear. He makes London timeless, and turns the city into the icon that it is today. The emphasis of the text is upon how little things have changed, even while London is destroyed and rebuilt cyclically. The essence of the city can be found in the hospitals raised upon the sites of druidic wells, the very wells that the Victorians later claimed had healing capabilities. The triumph of this text is not in the traditional dates and names of rulers, battles, and the like... rather, the triumph is in the fact that it focuses upon the citizens of the empire. Reading this book, you will learn about the conditions of the jails, what Londoner's favorite pasttimes were, how the role of women changed, and how London assimilates the immigrants. You'll read about how little Cockney has changed from the 1500s, and how London's taste for the theatrical existed before Shakespeare came on the scene.After reading this book, I feel that I have learned more about London than I have from the World History courses I've taken. Peter Ackroyd has an eye for what's importance, and brings this city of commerce, violence, and theater to life in a way that no one else has. Smashing book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mark Love

    You may be forgiven for thinking that my recent paucity of reviews was a due to lack of reading brought about by the birth of our son. Not so. I have been labouring through this beast of a book for the past couple of months, and am now relieved to be able to put it back on the shelf.Peter Ackroyd's biography of London is impressive in every sense - the length, the breadth, the details and the passionate and scholarly work that went into it, and it has been celebrated by reviewers and middle-clas You may be forgiven for thinking that my recent paucity of reviews was a due to lack of reading brought about by the birth of our son. Not so. I have been labouring through this beast of a book for the past couple of months, and am now relieved to be able to put it back on the shelf.Peter Ackroyd's biography of London is impressive in every sense - the length, the breadth, the details and the passionate and scholarly work that went into it, and it has been celebrated by reviewers and middle-class Londoners everywhere, but I doubt many of them have read it all.As much as I liked the subject matter (well, it is my home) and enjoyed many of the wonderfully varied chapters on all aspects of the city's history (social, commercial, architectural, political, natural) Ackroyd's narrative itself was densely earnest, puffy, and self-important. Take this quote for example: "The nature of time in London is mysterious. It seems not to be running in one direction, but to fall backwards and to retire; it does not so much resemble a stream or river as a lava flow from some unknown source of fire. Sometimes it moves steadily forward, before springing or leaping out; sometimes it slows down and, on occasions, it drifts and begins to stop altogether."So, even time in London is unique?! London is a great city, and this is a great book, packed with some amazing details and insights into life through the ages, but this is the kind of pompous nonsense that makes the book twice as long as it needs to be, and understandably makes non-Londoners throw their hands in the air.Read it, or else just put it on the shelf to impress guests.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Monty Milne

    I loved this, and I am slightly surprised I did, for two reasons: I am usually no great fan of thematic history (I recently posted a review here of a book on ancient Egypt which I criticised for its non-linear approach), and I am usually no great fan of London. Ackroyd had me beguiled and persuaded, though. The thematic structure works brilliantly because Ackroyd – a master wordsmith as well as a master of his subject – is adept at sculpting a beautiful and many-sided narrative. For me, London i I loved this, and I am slightly surprised I did, for two reasons: I am usually no great fan of thematic history (I recently posted a review here of a book on ancient Egypt which I criticised for its non-linear approach), and I am usually no great fan of London. Ackroyd had me beguiled and persuaded, though. The thematic structure works brilliantly because Ackroyd – a master wordsmith as well as a master of his subject – is adept at sculpting a beautiful and many-sided narrative. For me, London is generally a place of fear, horror and dislike – when I visit friends in Hampstead, I feel like Frodo climbing the steps of Cirith Ungol when the lift brings me up from the bowels of the Piccadilly Line to the surface at Hampstead Tube Station. And yet, I find it fascinating...I cannot love it in the same way that Ackroyd clearly does. Cobbett saw it as “the Great Wen” - a huge pustular carbuncle on the arse of humanity. Ackroyd confronts the horror – and there is plenty of that – and yet he loves it still. I take off my hat to him, and even if I stand alongside Cobbett when all is said and done, I bow before Ackroyd for his masterful prose and his deep and impressive knowledge and affection for his subject. Anyone who loves London – and anyone who hates it – will profit from and enjoy this book – if they have the stamina to read it to the end.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jody

    I love London. Although it's not my absolute favourite city, it's the one whose history I'm most fascinated by. I bought this book after my first trip to London back in 2013, and have been very much looking forward to reading it ever since.To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but this wasn't it. There's no doubt that it's incredibly well-researched and intelligent, but I put the book down feeling very dissatisfied. I wanted to learn more about this I love London. Although it's not my absolute favourite city, it's the one whose history I'm most fascinated by. I bought this book after my first trip to London back in 2013, and have been very much looking forward to reading it ever since.To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but this wasn't it. There's no doubt that it's incredibly well-researched and intelligent, but I put the book down feeling very dissatisfied. I wanted to learn more about this amazing city, but I just don't feel like I did. It was certainly very wordy, but it didn't seem to contain a great deal of actual information.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    This is such an exhaustive survey of London, I cannot imagine how long it took Ackroyd to research and write. This touches on absolutely anything and everything you could want to know about the city. Equal parts entertaining and educational, it took me quite a while to read simply because of the amount of information packed into it. Covering prehistory up to the millennial year, it's definitely recommended for any London-phile. A world of worlds, no other city on Earth has ever existed quite lik This is such an exhaustive survey of London, I cannot imagine how long it took Ackroyd to research and write. This touches on absolutely anything and everything you could want to know about the city. Equal parts entertaining and educational, it took me quite a while to read simply because of the amount of information packed into it. Covering prehistory up to the millennial year, it's definitely recommended for any London-phile. A world of worlds, no other city on Earth has ever existed quite like it. (It's even added a firmer foundation for Doctor Who London-based journeys!)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    I bought this before we went to London in June. I wound up reading it more by dipping into it here and there, rather than sequentially.It's a lot of fun, because it's packed with the history of specific locations. I bought this before we went to London in June. I wound up reading it more by dipping into it here and there, rather than sequentially.It's a lot of fun, because it's packed with the history of specific locations.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    Lost interest- too busy living here! Another time when I am feeling nostalgic, probably.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rob Frampton

    It is telling that, at the end of ‘London: the Biography’, there is a twelve-page section entitled “An Essay on Sources”. Of course it would be impossible to write a book on such a dense and lengthy subject as the history of the great metropolis without referring to historical sources, but there is an almost overpowering sense in which much of Ackroyd’s book is a patchwork of other people’s views and descriptions. I can see that such an approach could yield useful insights into a city born in th It is telling that, at the end of ‘London: the Biography’, there is a twelve-page section entitled “An Essay on Sources”. Of course it would be impossible to write a book on such a dense and lengthy subject as the history of the great metropolis without referring to historical sources, but there is an almost overpowering sense in which much of Ackroyd’s book is a patchwork of other people’s views and descriptions. I can see that such an approach could yield useful insights into a city born in the distant past and which constantly expands and reinvents itself, but here it too often feels like Ackroyd has become lost in the narrow streets and grotesque characters of his own work. Indeed he often struggles to bring these disparate views together in phrases like ‘it is almost as if’ or ‘one may surmise that…’.When his own voice does emerge it is often with views both pertinent and meaningful. In talking of London’s ebb and flow of immigrants he notes that, “They were the object of derision and disgust because they lived in self-contained communities, popularly regarded as squalid; it was generally assumed, too, that they had somehow imported their disorderly and insanitary conditions with them [and that] these conditions were considered to be the faults of the immigrants themselves who were accustomed to no better… The actual and squalid nature of London itself, and the social exclusion imposed upon [them] were not matters for debate… Their poverty became the object of pity and disgust while their attempts to transcend it were met with hostility and ridicule.”London, built upon commerce and trade from its earliest times has always treated its workers, native, slave or immigrant, as grist for the mill of growth and prosperity, but somehow this same motley of people has transformed the city into a grand tapestry of cultures and influences which has, “… produced a kind of invulnerability to even the worst onslaughts which the world can unleash”.It is in the latter sections, examining the city of the late 20th century where Ackroyd’s prose comes alive, his own views bringing some degree of focus to the miscellany that has gone before. Indeed the chapters on children, post-WWII expansion of the suburbs and the East End make for fascinating reading and his statement that, “… the city was too large, too complex, too momentous, to be destroyed”, here written in context of the Blitz, might serve as an epigram for the whole work.All in all, a frustrating read, and not one to be embarked upon without a large degree of patient slogging, but ultimately a worthwhile use of your reading commitment.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Ball

    A masterpiece. The history of London, not chronologically, but thematically. The topics cover almost every sense: from the smell of the fog to the ever present noise, the markets, the vendors, the street theatre, the never ending rebuilding. Certain neighbourhoods are brought to light: from the radical history of Clerkenwell to the commercial history of the Thames, its docks and its tributaries. Chapters are dedicated to prisons, madhouses, coffee shops, and pubs; and of course the people, their A masterpiece. The history of London, not chronologically, but thematically. The topics cover almost every sense: from the smell of the fog to the ever present noise, the markets, the vendors, the street theatre, the never ending rebuilding. Certain neighbourhoods are brought to light: from the radical history of Clerkenwell to the commercial history of the Thames, its docks and its tributaries. Chapters are dedicated to prisons, madhouses, coffee shops, and pubs; and of course the people, their accents and attitudes, the poverty, the riots, the debauchery, and their ambition. And of course there are the Great Events: the Plague, the Fire, and the Blitz. It's densely researched, but extremely readable. Literary references and snippets of poetry are woven together with journal entries and historical accounts so beautifully, that it's almost as if Ackroyd is simply channeling the thousands of voices that have come before him. But gradually Ackroyd's own voice comes to the fore, and you realize this isn't a love letter to London written by a starry eyed dreamer, but a memoir written by a long suffering spouse; an honest, jaded, often critical account of someone able to appreciate London's virtues, but is unhesitating in pointing out its many flaws. One passage says it all (and certainly captures my first impression of the city): "The citizens of London live in a state of unnatural energy and uproar; they live in foul houses with no light or air; they are driven by the whip if business and money-making; they are surrounded by all the images of lust and violence. They are living in Bedlam".It's an awe-inspiring piece of scholarship - one could read and write for a lifetime and never come close to producing anything close to what Ackroyd's had accomplished here. Lord knows, it's taken me 15 years, off and on, just to read it. I'm glad I persevered.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sherry the penguin

    Who reads a 600 page history book on London?!Well, me apparently.It took me almost a year, as I took my time with this one.I am absolutely mind blown by Ackroyd’s work. The author managed to take a history heavy city like London and instead of writing a chronicle with a sequential timeline, tell stories about London life.I don’t think I ever read a history book with this much enthusiasm, I cannot believe how much I actually now know about the city. The way he tells the story has changed my daily Who reads a 600 page history book on London?!Well, me apparently.It took me almost a year, as I took my time with this one.I am absolutely mind blown by Ackroyd’s work. The author managed to take a history heavy city like London and instead of writing a chronicle with a sequential timeline, tell stories about London life.I don’t think I ever read a history book with this much enthusiasm, I cannot believe how much I actually now know about the city. The way he tells the story has changed my daily life in London. I see a certain street, building or bridge and think about life of Londoners over the years. I internalized London’s past and it’s connection to the past.Ackroyd gives Londoners a persona, including it’s dark and less glamorous sides. Why? Because all who live in London, even those who come here to seek a future are a part of history.“The poor have always been a part of the texture of the city. They are like the stones of the bricks, because London has risen from them; their mute suffering has no limits.”One of my favorite part of his writing was inserted perspectives from those who visited London over the centuries. Marx, Engels, Fontane or Dickens all share their memories on a particular subject, whether it is the poverty of the people, street life and merchants or the hysteria of executions as entertainment.If you live in London and you are up to a challenge, this is the one.

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