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London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets

3.40  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,701 Ratings  ·  380 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 ...more
Kindle Edition, 240 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Nan A. Talese (first published May 2nd 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
K.C. Shaw
Mar 20, 2012 K.C. Shaw rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: not-owned, history
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
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Tfitoby
Oct 21, 2013 Tfitoby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Tony
Dec 04, 2011 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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Maren
Sep 05, 2012 Maren rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan
Jan 02, 2012 Jan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
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
Mark
Jan 07, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Scott
Oct 08, 2014 Scott rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010s, london
“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
Andrew
The real life inspiration behind Neverwhere (Read this too!) and Rivers of London (Just read the blurb maybe). In this case, the truth is just as incredible as the fiction.

As an irredeemable country-boy, I've always considered myself as perpetual visitor to the city (however, having lived here 5 years now, I claim the right to tut-tut at tourists standing on the left side of the escalators!). There's no doubt though that London has a certain scale and history that ranks it among the greatest ci
...more
Reader, I Read It
May 09, 2011 Reader, I Read It rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
Oct 07, 2011 Luke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 02, 2012 Jaga rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: limeyland
It reads like a nineteenth century guidebook and anyone who's seen a nineteenth century guidebook will know what I mean.
Karen Wellsbury
Jul 17, 2014 Karen Wellsbury rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's like Peter Ackroyd put all the facts, tales and hearsay into a bag, then threw them onto the page. So you get loose themes, like the rivers under London, the tunnels, the Underground, Burials. All of it fascinating but vaguely superficial.
Some of the quotes, usually from others, have lead me to delve deeper, particularly into the sewers, described as 'rather like a Turkish bath with something wring with it' and tunnels 'when it's foggy outside it's clear in the tunnel. It's a very queer tun
...more
Adam
Mar 23, 2014 Adam rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Tracey Allen at Carpe Librum
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
Oct 28, 2012 Kari rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Mar 19, 2015 Libby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cities
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
Rhiannon Hart
Jul 13, 2015 Rhiannon Hart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite an interesting read. The author likes to bang on about everything underground being symbolic of Hades and the underworld -- the Underground! Did I mention it's like Hades? -- but I have to agree there's something sinister about the deep, dark, damp world that lies beneath London. The forgotten bits. The secret bits. The dead bits. A nice history, ancient and modern.
Anneleen

"The underworld moves the imagination to awe and to horror. It is in part, a human world, made from the activities of many generations, but it is also primeval and inhuman. It repels clarity and thought. It may offer safety for some, but it does not offer solace. London is built upon darkness."

3.5 / 5 Really liked it, although the 2 chapters in the beginning about the rivers were a bit tiresome and the writing (in general) could've been more cohesive.
But what a fascinating history of the Londo
...more
Khairul H.
Jul 02, 2014 Khairul H. rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one
Shelves: history
Disappointing. Was hoping for some in depth (pun not intended) history on what lies beneath London but this book reads more like an undergraduate's thesis hurriedly written 3 days before the deadline. Lots of padding, low on substance. Avoid.
Cordelia
Aug 23, 2015 Cordelia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
excellent book, maybe a bit..sensationalised. doesn't cover as much archaeology as i thought it would. also covers London's rivers, the Tube, misc. peppered with accounts from roman, anglo-saxon to present day.
Wendy
May 19, 2014 Wendy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The primary problem with this book is Peter Ackroyd.

This book isn't so much a history book as a tone poem or amusing essay with unannotated historical tidbits thrown in for framework. It's not really long enough for a proper book, and Ackroyd's long winded and portentious style only makes matters worse.

Blah blah underground blah mankind's deepest fears blah blah tunnel dug in 1844. etc.

I keep picking up these books, because he chooses to write about such fascinating subjects and then I keep put
...more
Paul Baldowski
Jul 17, 2011 Paul Baldowski rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-loan
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
Apr 21, 2012 beentsy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-done
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
Kerry Hennigan
"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."

So goes the opening sentence of Peter Ackroyd's "London Under" - a little gem of a book if you are interested in learning about the history of what lies beneath one of the great cities of the world.

A slim volume of b
...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...

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