One thing that I always meant to do, but have never actually got around to doing, is to put up lists of favourite or recommended London books – a) to perhaps give you some thoughts on what you might read next, and b) to show off about how fantastically erudite and well-read I am.
With that in mind (option (a) obviously slightly more important than (b)) here’s some of the stuff that I’ve enjoyed over the past six months or so. I shall try to do this more often, as I’m finding ownership of a Kindle (plus the dearth of guiding work) is allowing me to read a lot more than I have in the past.
There are links off to the evil corporation that is Amazon for most of them (for which I may earn several buttons if you actually buy anything), but all of the ones below should be available at – or orderable from – your local bookshop.
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London
I’m currently reading this and enjoying it immensely. It gives a vivid picture of life in the capital in the century that saw it explode in population to be the biggest city the world had ever seen. As well as the squalor and the deprivation, the sheer vivacity and life of the place must have been a wonder. Recommended.
Viking Britain: A History
A great read on the waves of traders, invaders and settlers that came across the North Sea and their impact on Britain, both at the time and subsequently.
A Short History of London: The Creation of a World Capital
A rapid overview of the city’s history from earliest times to the present. A good read, even if Jenkins does take a bit too much time on saying how dreadful modern architecture is.
The Tower of London does have someone whose title is ‘Ravenmaster’ and Yeoman Warder Skaife is he.
Some cracking stories about life in the Tower, interspersed with the history of England, Chris’s own autobiography and information on the UK’s largest corvids.
The Splendid and the Vile
The Blitz as seen through the eyes of the Churchill family and others. A mix of history and actual diary entries that gives a pretty vivid picture of life during those nine months when London was bombed on an almost daily basis. Larson has a novelist’s sensibility for a story (which has both plusses and minuses), but makes for a cracking read.
D Day: Minute by Minute
Does what it says on the cover – tracing the Normandy invasion as it happened from both sides from historical archives, diaries, autobiographies and more. It gives a great insight into the confusion, terror and slaughter of battle, and the pressures on those in command. Another recommended read.
Civil War: The History of England Volume III
The ‘Wars of the Three Kingdoms’, the decade-long armed conflicts that left a King executed and Britain as a ‘Commonwealth’. There are so many more aspects to this story than most of us remember or were taught, and this is a good primer on it all. For more on Cromwell’s rule, Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate by Paul Lay is the go-to title.
London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945
Good and readable on the fifties and early sixties, but gets a bit bogged down in minutiae of the later ‘hippy’ period. Barry Miles was involved in ‘the scene’ at the time and has a number of scores to settle. Also, some of the ‘happenings’ that he is so proud of sounded so incredibly tedious to me.