Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Thames: Sacred River” as Want to Read:
Thames: Sacred River
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Thames: Sacred River

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  741 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
Just as Peter Ackroyd's bestselling London is the biography of the city, Thames: Sacred River is the biography of the river, from sea to source. Exploring its history from prehistoric times to the present day, the reader is drawn into an extraordinary world, learning about the fishes that swim in the river and the boats that ply its surface; about floods and tides; hauntin ...more
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 7th 2008 by Vintage (first published 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Thames, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Thames

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jul 08, 2013 Jonfaith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Early in Thames: The Biography the first post-Roman bridge is noted at being at York in the eighth century; we know this from church records stating that a witch was thrown from such and drowned. So, okay, what is the significance of this? We don't know, the events is passed over and the facts and images keep flowing. Employing a riparian model, Peter Ackroyd allows the jetsam and debris of history to be washed and buried in the mud immemorial. Thames proceeds thematically, but each sections is ...more
Sep 02, 2012 Philip rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook.

The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also regularly conveys a sense of the incomplete, sometimes that of a jumbled ragbag of associations that still needs the application of work-heat a
Jan 10, 2009 Bruce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, 2009-reading
I wish I knew what went wrong with this book. I thought it would be one that I would really enjoy, the kind of quirky history that focuses on one element, and then ties everything together around that element. Also, I am a huge fan of Peter Ackroyd. He is an elegant and entertaining writer. Beginning with fiction (Chatterton, Hawksmoor, Milton in America, etc.) and then extending into history and biography (Dickens, Pound, Chaucer, London the City...) he has created a bookshelf full of well writ ...more
Pete daPixie
Oct 25, 2011 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travelogues
Peter Ackroyd's 'Thames-Sacred River' published 2007, is a companion volume to his very much celebrated 'London:The Biography' from 2000. More than just a good read, Ackroyd has produced a wonderful and evocative masterpiece for 'Old Father Thames'. The writing is poetic, scholarly, fact packed and flows as gracefully as the river itself.
Typical of this authors work, here is a fully comprehensive biography of this 215 mile long river from Thames Head to the sea. It's history is excavated from Pa
Dec 19, 2012 Gerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A majestic work, brilliantly researched, succinctly chronicled and superbly written, 'Thames: Sacred River' enhances Peter Ackroyd's glowing reputation as an excellent writer of historical works.

Only 215 miles in length, the Thames has as much history about it as almost any river in the world and the author takes us back to neolithic times and then meanders through time with great detail through to the modern day Canary Wharf and industrial landscapes around the mouth of the river.

History, legen
Jul 20, 2010 Brynn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
When Ackroyd tackles people, his biographies are utterly engrossing. Wider topics (river, cities) tend to exacerbate his tendency to meander with little thought to relevance or coherence. This book also suffers from his tendency to elevate anything British beyond all reason.
Kent Hayden
Feb 14, 2009 Kent Hayden rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bailed-on
More than you'd ever need to know about the gods and fairies and folklore surrounding the Thames. I usually enjoy Ackroyd (His 'London' is great!) but this I couldn't get into.
Sarah(All The Book Blog Names Are Taken)
(Mostly) lovely read. Review to come shortly.


My book blog ------->

It is strange to be a little in love with a river? Maybe obsessed is a little more accurate, but there is something so lovely and melancholy and of course historic about this stretch of water, easily one of the most famous rivers in the world. Perhaps that is my bias, given my love of that little island where she flows. Ah well.

If you read my review of 'Foundation' by the
It's hard not to respect this book. Peter Ackroyd has included an amazing amount of detail and political history is blended with cultural and anthropological references.

But in general it's just too much information, with numerous very similar examples used to bolster each point made. Poetry is quoted on almost every page (or at least it feels that way after you finish the book, but none of it was moving, and the quotes are mostly snippets. They serve, perhaps, more to glorify the author than en
Jun 04, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it
Ackroyd's The Thames is a love poem to the river. Instead of a linear history, which undoubtably would've made the book dull, Ackroyd sections the chapters by theme; there is a chapter on the river and death, on fishing, on wildlife and so on. This structure makes the book far more easy and interesting to read.

Ackroyd tells stories about the river, for instance a swimming race between a man and a dog; or about the wreck of the Princess Alice and the connection one of the survivors has to Jack t
This book is rambling and fragmented and sometimes repetitive (like when Ackroyd mentions the 5000-year-old yews at Southwark on one page … and then mentions them again on the next page, without a difference of context or the addition of any new information), but it’s full of interesting facts and historical tidbits and images.

There are some great lists or list-like sections, too, which always make me happy: there’s a whole paragraph that lists the fourteen main tributaries of the Thames, follo
Sarah Beaudoin
Feb 26, 2011 Sarah Beaudoin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I think it is difficult to stand on the bank of the Thames and not feel what a presence it is. I have spent hours walking along it and sitting on its shore, and I am always struck by how much history has occurred within reach of those waters.

Peter Ackroyd's The Thames: Sacred River does a terrific job capturing that immense history. Following the same format he used in his earlier biography of London, Ackroyd examines the Thames from all angles: geological, cultural, historical, and more. The re
May 20, 2016 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
After the magnificent London: A Biography this has been something of a disappointment. Similar format, with each chapter a separate subject rather than a chronological or topographical journey, but lacking shape and erring to the repetitious. Unfortunately for Peter Ackroyd at one point he describes John Leland's 16th century travelogue as "anecdotal and perambulatory ....a collection of notes rather than a coherent narrative" and the same could be applied to his own work. This phrase has certai ...more
Brian Willis
Certainly impressively researched and impeccably structured, Ackroyd's meandering meditation on the river that bisects lower England and the localities affected by its characteristics is nothing short of - the word so often used - magisterial. There will never be another book like this on the river Thames and the - birth to death, beginning to end structure -impact on its surrounding people and inhabitants.

Ultimately, it was an informative and worthwhile read. But it often felt more like a chore
I wanted to love this as I do the Thames itself, but Ackroyd jumps around and belabours his analogies to the point that it's hard to digest in more than bite sizes. Worth a look for those who love London and it's environs - and who have a connection with this artery of commerce, history and adventure that meanders through the heart of the metropolis - but be warned it will be a trip against the tide for the most part.
Jan 25, 2017 Paul rated it it was ok
Author should be put in jail along with his book until he adds all the sources and citations. Until then copies of this book should be moved to the fiction section. Myths, speculation, facts, legends, hearsay, author's wild imaginings, drug induced hallucinations are all reported in the same way as if they had equal value. I've listened to drunks in pubs who sourced their material more transparently.
John Hood
Feb 06, 2010 John Hood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bound Miami SunPost January 28, 2010 (p17)

If the River was History

Navigating The Thames

John Hood

Okay, the Nile might lead us back to Ancient Egypt, the Yangtze might flow for the future, and the Mississippi will always have Huck and Jim. But of all the world’s great rivers, none has perhaps played as important part in all world events as the River Thames. Forget the fact that it’s only 215 miles long (and not even the longest river in the United Kingdom).
Jul 27, 2011 Skyring rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thames: The Biography
by Peter Ackroyd

I ducked into a bookshop in Kings Cross Underground to get Peter Ackroyd's marvellous book London: The Biography. I was there to check out every square on the British Monopoly board and I wanted to get my research right.

The book was a superb resource. I buried my nose into it and didn't come up for a long while. Perhaps the highlight was reading about London Stone and then seeing the actual relic of the ancient city right there on Cannon Street.

So when I
Oct 29, 2015 Toby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Whether by design or not, Thames: Sacred River stands as a companion volume to Ackroyd's excellent London: the biography and as with the previous work, Thames, is replete with Ackroyd's poetic and enquiring imagination. Writing a biography of a river is rather more complicated than the more geographically confined city. The Thames after all is at least three rivers: the upper Thames from its source to Teddington, the London Thames from Teddington to the Docks and the Estuary Thames from the Dock ...more
Todd Stockslager
Interesting concept left me flat, and completes the trifecta of Ackroyd nonfiction about London:

Dickens' London: An Imaginative Vision
London: The Biography

all of which I rated 3 stars for similar reasons.

The fault is probably more mine than the author's. I think I came to to these books looking for straight history, and Ackroyd brought an artist's sensibility and objectives to the task, so our objectives did not match.

Writing a biography of any geographic feature, even one so well known and so h
Sep 30, 2013 Pamela rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biographies rightfully belong to human while histories belong to things, places, events and people of the past. Ackroyd’s use of “biography” in this, and his previous book on London, suggests that he is asking us to consider both the city and the Thames as living entities with a past, present and future identity. This makes sense in some ways. Cities and rivers do have character (bestowed upon them by us) and their characters are subject to change and decay over time. Some even die. And, like hu ...more
Nov 09, 2008 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd had this book in my list for quite some time and only recently got around to snagging a copy to read. Sometimes, when I've been meaning to read a book and it's been languishing a while, I can start to dread reading it -- almost like it's a chore. But then I start reading it and I find that interest that brought me to it in the first place, whether that was sparked by a review or a fellow reader. This is one of those cases.

What's not to like about a book that contains a chapter which begins,
Benjamin A'Lee
Good in places, but unfocussed. Marred by Ackroyd's seemingly mystical ideas about the Thames, and how it has had some psychic influence over the people living nearby across the millennia. For Ackroyd it seems as though the Thames itself is some sort of deity, and this book is not so much a history of the human activity in and around the Thames as a history of the deity; people come second. Even when he's not going quite so far, he seems convinced that the Thames is unique and that even when it ...more
Mar 19, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Peter Ackroyd's Thames is a delight. Ackroyd likely could write a huge book about a paper clip and make it interesting.
He begins with describing the Thames and its connection with history as it winds through villages on its banks. He writes of its origin, size and currents and even this rather mundane information is interesting.

The influence of the Thames in defining London is examined. The river influences poets, artists and writers. It attracts pageants for kings and scavengers in rude smal
Dec 23, 2011 Scotty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The version of the book I read is subtitled "The Biography", and it is certainly an apt characterization of the book. After finishing Ackroyd's journey through all facets of the river's history, significance, and even personality, you get the feeling that you know the Thames.

Although the prehistory of the river comes early and some of the more modern developments come later in the book, I would not say that it is organized chronologically. Its divisions are thematic: river as transport, the art
Alex Telander
British author Peter Ackroyd—of London: the Biography, Shakespeare: the Biography, and numerous other works—presents the most comprehensive biography ever written on the most renowned river of all time. After reading this book, it can be said that you will know all there is to know about the river Thames. Beginning with its geology and topography, Ackroyd takes you on a full tour from wellspring to its draining into the English channel, filling your head with facts and details you’d never really ...more
Apr 12, 2015 Barbara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having just returned from living in the UK for several, several years, when we moved back to London, I made a concerted effort to really get to "know" The Thames because it is very much the heart of the city. I thoroughly enjoyed 'mudlarking' where you go to the river bed and search for -- well -- whatever came in with the tide. You are not allowed to dig as the National Historical Museum has precedence over that and if you find anything you are to report it to them. The distant and not so dista ...more
Jun 26, 2008 Spiros rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those in the mood for riverine explorations
Shelves: arc, londoncalling
Peter Ackroyd, Roger Angell, and Kevin Starr are my favorite non-fiction writers: all three are devoted amateurs, in the true sense of the word, being enamored of their respective subjects, and being inordinately skilled at conveying their fascination to us, the reader.
This work forms the last part of a triptych, along with LONDON: THE BIOGRAPHY and ALBION, which explore, in exhaustive detail and much digression, the streams of English literary and artistic genius. As befits a riparian narrative
Jennifer (JC-S)
Dec 04, 2007 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: librarybooks
I really enjoyed this book. I meandered around the river, acquiring new knowledge and new perspectives and thoroughly enjoyed the prose.

The book is not perfect: I think some judicious editing would have been useful. In one part, it reads as though Claudius was in Briatin only a decade or so after Julius Caesar whereas by my rough estimation it must have been almost 90 years later.

Yes, if I could have given the book 4.5 stars I would have done so. But somehow, less than 5 stars seemed churlish fo
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Dr. Johnson's London
  • 1700: Scenes from London Life
  • London: A Life in Maps
  • Necropolis: London and Its Dead
  • Underground London
  • A History of London
  • London: A Social History
  • A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World? 3500 BC-AD 1603 (A History of Britain, #1)
  • Lights Out for the Territory: 9 Excursions in the Secret History of London
  • London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God
  • Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking
  • The English Civil War: A People's History
  • The Great Stink of London: Sir Joseph Bazalgette and the Cleansing of the Victorian Metropolis
  • A Gambling Man: Charles II and the Restoration
  • London Lore: The Legends and Traditions of the World's Most Vibrant City
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of the British Monarchy
  • London: The Autobiography
  • The Subterranean Railway
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 about Peter Ackroyd...

Share This Book