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London: The Biography
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A masterpiece- London- A Biography is the culmination and distillation of Peter Ackroyd's lifelong obsession with the history and topography of London. Vividly anecdotal and brilliantly original.

About the Author

Peter Ackroyd is an award-winning historian, biographer, novelist, poet and broadcaster. He is the author of the acclaimed non-fiction bestsellers London: The Biography, Thames: Sacred River and London Under; biographies of figures including Charles Dickens, William Blake, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock; and a multi-volume history of England. He has won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award and the South Bank Prize for Literature. He holds a CBE for services to literature.

Reviews

Novelist and biographer Ackroyd (The Plato Papers; T.S. Eliot; etc.) offers a huge, enthralling "biography" of the city of London. The reader segues through this litany of lists and anthology of anecdotes via the sketchiest of topical linkages, but no matter not a page is dull, until brief closing chapters in which Ackroyd succumbs to bathos, for which he's instantaneously redeemed by the preceding chapters. He admits to using no original research, openly crediting his printed sources. Ackroyd examines London from its pre-history through today, artfully selecting, organizing and pacing stories, and rendering the past in witty and imaginative ways. "The opium quarter of Limehouse," he tells readers, for example, "is now represented by a Chinese take-away." Fast food, it seems, was always part of the London scene. When poet Thomas Southey asked a pastry cook why she kept her shop open in the worst weather, she told him that otherwise she would lose business, "so many were the persons who took up buns or biscuits as they passed by and threw their pence in, not allowing themselves time to enter." Ackroyd covers unrest and peace, fires and ruins, river and rail transport, crime and punishment, wealth and poverty, markets and churches, uncontrolled growth and barely controlled filth. If there is a hero among the throngs, it may be engineer Joseph Bazalgette, who in 1855 began building 1,265 miles of sewers to contain the Stygian odor of progress and keep the huge, ugly metropolis livable. No one should mind the extraordinary price of this extraordinary achievement. B&w illus., maps not seen by PW. (On sale Oct. 16) Forecast: Published to acclaim in England, this is virtually guaranteed major review coverage here, and the publisher will also shoot for national media. Anglophiles and others will rejoice. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

It would be no exaggeration to say that Peter Ackroyd's 'biography' of our capital is the book about London. It contains a lifetime of reading and research-but this huge book is light and airy and playful-[He] leads us on a journey both historical and geographical, but also imaginative. Every street, alley and courtyard has a story, and Ackroyd brings it to life for us - marvellous -- A N Wilson * Daily Mail *
Nothing can quite match the huge strange echo chamber of life-stories, folktales, and urban myths conjured up in Peter Ackroyd's epic vision of his native city. Sparkling, witty scholarship is constantly transformed into smoky mystical street-history, with dark hypnotic meditations on fog, fire, sewage, suicide and civic resurrection -- Richard Holmes * Daily Telegraph *
Ackroyd is the most effortless guide. You wander by his side through the streets of the old city, savouring its bustle, colours and its smells, the stink of living. This is much more than history; it is a tapestry of inspiration and love. You will not find a better, more visionary book about a place we take for granted * Observer *
It's this decade's finest work of non-fiction -- Jude Rogers * The Word *
[London] may be several years old but it remains one of the leading narratives as he cleverly weaves through centuries of history to reveal to us the hundreds of different cities within a city -- Fiona Hamilton * The Times *

Biographer/novelist Ackroyd (e.g., The Life of Thomas Moore) offers a sweeping, highly readable account of London's colorful and complicated history. In encyclopedic detail, he discusses everything from the city's crime and its theater to the notorious fog, plagues, and Great Fire of 1666, from which the city had to be almost built. He also provides a useful travelog, discussing London's many notable buildings, neighborhoods, and other features rich with stories, among them Newgate Prison, "an emblem of death and suffering," the "dirty" East End, and, of course, the Thames, London's "river of commerce." Characters such as infamous "prison-breaker" Jack Sheppard are vividly re-created, as are scenes like the sights and smells of the market in 1276 and the bloody Notting Hill riots in 1958. The book is full of both horrors, including the overwhelming number of beggars and the "impaled heads of traitors" in the 1600s, and soaring achievements, as London rises to the "center of world commerce" in the 1800s. Ackroyd's passion for this remarkable city is clearly evident. Recommended for all public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/01.] Isabel Coates, Boston Consulting Group, Brampton, Ont. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

This trip through London, conducted by novelist/biographer Ackroyd, is less concerned with chronology than with human drama. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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