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London: The Biography

London: The Biography

Paperback

By (author) Peter Ackroyd

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  • Publisher: VINTAGE
  • Format: Paperback | 848 pages
  • Dimensions: 152mm x 234mm x 48mm | 880g
  • Publication date: 27 November 2001
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0099422581
  • ISBN 13: 9780099422587
  • Illustrations note: Zahlr., tls. farb. Fotos, Abb. u. Pl.
  • Sales rank: 23,163

Product description

Much of Peter Ackroyd's work has been concerned with the life and past of London but here, as a culmination, is his definitive account of the city. For him it is a living organism, with its own laws of growth and change, so London is a biography rather than a history. It differs from other histories, too, in the range and diversity of its contents. Ackroyd portrays London from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century, noting magnificence in both epochs, but this is not a simple chronological record. There are chapters on the history of silence and the history of light, the history of childhood and the history of suicide, the history of Cockney speech and the history of drink. London is perhaps the most important study of the city ever written, and confirms Ackroyd's status as what one critic has called 'our age's greatest London imagination.'

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Author information

Peter Ackroyd has written acclaimed biographies of Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, Charles Dickens, William Blake, Shakespeare and Thomas More, as well as short books about Chaucer, J.M.W. Turner, Isaac Newton and most recently, Edgar Allan Poe. A bestselling biographer, historian, novelist and broadcaster, he holds a CBE for services to literature. He is the author of the London: The Biography and Thames: Sacred River, and lives in London

Review quote

"It would be no exaggeration to say that Peter Ackroyd's 'biography' of our capital is the book about London. It contains a lifetime of reading and research-but this huge book is light and airy and playful-[He] leads us on a journey both historical and geographical, but also imaginative. Every street, alley and courtyard has a story, and Ackroyd brings it to life for us - marvellous" -- A N Wilson Daily Mail "Nothing can quite match the huge strange echo chamber of life-stories, folktales, and urban myths conjured up in Peter Ackroyd's epic vision of his native city. Sparkling, witty scholarship is constantly transformed into smoky mystical street-history, with dark hypnotic meditations on fog, fire, sewage, suicide and civic resurrection" -- Richard Holmes Daily Telegraph "Ackroyd is the most effortless guide. You wander by his side through the streets of the old city, savouring its bustle, colours and its smells, the stink of living. This is much more than history; it is a tapestry of inspiration and love. You will not find a better, more visionary book about a place we take for granted" Observer "It's this decade's finest work of non-fiction" -- Jude Rogers The Word "[London] may be several years old but it remains one of the leading narratives as he cleverly weaves through centuries of history to reveal to us the hundreds of different cities within a city" -- Fiona Hamilton The Times

Editorial reviews

An impressionistic history of England's capital city, by British novelist/biographer Ackroyd ("The Plato Papers", 2000, etc.), who knows his subject well and writes about it with considerable passion. This is not a history in any usual sense of the term, still less a travelogue or walking guide, although it has elements of all of these genres. What the author attempts to provide instead is a roughly chronological portrait of the character or soul of a great metropolis, drawn in large part from contemporary accounts of widely divergent veracity and literary skill. Folk tales, ballads, royal chronicles, Restoration comedies, journalism, court records, ecclesiastical histories, novels, biographies, and gossip columns (going back to Addison and Steele) all come into play, and the resulting mosaic is graced by a richness and depth of color that go a long way towards making up for the unwieldy size and loose organization. The "London as Theatre" section, for example, takes us into the bear-baiting pit as well as the Globe Playhouse, while "London's Outcasts" examines the plight of the city's downtrodden from the medieval beggars clustered about the gates of churches and monasteries to the madmen who haunted the asylum wards of Bedlam. Eventually Ackroyd finds his focal concern in wondering "what is it, now, to be a Londoner?" He concludes that the city is of such immensity, so variegated in its component functions and populations, and so rich in historical associations, that it is "all singular and all blessed." Although the author does not quote Samuel Johnson's aphorism that "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life," he does illustrate Johnson's assertion that "London has therein all that life affords." Somewhat rarefied, but a splendid tribute to the great metropolis. (Kirkus Reviews)