London The biography

Peter Ackroyd, 1949-

Book - 2001

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Subjects
Published
New York : Nan A. Talese c2001, c2000.
Edition
1st U.S. ed
Language
English
Item Description
Includes map on endpages.
Originally published: London : Chatto & Windus.
Physical Description
801 p. : ill. (some col.), maps
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (p. ) and index.
ISBN
0385497709
Main Author
Peter Ackroyd, 1949- (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

Yes, an 800-page history of London! Granted, it will take a persevering reader with a definite interest in European history and culture to undertake this major reading project. But readers who fit that bill will be both edified and charmed by the renowned British novelist and biographer's chronicle of the "life" of the British capital. Ackroyd perceives London "as a human shape with its own laws of life and growth." From Celtic settlement in the misty days of yore, to its reinvention as a Roman fortress, to its uncontrolled growth as the undisputed political center of England in the Middle Ages, to its majestic rise as the epicenter of a mighty empire in the nineteenth century, to a city of immigrants in the twenty-first, the overarching theme of London's "biography" is that the city "is based upon power" and is "truly the epitome of all England." Glorious detail limns how life was led down London's streets and byways during these epochs. For all its length, this is an irresistible read. ((Reviewed September 1, 2001))Copyright 2001 Booklist Reviews

Review by Choice Reviews

Award-winning author Ackroyd has written an enjoyable, enlightening, and monumental study of London. He uses recent histories of London, such as Roy Porter's London: A Social History (CH, Jun'95) and Stephen Inwood's A History of London (CH, Mar'00), but relies heavily upon printed primary sources. The organization is essentially topical, which enables him to roar efficiently through 2000 years of London's history. The book is well titled, for Ackroyd views London as a living organism that, like the Phoenix, periodically rejuvenates itself. London is perpetually old, but always new. Ackroyd emphasizes the continuities that cross the centuries, especially commerce and trade, which have energized London from its beginning. The author has the knack of juxtaposing some continuities--rich and poor, dark and light, day and night, high culture and downright savagery--as no other writer does. The last decade gets the weakest coverage; the popular election of the Lord Mayor is not mentioned. Ackroyd lives in the heart of London, and his love of it equals that of Sam Johnson's. This highly recommended book is essential for anyone who wants to understand London. Copyright 2002 American Library Association

Review by Library Journal Reviews

This trip through London, conducted by novelist/biographer Ackroyd, is less concerned with chronology than with human drama. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Biographer/novelist Ackroyd (e.g., The Life of Thomas Moore) offers a sweeping, highly readable account of London's colorful and complicated history. In encyclopedic detail, he discusses everything from the city's crime and its theater to the notorious fog, plagues, and Great Fire of 1666, from which the city had to be almost built. He also provides a useful travelog, discussing London's many notable buildings, neighborhoods, and other features rich with stories, among them Newgate Prison, "an emblem of death and suffering," the "dirty" East End, and, of course, the Thames, London's "river of commerce." Characters such as infamous "prison-breaker" Jack Sheppard are vividly re-created, as are scenes like the sights and smells of the market in 1276 and the bloody Notting Hill riots in 1958. The book is full of both horrors, including the overwhelming number of beggars and the "impaled heads of traitors" in the 1600s, and soaring achievements, as London rises to the "center of world commerce" in the 1800s. Ackroyd's passion for this remarkable city is clearly evident. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Isabel Coates, Boston Consulting Group, Brampton, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (The Plato Papers; T.S. Eliot; etc.) offers a huge, enthralling "biography" of the city of London. The reader segues through this litany of lists and anthology of anecdotes via the sketchiest of topical linkages, but no matter not a page is dull, until brief closing chapters in which Ackroyd succumbs to bathos, for which he's instantaneously redeemed by the preceding chapters. He admits to using no original research, openly crediting his printed sources. Ackroyd examines London from its pre-history through today, artfully selecting, organizing and pacing stories, and rendering the past in witty and imaginative ways. "The opium quarter of Limehouse," he tells readers, for example, "is now represented by a Chinese take-away." Fast food, it seems, was always part of the London scene. When poet Thomas Southey asked a pastry cook why she kept her shop open in the worst weather, she told him that otherwise she would lose business, "so many were the persons who took up buns or biscuits as they passed by and threw their pence in, not allowing themselves time to enter." Ackroyd covers unrest and peace, fires and ruins, river and rail transport, crime and punishment, wealth and poverty, markets and churches, uncontrolled growth and barely controlled filth. If there is a hero among the throngs, it may be engineer Joseph Bazalgette, who in 1855 began building 1,265 miles of sewers to contain the Stygian odor of progress and keep the huge, ugly metropolis livable. No one should mind the extraordinary price of this extraordinary achievement. B&w illus., maps not seen by PW. (On sale Oct. 16) Forecast: Published to acclaim in England, this is virtually guaranteed major review coverage here, and the publisher will also shoot for national media. Anglophiles and others will rejoice. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

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.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Filled with stunning photographs, illustrations, and maps, an enthralling tour of London, from the time of the Druids to the present, delves into the human dramas that have molded this great city by recreating its pungent odors, bawdy street life, and diverse population and quoting the impressions of such famous Londoners as Dickens, Pepys, and Pope.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd's brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this 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.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

“This magnificent evocation of all that London has meant down the centuries...I cannot begin to describe the richness with which Ackroyd pursues his theme...A blend of virtuosity and deep affection that is truly bewitching. Ackroyd has performed a noble public service in preserving in these pages so many centuries of marvels, and secrecies.”–Jan MorrisLondon: 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.”