Could possibly have done more, but overall I think I did quite well on the reading front in 2011. Fulfilling a New Year’s resolution, I finally absorbed Peter Ackroyd’s London The Biography. At 700+ pages it took almost six months because I read other tomes simultaneously, and I’m quite a slow reader anyway. Arranged thematically, it is a masterwork of erudition and learning. Some bits are better than others, but all are worthy. The chapter on London’s children (for example) is especially fine. Anyone with an interest in London’s history should own and read this book.
Another Titan whom I was acquainted with but not his London stuff, is HV Morton. I bought an old copy of HV Morton’s London for a few quid from a stall at the London Maze at the Guildhall last May. It sat on the shelf for the remainder of the year until I devoured it over Christmas. It’s actually an anthology published in the 1940s of much of his London writing from the 1920s. Exquisitely written with a journalist’s hand, it gives us a detailed snapshot of London and Londoners of the interwar period. One is amazed quite how much London has changed in the past 90 years, a lot because of the Blitz, but not just that. A small example is the London Museum, which at that time was housed in Lancaster House. Expect much quoting from it in this blog!
That was old masters. There were many good books published during the year, some of which we reviewed:
London Under by Peter Ackroyd
The Stones of London by Leo Hollis
Journal of a Georgian Gentleman by Mike Rendell
Voices of Victorian London: In Sickness and in Health by Henry Mayhew (new anthology)
Hidden City by David Long
Walk the Lines by Mark Mason
Stepney by Samantha Bird (review by Peter Stone)
Moll – The Life and Times of Moll Flanders by Sian Rees (review by Peter Stone)
Tower: an Epic History of the Tower of London by Nigel Jones
Mr Briggs’ Hat by Kate Colquhoun
London Underground by David Long was published in November. I have read it and almost completed my review, coming soon!
My personal choice for Book of the Year must go to Kate Colquhoun’s Mr Briggs’ Hat, the story of the first ever murder on the British railways, in 1861. The narrative is so compelling, it almost seems like fiction. But it’s all true – deeply researched and watertight. I’ll remind you again that I’m a slow reader: well, I nailed this wonderful book in 24 hours, no problem. The excellent blogger Dustshoveller’s Gazette recently did a post on the Good History Book Checklist. Mr Briggs’ Hat ticks all the boxes!
New Year’s Resolution #1. To finish the books I started in 2011 but had to abandon due to other commitments: Phoenix by Leo Hollis; City of Sin by Catharine Arnold; His Invention So Fertile, A life of Christopher Wren by Adrian Tinniswood. New Year’s Resolution #2. To read Samuel Johnson A Biography by Peter Martin. Also, having read Victorian London by Liza Picard a few years ago, I’d like to try something else by her.
I’d better get a jig along with these, because there is very good stuff in the pipeline during 2012. Not least are two mouthwatering treatments of Georgian London by Lucy Inglis and Jerry White, due out in the Spring. Both Lucy and Jerry are historians of the first rank so this will not be an either/or proposition. We’ll cover these and many other new books at the appropriate time.
I can’t possibly read and review everything, much as I’d love to. So if you’d like to do a guest review on this blog, please get in touch.