London: A History

London: A History

by A. N. Wilson


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London: A History 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
planetmut on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Has its moments but it's way too ambitious for 200-odd pages. And the last chapter, where Wilson spends a couple of pages slagging off Ken Livingstone's choice of words in a pamphlet, are wasted. Not a bad introduction to London but if you want something meaty get Ackroyd's or Porter's works.
billiecat on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Having read Wilson's "The Victorians" and enjoyed it, I thought I would find his short history of my favorite city a good read. Unfortunately, not. It is too short. How I could have thought that the millennia of history for this great, sprawling city could be stuffed into 240 pages is one thing. How Wilson thought he could pull it off is another. And he doesn't.As an example - Elizabethan London doesn't even merit an entire chapter in this book - and this was the period that defined what it would mean to be "English" - and through its literature, even what it meant to speak English - for centuries. Don't you think it merits more than a few pages to describe the literary scene in London? Instead, we get one chapter of six (six!) pages, which covers not Elizabethan London, but instead is devoted to "Tudor and Stuart London." I was hoping for a pocket book that packed the punch of Ackroyd's "London: the Biography", or at least a well organized and thought out primer. What I got was a pamphlet. I can't recommend paying US$21.95 for this when I'm sure you can get something just as interesting and useful for free from the London Tourist Board.
jwm24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Since her foundation in A.D. 43 as a Roman military encampment, London has seen more than her share of plagues, riots, poverty, madness, and crime. Newgate Prison, Bedlam Hospital, and the gallows on Tyburn Hill, though all gone now, are nearly as well known as Buckingham Palace and St. Paul¿s Cathedral. London has been burned to the ground and blown to bits. Like her ancient sister city Troy, London rises over many layers of her own rubble.Such is the romanticized, gothic conception of that great city that children and artists have cherished for centuries (London Dungeon and Madame Toussaud¿s Chamber of Horrors are to England what Disneyland is to California). A. N. Wilson¿s London: A History (previously published in the UK as London: A Short History, which at less than 200 pages it most decidedly is), less a continuous chronology than a series of historical snapshots, takes a skeptical approach to the notion of psychic continuity common to popular historians who like to expound upon the ¿soul¿ of a country or city. To Wilson, a city is not a person; it cannot harbor neuroses or repressed memories, and its character can change with each wave of immigrants, or be obliterated by the wrecking balls of vandals with development contracts. The experience of the past at such tourist attractions as The Globe Theatre and Tower of London are now ¿as ersatz as Disney World¿ (a comparison Wilson makes twice in the space of twenty pages, lest we not get the point).It might seem odd, then, that Wilson has dedicated his book to Peter Ackroyd, whose London: The Biography is the very epitome of the poeticized, organic view of history, or that he begins his book with a description of the lost rivers of London, such as the Fleet and the Walbrook, which continue to ¿live¿ many feet underground, centuries after being paved over, occasionally making themselves known by flooding a basement or a subway tunnel. Wilson¿s point, I believe, is not that the past is irretrievable, or that we all should stop dreaming and live in the present, but rather that maintaining a sense of history requires proper stewardship of cultural artifacts, humble appreciation of the achievements of one¿s forbearers, and an active and forward-looking imagination. The past will not look after itself, nor can it survive simply by being encased in amber and put on display. Only where the past and present are blended together, influencing and nourishing each other, is it possible to experience ¿a personal encounter with Londoners of the past.¿Wilson describes the Elizabethan historian John Stow, author of Survey of London (1598), as ¿an intensely conservative and pessimistic observer of the London scene.¿ This could easily apply to Wilson himself. He is passionate about architecture, and censures the Victorians and Modernists largely on aesthetic grounds, for their ¿hatred of the past.¿ Other periods he skips over entirely. Although London became a great center of commerce and the center of Christianity in Britain during the 7th and 8th centuries, Wilson follows his Roman chapter with one on Norman London, presumably because under the Saxons, who built their dwellings out of wattle and daub instead of bricks and mortar, London was no longer a real city. Later on, Wilson writes of Charles I¿s aesthetic intelligence and of his patronage of the architect Inigo Jones, designer of the Banquet House at Whitehall. Then, without a word of warning, the next paragraph begins, ¿After a trial in Westminster Hall, the King was condemned to death, and the execution took place on January 30, 1649.¿ The causes of this drastic measure are never explained, and the Civil War and Cromwell¿s republic are hardly mentioned, except for an obligatory reference to the closing of the theatres; after ¿Tudor and Stuart,¿ the next chapter is ¿Restoration.¿Wilson follows in many footsteps when he notes the architectural anarchy of London, a city that has never been considered beautiful in the
nsestak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great read prior to a visit to London.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LeongWaiHong More than 1 year ago
This is a slim book, about 150 pages. Wilson is a prolific writer. However, this is not an easy history of London to read. It presupposes a reader who is already familiar with London's history and landmarks.Wilson has compressed a lot of the characters such that a beginner to London's history will find the story difficult to follow.On the other hand a reader familar with London's history will enjoy the unexpected nuggets and the names dropping.