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London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streetsby Peter Ackroyd
Synopses & Reviews
London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imaginative, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheaters to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts, and modern tube stations. The depths below are hot, warmer than the surface, and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, real and fictional, that dwell in darkness—rats and eels, monsters and ghosts. When the Underground’s Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864, the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulfurous fumes, and named their engines after tyrants—Czar, Kaiser, Mogul—and even Pluto, god of the underworld.
To go under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hidden world. As Ackroyd puts it, “The vastness of the space, a second earth, elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.”
"Ackroyd's investigation into the heated depths lurking under London — the Victorian sewers, tube stations, underground springs, that terrain that is 'home of the devil and of holy water' — fascinates in conception and falters in execution. The journalist and biographer relies too heavily on his theme of the underground as an underworld, hooking his scrupulous research into it as he digs down through London's gault clay and chalk into the 'portals' of 'dark matter.' Ackroyd (London) offers a brisk geological, historical, and cultural survey of buried Roman roads, wells from the fourth century, canals filled with fetid gases, rivers with 48 skulls excavated, and 'dead tunnels' of mole men; his take is whimsical, vibrant, and lurid, but occasionally lacking in sufficient direction and tension. Still, with characteristic obsession and stellar accompanying images, the book does home in on the breathing vitality of London's underworld — 'If you put your ear close to it, you can still hear the sound of the river pulsing underneath — and is a 'votive offering to the gods who lie beneath London.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
PETER ACKROYD is the author of London: The Biography, Shakespeare: The Biography, Thames: The Biography, and Venice: Pure City; acclaimed biographies of T. S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Sir Thomas More; and several successful novels. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and the Somerset Maugham Award, among others.
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