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London: The Biography

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  3,289 ratings  ·  229 reviews
Here are two thousand years of London’s history and folklore, its chroniclers and criminals and plain citizens, its food and drink and countless pleasures. Blackfriar’s and Charing Cross, Paddington and Bedlam. Westminster Abbey and St. Martin in the Fields. Cockneys and vagrants. Immigrants, peasants, and punks. The Plague, the Great Fire, the Blitz. London at all times o ...more
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Published December 23rd 2009 by Anchor (first published October 5th 2000)
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Dear Mr. Ackroyd,

Will you marry me? I know you're gay, and I'm a woman. I understand that such details present wrinkles in the grand scheme, but I'm sure we can arrange bits on the side and whatever.

Truthfully, I don't think you are really good looking, but you sure write sexy.

I wish I had a quarter of your intelligence.

This love poem to London, for love poem it is, is wonderful. It's brillant! It's marvellous!

I think I just want to marry you so I can live in London.

Well, that and your accent.

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
David Manns
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
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
F.G. Cottam
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pete daPixie
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
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
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
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
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
Max Karpovets
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
Jul 20, 2012 Laurie rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.
Mister Chris
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
Mark Love
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
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
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
Miranda Davis
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
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
Lyn Elliott
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
(I read this work straight for 8 hours -- that should be recommendation enough).

Make sure that you get the FULL thousands of pages edition -- the girl in the Museum of London shop fetched it for me from under the counter -- odd how this is under the counter, but 50 Shades of Grey is a face-out.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like if Burke could stay on topic, this is the book for you.

Batgrl (Book Data Kept Elsewhere)
Wow, this thing is massive! I got the hardback used, not realizing that I could use it to do weight lifting. So I was probably silly not to get the ebook (it was a cost thing). Still I can't wait to start this, as I've had a long love affair with the city. If I can finish this by December this is just the sort of thing my father would love as well - but finishing it in that time seems a bit of a stretch.
Chin Hwa
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!
Chris Laskey
Rather than providing a more traditional straight time-based history the author instead chooses to frame his work according to concepts, themes and locations in and about London and its history. He does cover a massive amount of material though one would be pressed to be specific in terms of place markers but then again he insists that this is a biography - more of the personality of a place rather than the history. The book benefits as it creates an engaging work, providing a luminous study of ...more
This is a biography of my favourite city in the world..... It's a fabulous book that makes this commuters tube journey and walk through the City that much more interesting. The sense of history, both in its buildings and it's (long gone) peoples is prevalent everywhere..... I can read it again and again...
It was very good but also quite a hard read! But do much work must have gone into it! The mans brain is just amazing to restore all that information !
This book is a fantastic achievement. Every aspect of the city is both explained and connected. Its motivations and desires are laid bare. To an American, it cannot help but be interesting as this British giant has had so many centuries that it sometimes loses track of them. In its constant rebuilding, whether caused by fire, bombing, or the wreckage of revision, the past is always present.

I did find that Ackroyd made loving use of words such as "palimpsest", "atavistic" and "demotic". However,
this was a love-letter to london, through its' chronology, geography, and citizens.
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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
More about Peter Ackroyd...
Hawksmoor The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets Shakespeare: The Biography Foundation: The History of England from Its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors (The History of England, #1)

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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.” 0 likes
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