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London: The Biography

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  4,073 Ratings  ·  295 Reviews
London: The Biography is the pinnacle of Peter Ackroyd’s brilliant obsession with the eponymous city. In this unusual and engaging work, Ackroyd brings the reader through time into the city whose institutions and idiosyncrasies have permeated much of his works of fiction and nonfiction.

Peter Ackroyd sees London as a living, breathing organism, with its own laws of growth
Paperback, 848 pages
Published 2003 by Anchor (first published 2000)
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Jan 10, 2009 Robert rated it liked it
London: The Biography is a junkshop of the heart, more or less: Peter Ackroyd's heart, or the heart of anyone else who has fallen in love with London's 2000 year history, its transformations, its theatricality, its poverty, its wit, its preposterousness, its influence on the English language. This is a book that's too densely packed with interesting data, arranged in short, thematic chapters, to be read from front to back, much as London is a city that's too large and infinite to be visited thor ...more
Aug 14, 2011 Kotinka rated it did not like it
Nobody can doubt the incredible amount of research the author collated to put this mammoth of a book together. His subject matter is fascinating and rewarding.

However, Ackroyd's writing style is very particular and surely a matter of taste - unfortunately this reviewer finds it annoyingly loose, try-hard artistic and peppered with sweeping generalisations and over romanticisation. Small sections of the book stand out for their accuracy and fluency and undeniably, the book is crammed with reams
Nov 17, 2012 Andrea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: london
This book is a massive undertaking, both for the author and the reader, and the amount of extraordinary, fascinating and brilliant detail in here is mind-boggling. It pulls from an awe-inspiring number of primary sources to provide the most delectable quotes on everything from pubs to fashion to murders to popular food. In fact, I can't think of a subject that isn't in here, and it's all woven together in a form that is almost like fiction. It muses, ponders, revels in minutiae. This is the firs ...more
David Manns
Jul 19, 2011 David Manns rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What a book. Ackroyd has created the ultimate portrait of London as a living, breathing entity, not just a collection of old buildings and monuments. Rather than a dry chronological trawl through the history of our nation's capital, instead Ackroyd chooses themes and explores them through time and space, focussing on specific areas or ideas. Thus he paints a picture of an ever evolving city that defies all attempts to change or control it. London is its own master.

Ackroyd ranges back and forth t
F.G. Cottam
Jun 07, 2010 F.G. Cottam rated it it was amazing
London has always possessed the presence of a character (and a major character at that), in the quite brilliant novels Ackroyd has chosen to set there. His love of and fascination for the city has always been apparent. Here he demonstrates his scholarly expertise on a subject that clearly beguiles him and with what incredibly enjoyable result.
The best praise I can offer this book is that it is worthy of its subject. It is deep, mystical, multi-layered and endlessly fascinating.
I lived in Londo
Jan 17, 2013 sage rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 08, 2013 Arabella rated it it was ok
As a native Londoner, I found parts of this book very interesting. For example, I knew there had been other rivers in London such as the long-lost Fleet river, what I hadn't realized is that they are all still there, buried under the city. I also didn't know much of anything about London pre-Romans.

Apart from being really, really long, there were a few things I didn't like about this book. One was the way Ackroyd described things as being unique to London, for example quoting all the references
Pete daPixie
Aug 06, 2011 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Could very well be THE biography of 'London', Peter Ackroyd's 2000 publication is a monumental eight hundred page delight. The scope and coverage is breathtaking, from the last ice age to the domain of wild animals, to the Roman and Saxon foundations to it's present day sprawl. The capital city with all the trials,tribulations,fog and flame from Aeneas to Ziegler.
Ackroyd has produced a masterpiece. It is clearly a life times work, and not just a historical one. The reader is taken by the hand an
Jun 11, 2011 Szplug rated it liked it
Whither art thou driven, ghostly stranger, by the lamentations that echo in the dales of the lifeless and broken hills from whence thou wert bound? Phantom of breath, buckler of the passed and passing days, into what deep chasm of the forgotten mind of God hast thou found thyself, mewling for the grace that has evaded thy dogged and persistent steps? Look inward, man-child—a succession of stygian wombs hast thou haunted, passing now into life and anon into death. The cry of babes and the rattle ...more
This book was truly extraordinary.

I was looking for an in-depth history of London, and I certainly found it between this book's covers. Peter Ackroyd truly did write a biography of London, from its sprawling streets to its strange citizens. His writing is fluid, and fascinating to read; his use of primary sources is utterly astounding, and somewhat maddening, as the cockney can be a bit hard on the eyes.

Peter Ackroyd's book is told in a very loose chronology. While the 'story' begins with prehis
Mark Love
Jun 03, 2010 Mark Love rated it liked it
You may be forgiven for thinking that my recent paucity of reviews was a due to lack of reading brought about by the birth of our son. Not so. I have been labouring through this beast of a book for the past couple of months, and am now relieved to be able to put it back on the shelf.

Peter Ackroyd's biography of London is impressive in every sense - the length, the breadth, the details and the passionate and scholarly work that went into it, and it has been celebrated by reviewers and middle-clas
Maxym Karpovets
Apr 13, 2012 Maxym Karpovets rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: urban-culture, essay
зізнаюсь, що не зумів прочитати чималу книгу класика стилізованої історичної прози Пітера Акройда, можливо, навіть одного із улюблених сучасних авторів на рівні із Джуліаном Барнсом, Єном Маклюеном і Салманом Рушді. не зумів не через те, що не дуже цікаво, а через безпросвітну щільність письма, часто енциклопедичного і безпощадно точного. зрозуміло, що мені найбільш сподобались частини, де автор жонглює метафорами ("море людського натовпу"), дивує стилістичними вузлами (до речі, переклад дуже ча ...more
Lyn Elliott
Jan 04, 2013 Lyn Elliott rated it liked it
Shelves: history, fiction
I initially gave this four stars, recognising the huge amount of research that Ackroyd has pulled together - anything you want to know about scandals, sewers, executions or thievery in London is here in an exuberant tumble. But ultimately the tumble led to my three star rating - the lack of order in the presentation jars for me and I gave up. It's a book for dipping rather than straight through reading.
The Manchester Guardian review on this link summarises several other reviews that balance amaz
Jul 31, 2009 Laurie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laurie by: NG Traveler
This is such an exhaustive survey of London, I cannot imagine how long it took Ackroyd to research and write. This touches on absolutely anything and everything you could want to know about the city. Equal parts entertaining and educational, it took me quite a while to read simply because of the amount of information packed into it. Covering prehistory up to the millennial year, it's definitely recommended for any London-phile. A world of worlds, no other city on Earth has ever existed quite lik ...more
This was okay. I love reading about London, quirky interesting facts about places that I know. This had plenty, but also had a LOT of other information about places, people, things...just about everything. The title says it all...'concise'! I found myself flicking through to find bits that I found interesting, but there was still plenty of bits to keep me going!
Aug 03, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it
Dark and juicy biography of the city. Ackroyd's highly personal and imaginative account is not straightforward -- but then neither is London. London is a complex stew that evokes the city not just as a historical entity but as almost an animate thing.
Lost interest- too busy living here! Another time when I am feeling nostalgic, probably.
David Ball
Apr 26, 2017 David Ball rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece. The history of London, not chronologically, but thematically. The topics cover almost every sense: from the smell of the fog to the ever present noise, the markets, the vendors, the street theatre, the never ending rebuilding. Certain neighbourhoods are brought to light: from the radical history of Clerkenwell to the commercial history of the Thames, its docks and its tributaries. Chapters are dedicated to prisons, madhouses, coffee shops, and pubs; and of course the people, their ...more
Apr 08, 2017 Heather rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, uk
This is a massive book. With the text coming in at nearly 800 pages, it is at least twice as long as it really needed to be, but I couldn't help but be delighted at its contents. It meanders around chronologically-speaking, focusing instead on subjects--touching more heavily on things mostly neglected by other histories while neglecting topics one would expect to see, particularly in a work of this size. Completely absorbing, it is nevertheless a little too graphic in few places for my taste, pa ...more
Jan 09, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, favorite
One of the recommendations on the cover of this book states that “Peter Ackroyd was born to write the biography of London” and it’s quite hard to disagree with that. The scope of this work is immense and almost too much to comprehend in a small review; over 1000 pages including references it details the history of our capital from prehistoric times to today. It is not a narrative history but a broken down series of essays on separate themes, usually moulded around the broad field of social histo ...more
Jenny Sparrow
Sep 01, 2015 Jenny Sparrow rated it liked it
Посетить Англию в целом и Лондон в частности было моей детской мечтой еще с тех пор, как я зачитывалась рассказами про Шерлока Холмса. Думаю, когда-нибудь мечту я еще осуществлю, ну а пока решила почитать одну из известнейших книг про Лондон.

Труд Акройда представляет собой объемную, почти на 900 страниц, оду городу. Одна часть это исторические факты и занимательное описание всех сторон жизни Лондона и лондонцев от основания города римлянами и до 2000 года, когда книга вышла в свет. Здесь вы най
Mister Chris
Jan 23, 2014 Mister Chris rated it really liked it
Writing a biography of one of the most interesting and beautiful cities in the world is a curious idea, and demands a curious writer. Peter Ackroyd is the man for the job; a sensitive and intriguing historian and author who peels back the layers of vice, politics and street-level culture to provide a fascinating and unique perspective of the sprawling metropolis.

This is a vast and rambling tome, absolutely packed with stories, theories and journeys. Ackroyd is a proponent of psychogeography, th
Dec 07, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Ackroyd, Peter. LONDON: The Biography. (U.K.-2000, U.S.-2001). ****. This massive work traces the history of London from its Roman beginnings – it was supposedly founded by Brutus – to the present day. Chronologically moving from the past to the present, the author, probably the world’s expert on the city, jumps ahead and shows how present names and places reflect the city’s history. This is a book that should be owned by every Londoner who is interested in his city. If you are a casual visitor ...more
Miranda Davis
Dec 16, 2012 Miranda Davis rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, brilliant history of London from prehistory, through Roman occupation, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, PIcts, Christians, Kings, Queens, pretenders, plagues, fire, famine, wars, Dickens, bombs. And so forth.

I read this enthralled by layer upon layer of human experience as it was peeled away. Or rather unearthed.

If you enjoy history that makes you feel present at the time discussed, you will be swept up in this. It's not solely chronological but also topical. And the topics themselves reve
Jul 21, 2010 umberto rated it liked it
I first ran across this book as a hardcover some few years ago and I had no interest in reading this title, then today (July 21) I was delighted to collect a paperback ordered via Kinokuniya Bookstore in BKK some three weeks ago.

Surprisingly, I've found the books by Peter Ackroyd readable, entertaining and informative. If you don't know him but would like to be familiar with his writing style, please find a copy of his "Thames: The Biography" or "The Canterbury Tales" (A Retelling of Geoffrey Ch
Jul 21, 2015 Abby rated it it was ok
There's a tremendous amount of research here, and I particularly appreciated Ackroyd's focus on original sources to describe the spirit of London through the ages. I wish it had been organized chronologically, however, instead of thematically, and the discussion never seemed to get much beyond the few hundred years between the late Renaissance and the mid-19th century. I also got a little tired of Ackroyd trotting out London as a metaphor (London is a key, is a prison, is a garden, is a stage, i ...more
Apr 01, 2010 Darryl rated it it was ok
This weighty tome about the life of the city of London was a massive disappointment, and a grueling and nearly impossible book to read. It isn't a biography in the linear sense, rather it is a collection of short chapters about different aspects of the city throughout its history, including its rivers, churches, theatres, and outcasts. Each chapter consists mainly of quotes from other sources, and its lack of narrative flow makes for an exceptionally dry and thoroughly unrewarding read, which re ...more
I love London. Although it's not my absolute favourite city, it's the one whose history I'm most fascinated by. I bought this book after my first trip to London back in 2013, and have been very much looking forward to reading it ever since.

To be honest, it was a bit of a letdown. I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but this wasn't it. There's no doubt that it's incredibly well-researched and intelligent, but I put the book down feeling very dissatisfied. I wanted to learn more about this
Nov 13, 2012 Ami rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-paper
Just re-read this book and have upped my rating from 2 to 3 stars. Last time I was annoyed by the length, the over-poetic language and the unfounded mysticism along the lines of asserting that there is continuity of spirit in London's locations, because he can find several examples of places where similar activities have occurred at different times. These things annoyed me on the re-read as well, but I found compensation in the sheer volume of interesting information & the sweep of the histo ...more
Chin Hwa
Dec 01, 2012 Chin Hwa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
An AMAZING book about the history of London. Move aside, flaneurs! Here we get a knowledgeable, thematically organized, and historically driven narrative of London over the past two thousand years. London is viewed through her diseases, plagues, fires, poverty, and violence. Ackroyd presents London as a bleak place, but it is the very bleakness of London that he celebrates. A thoroughly enjoyable read!
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Peter Ackroyd CBE is an English novelist and biographer with a particular interest in the history and culture of London.

Peter Ackroyd's mother worked in the personnel department of an engineering firm, his father having left the family home when Ackroyd was a baby. He was reading newspapers by the age of 5 and, at 9, wrote a play about Guy Fawkes. Reputedly, he first realized he was gay at the age
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“London goes beyond any boundary or convention.It contains every wish or word ever spoken, every action or gesture ever made, every harsh or noble statement ever expressed. It is illimitable. It is Infinite London.” 2 likes
“lonely and isolated people who feel their solitude more intensely within the busy life of the streets. They are what George Gissing called the anchorites of daily life, who return unhappy to their solitary rooms.” 2 likes
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