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Modern Library Chronicles #18: London: A Historyby A N Wilson
Synopses & Reviews
In its two thousand years of history, London has ruled a rainy island and a globe-spanning empire, it has endured plague and fire and bombing, it has nurtured and destroyed poets and kings, revolutionaries and financiers, geniuses and visionaries of every stripe. To distill the magic and the majesty of this infinitely enthralling city into a single brief volume would seem an impossible task–yet acclaimed biographer and novelist A. N. Wilson brilliantly accomplishes it in London: A History.
Founded by the Romans, London was a flourishing provincial capital before falling into ruin with the rest of the Roman Empire. Centuries passed before the city rose to prominence once again when William the Conqueror chose to be crowned king in Westminster Abbey. In
Chaucer’s day, London Bridge opened the way for expansion over the Thames. By the time Shakespeare’s plays were being mounted at the Globe, London was a dense, seething, and explosively growing metropolis–a city of brothels and taverns and delicate new palaces and pleasure gardens.
With deftly sketched vignettes and memorable portraits in miniature, Wilson conjures up the essence of London through the ages–high finance and gambling during the Georgian age, John Nash’s stunning urban makeover at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the waves of building and immigration that transformed London beyond recognition during the reign of Queen Victoria, the devastation of the two world wars, the painful and corrupt postwar rebuilding effort, and finally the glamorous, polyglot, expensive, and sometimes ridiculous London of today. Every age had its heroes and villains, from church builder Christopher Wren to jail breaker Jack Sheppard, from urbane wit Samuel Johnson to wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, and Wilson places each one in the drama of London’s history.
Exuberant, opinionated, surprising, often funny, A. N. Wilson’s London is the perfect match of author and subject. In a one short irresistible volume, Wilson gives us the essence of the people, the architecture, the intrigue, the art and literature and history that make London one of the most fascinating cities in the world.
"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. (On sale July 6)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In this learned and personal tour through London's 2000-year life, A. N. Wilson takes us from the ghostly traces of Roman London, to the Norman city, to Chaucer's London, Tudor and Stuart London, the Industrial age, World Wars I and II (the six years of the latter being the city's finest hour), all the way to the present. In a style that blends chronology and the entertaining digression, we visit the Restoration, the Great Fire, the Royal Society, the South Sea Bubble, Hogarth, Dr. Johnson, the London square, the engineering triumphs of the Victorian age, architecture, men's clubs, and much much more. Wilson concludes with a tribute to 'London Cosmopolis' (the polyglot London which mobility and mass immigration have created), and 'Silly London' (the London of e.g. the Millennium Dome). Combining the idiosyncratic charm of Edmund's White's THE FLANEUR with the sweep of Peter Ackroyd's LONDON, this is a fitting companion to a world class city.
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