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London: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) Hardcover – July 6, 2004

2.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wilson opens his history of London with a metaphor of buried rivers and buried past, evoking various little-known tributaries of the Thames, and in particular tracing the course of the Fleet River, now buried beneath streets and buildings, evidence of its existence apparent in the structures, place names and damp basements of the city. Thus biographer, critic and novelist Wilson (The Victorians; Tolstoy; etc.) expresses a sense of history leaving traces that can be teased out by thoughtful observation, alongside his love for and exasperation with a city that insists on remaking itself. He alternates describing architecture (both extant and long gone) with retelling events that filled the streets and fleshing out cultural and social subtleties, from Roman times through the heyday of Elizabethan, Georgian and Victorian London. He finds fault with city builders in almost every era and rails against the vandals of the past for the lost architecture and physical spaces of the city. His critic's eye gives his observations a curmudgeonly tone that becomes increasingly political as he approaches the present and excoriates recent policies and projects such as Centre Point and the Millennium Dome. Overall, he evokes a particular energy as the more essential quality of the city and forgives London for its faults. Historically and literary minded visitors will find much in this book to guide them and deepen their understanding.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

A. N. Wilson is the author of the acclaimed biographies Tolstoy, C. S. Lewis, Jesus, and Paul; God's Funeral, and several celebrated novels. He lives in London. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 18)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Second Edition edition (July 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679642668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679642664
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,276,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on July 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Modern Library Chronicles Series matches an accomplished author with a given era or place or institution with which he or she has a special affinity. The product is a ?short history,? usually no more than 200 pages. The prose styling is always clean and fluent. It is a worthy series and LONDON is a dependable addition to it.

With only 192 pages of text, and some of those taken up by chapter separations, author Wilson, a novelist and biographer, obviously had to make some choices in what to present. Those seeking Roman Londinium and the settlement it was in the Dark Ages may be disappointed to find that the city?s first millennium is dispatched in about 4 pages. In fact, half the book is devoted to less than the last 200 years. For Wilson, London the city, London the seat of Britain has its roots in the Norman invasion of 1066. Governance, commerce and urban design are recurring topics as Wilson moves through eras, with his chapter titles sharply characterizing the emergent themes he finds within. So it is ?Chaucer?s? London, not ?Medieval? London, and not because of the poet?s artistic legacy; it is his London to suggest the value the crown placed on alliances with tradesmen and moneymakers. It is Stuart and Tudor London, not Elizabethan or Shakespearean, etc., up to the end of the Bowler Hat (1960s and 70s), Cosmopolis, and Silly London (present). Wilson is not hesitant to assail the results of poor planning and dismal aesthetics. Like Charles Lamb, however, who could not think of a place more desirable than London at a time when the streets and Thames stank of sewage and citizens were expiring in a notorious heat spell, he also finds it elegant.
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Format: Hardcover
Maps. If you're going to do a book on the historical development of London (or any other major city), you must include a few maps so readers not intimately familiar with all of its environs will know what's where and how it developed. Though I've spent a fair amount of time in London, I found myself having to consult maps and other references to give the book the right context. I wound up with a Dorling Kindersley guide my wife bought by my side, which provided pictures, diagrams and other information. It proved to be a perfect complement.

I sympathize with the enormity of the task, summarizing the history of a great metropolis in these few pages. However, this volume seems thinner than others in the Modern Library Chronicles series.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I’ve been listening to the audio version of this book, but after the 1st disck I don’t think I will bother with the rest.

I was hoping for a serious history of a city that I (an American with British Isle ancestry who has never traveled abroad) greatly admire. But sadly the book reads like a travel guide for the tourist attractions that the author complains about. He doesn’t spend enough time on any single time period for the book to mean anything. He makes no effort to include things like archaeology in his historical analysis- there is no historical analysis for archaeology to be applied to, and his documentary evidence reads like contemporary pop culture references.

I do appreciate the author’s seemingly innate conservatism. He laments the loss of London as a viable center of British culture, power and tradition and its replacement by modern architecture, modern technology, illegal immigrants and tourist traps.

But the book’s most damning thing may be its author himself. I have just learned of a review of another of Wilson’s books by another historian who has written extensively on the same subject. Apparently Wilson’s book has numerous and glaring mistakes of well-documented historical facts. This makes me wonder if anything written by Wilson can be trusted.
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Format: Paperback
London, A History, A.N. Wilson; The Modern Library (2004 hardcover)

"Quite good until pp. 147-49, when I suspect that the narcotic-ridden Anthony Eden took over the editing." --- Title page "margin note," circa 2007, when the book was originally bought & read.

It couldn't have made that good an impression, overall; later, I found "London" on a shelf, unreviewed. This usually signals a finality of exasperation.

"London's" margin notes were revisited, recently.

A beaut of an editing oversight was noticed during the original reading (words below have been capitalized for emphasis. They should be italicized & blacklit. Amazon computers obliterate these features, which is annoying as hell):

"An UNSUCCESSFUL attempt to buy shares in the Bank of England & stage a Tory takeover bid FAILED" (pp. 66-7).

I find it impossible to parse this sentence in order to make sense of it. However, it seems logical to say that the author's intent was to state that a Tory takeover bid of the Bank of England had failed, possibly because their attempt to buy a sufficient number of shares was unsuccessful.

The redundancy also results in a double negative. This means that the attempt did succeed. Even though it didn't.

"It is a place where, you feel, a group of extraordinary talented &, IN THE LAST RESORT, modest people gathered together to finish a dreadful but vital task, & accomplished it with consummate skill" (p. 141).

Alert editors unfailingly give clichés the heave-ho. "In the last resort" - I am grateful that it isn't the supremely horrid, "in the final analysis"- mars Wilson's otherwise eloquent tribute to those who toiled in the cramped confines of the Cabinet War Rooms during the Second World War.
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