London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets
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London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

3.37 of 5 stars 3.37  ·  rating details  ·  1,161 ratings  ·  293 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 an...more
ebook, 208 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Anchor (first published April 7th 2011)
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Amy Sturgis
I received this novel as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.

I really, truly wanted to love this book. The subject is utterly fascinating: underground London, from Roman ruins to present-day tube stations, complete with crypts and buried temples and outlaw hideouts and a unique (and creepy) breed of mosquito. As much as I love the gothic in general, and British history in particular, this subject is made for me.

Unfortunately, Peter Ackroyd's writing reads like a procrastinating student's...more
Tfitoby
Peter Ackroyd, author of many tomes on fascinating subjects deviates from his usual doorstop formula and presents a whistlestop tour of the modern history of stuff happening under the streets of the modern Babylon, London.

To complain about the brevity and lack of academic referencing is to completely miss the point of this slight work, Ackroyd clearly loves his subject and manages to incite the same reaction in his reader thanks to some incredibly well chosen anecdotes.

Example chapter titles inc...more
K.C. Shaw
The subject is fascinating, but the book itself is poorly written and doesn't go in-depth about the subject. It's all surface (ironically, considering the subject matter). Many quotes are unattributed and there is not a notes section in the back of the book. And the constant portentious statements hammering in the theme of "the underworld is primal!" detracted considerably from the various interesting facts.

For example, here's a long paragraph from pp. 133-4 of my edition of the book, talking ab...more
Tony
83. LONDON UNDER: The Secret History beneath the Streets. (2011). Peter Ackroyd. **.
The author is an excellent writer and has produced a number of fine books. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them. This is more of a compilation of notes for a book yet to be written. Mr. Ackroyd takes us on a hopscotch journey through the various sections of the city and has us peek under the various manholes to see what is there. There is no continuous story line or line of inquiry. There are only collections o...more
Jan
I will put this book on my travel shelf because reading it made me conjure up all sorts of stops and rides and platforms and stations on the London Underground.....and because I have marked many places I want to check out on our next visit to London.
I am amazed at what Ackroyd tells about the literal underbelly of the city. There are not only remnants and ruins from centuries gone by, but treasures and amazing places now.
I never pictured the Underground being a hangout for the people of the city...more
Mel
Without a doubt this is the shortest Peter Ackroyd book I've read. It was also not one of the best. He really tried to make the London Underground seem mysterious and exciting, as if it was something people never think about, instead of something that millions of commuters use each year! While there are a lot of cities where no one things of what happens underground, London just really isn't one of them. The first and last chapters that tried to give off an atmosphere of danger and novelty just...more
Mark
This is not a work of history, though it relies on history. It is not scholarly, not footnoted to the point of immobility, skewering reality on a butterfly pin, so that what we see is a lifeless visage of something beautiful and great. No, it is a piece of poetry in prose form. And perhaps that was the only way to really write a book such as this and in some way capture the fascination that led to its creation. London Under is a panoramic look at what lies beneath the modern city of London. It l...more
Maren
I'm the daughter of archaeologists, I love London, I enjoy history and I'm fascinated by catacombs, graveyards, caves, and all things underground. I secretly want Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" to be true. So this book should have been right up my alley.

It was so dumb! I thought this would be the story of London, told from the unique perspective of things underground. What it turned out to be was a list of loosely grouped facts that Peter Ackroyd had apparently discovered while researching another...more
Reader, I Read It
Highly acclaimed historian and writer Peter Ackroyd delves into the depths of London in his latest exploration of what lies beneath one of the most fascinating cities in the world.

The book gives an extraordinary insight into the history that has been discovered under the pavements we walk on every day. We aren’t talking about a few old coins and trinkets here but monasteries, plague pits, roman baths, pagan temples, wells and waterways long forgotten. It’s also easy to forget the labyrinth of t...more
Scott
“Tread carefully over the pavements of London for you are treading on skin, a skein of stone that covers rivers and labyrinths, tunnels and chambers, streams and caverns, pipes and cables, springs and passages, crypts and sewers, creeping things that will never see the light of day.... May this book be considered a votive offering to the gods who lie beneath London.”

Tap the waterphone and strike a match! Peter Ackroyd’s London Under (2011) begs for a foggy night and flickering lights as it sets...more
Tim Pendry
This short and well written book is an annexe to Ackroyd’s ‘biography’ of London, a history of the city that treats it as if it has a personality. It is also part of the psycho-geographical cast of mind that now defines part of the modern London literary community.

What does he cover? - archaeology, ancient springs, underground rivers, the Fleet, the water conduits, the sewers, the underground railways (at length), the wartime and cold war secret cities and the life of Londoners who went undergro...more
Caroline
This book wasn't quite what I was expecting. I'd expected something in the more traditional vein of history, something exploring the history of London beneath the surface, the Underground, the sewers, the buried layers of prehistoric, Roman, Saxon, medieval relics. What it really is is a much more poetical exploration of how we respond to the concept of 'underground', the fears and horrors, the way we have both shunned and sought life beneath the surface.

Ackroyd writes about the sewers of London...more
Nesa Sivagnanam
London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imaginative, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts and modern Tube stations. The depth below is hot, warmer than the surface, and tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures that dwell in darkness, real and fictional – rats and eels, monsters and ghosts.

There is a Bronze Age trackway under the Isle of Dogs, Anglo-Saxon...more
Luke
London Under is a bite-sized collection of writings on what goes on below the streets of the metropolis. Sewers, rivers, wells, tunnels, the Tube, history - it's all covered, with some of Ackroyd's famed flair for teasing out psychogeographical interest.

It's funny, I've had London: The Biography for a long time, and I've never been able to finish it. But I was grabbed by this: the cthonic concerns inside seem to convey a truer sense of London that what goes on above ground.

If you've lived in Lo...more
Jaga
It reads like a nineteenth century guidebook and anyone who's seen a nineteenth century guidebook will know what I mean.
Tracey
If you've ever been intrigued by what lurks beneath the road or the footpath, then this is the book for you. Peter Ackroyd takes the reader beneath the surface in London Under and investigates the murky depths of tunnels, sewers, hidden rivers and streams and the history of long ago London.

History buffs will relish the chapter on the locations of old wells and springs, and their relevance in the naming of streets. I was surprised to find that precise access points to tunnels, sewers and even old...more
Chris
This is a wonderful companion book to Ackroyd's two other books, history books, focusing on Loncon (London: The Biography and The Thames: Sacred River). The book is short and can easily be read in one sitting. It also is a good companion to Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets.

Ackroyd's book actually does follow a sense of the development of the underground moving from water to trains. It is a more of an overview than a in-depth history (the length of say two or three chapters in...more
Kari
This was interesting but in a listing information kind of way. Ackroyd's writing style tended towards the poetic which at times came across as pretentious with little substance or content to support it. One piece of information followed into the next with a bit of mythology thrown in to make it all seem more elegant and deeper in meaning. I found my mind wandering as he led as prosaically from one street to the next, to the next, to the next (you get the idea), to follow the rivers buried beneat...more
Libby
Peter Ackroyd is an outstanding writer! Anybody who can make sewers fascinating is amazing in my eyes and he has done that and more in this book. He has struck a rich vein of history and story, here. People have been living on this site since Britain was first inhabited. They found it a good place and they left broken tools and garbage middens and all the other debris of human life scattered on the landscape. Subsequent occupiers left THEIR garbage and rubbish as well. Ackroyd shows us how moder...more
Paul Baldowski
Ackroyd displays his dependable writing style, engaging the reader with tales of London below, from Roman remains through to the delving of World War II. It feels a little like something that might have been extracted from Ackroyd's previous works on London, like a lost chapter, but that's no bad thing. Short and informative, the book breaks down into thirteen chapters covering slightly different subjects - such as the sewers, subterranean rivers, tunnel construction and the Tube.

A fine read - r...more
beentsy
This was interesting, particularly from a scatology perspective, but it felt a bit all over the place. You could feel that the author was very passionate about the subject of this unseen part of London but then it just felt like you were running after them as they pointed at this and then this and then this and then that!!!

Granted, it is a very small book to try to tackle such a long and varied history. It has made me want to look up some other more detailed books, chronologically organized per...more
Adam
A book that concisely synthesizes the history of an ancient and fascinating city with our attraction to getting into places we're not supposed to go. It should have been a slam dunk.

It reads like a first-year college history paper thrown together at the last minute. The facts are there, and can sometimes make your eyes bulge with interest, but whenever he tries his hand at commentary, Oh Boy. Among the annoyances:

1. Trying to make things sound creepy or mysterious, that aren't
2. The comparisons...more
Brian Harrison
It's a short book and a quick read, and yes - more of an essay than a fully fledged book - but there are a couple of pages of bibliography so you can explore the subject further if you wish. The book is arranged thematically with strands on pipes (gas and water), London Underground, WW2, hidden rivers, for example. I learned for example that subterranean archaeology wasn't recognised as having any value until the 20th century and before then some remarkable finds were just noted and then obliter...more
Christopher Roden
This was disappointing. Ackroyd fails to bring true life to his subject, and even fails to bring excitement to so interesting a topic as the construction of the 'Tube'. He even fails, in his analysis of literature that has made use of the Underground, to make reference to Gaiman's NEVERWHERE or Simmons's DROOD.
Cheryl
Mar 28, 2012 Cheryl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheryl by: Susan
I wish I knew London -- this book was enjoyable, a fascinating mix of snippets of info about all kinds of things under ground in London, not just the Tube. The book really came alive when it mentioned areas I was a bit familiar with. Just another good reason to go back for more exploring. Thanks Susan!
Linda
I was given this book a month before going to London, best present ever! Even though modern London has little to compare with much of the material in the book, I drove my husband up the wall with facts about the places we visited. A must for Londoners and visitors.
Jonfaith
Likely closer to 3.5 stars. Mr. Ackroyd collects a disquieting bushel of facts and weaves the disparate strands into something reverent. The haze surrounding the tube construction was especially effective.
Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
So great. Ackryd digs deep into hidden side of London in a book that is poetic and illuminating. Specific in detail, universal in import.
Diana
Very interesting topic, but suffers due to no unified story line. In some sections it is basically a list of locations.

The drawings (mostly from the 1800s) are interesting but I would have liked photos of what the stations look like today; there aren't any photos of the tunnels or stations in the present.

A huge improvement would be the inclusion of maps showing the rivers and tunnels which correspond to the above ground world.

I had just read Aaronovich's Moon over Soho (fiction) and was lookin...more
Yara
Here's the thing about Peter Ackroyd: his non-fiction work often consists of him taking you by the hand, dragging you over to an interesting bit of trivia ("isn't this fascinating?"), and then going off on a heartfelt rant full of may-haves, could-be's, and it's-not-impossibles. Ackroyd is always incredibly passionate about his topics and it is very infectious, but he also has a tendency to babble aimlessly like a professor who got completely caught up in his own head at some point during the le...more
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16881
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...more
More about Peter Ackroyd...
London: The Biography Hawksmoor Shakespeare: The Biography Chatterton The Canterbury Tales

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