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PETER ACKROYD is the author of London: The Biography, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, and Shakespeare: The Biography; acclaimed biographies of T.S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Sir Thomas More; thirteen novels; and the series Ackroyd's Brief Lives. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, 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 Award for Literature. He lives in London.
For a river with such a famous history, England's Thames measures only 215 miles. Acclaimed novelist and biographer Ackroyd (Hawksmoor; Shakespeare) invites readers on an eclectic, sprawling and delightful cruise of this important waterway. "The Thames has been a highway, a frontier and an attack route; it has been a playground and a sewer, a source of water and a source of power," writes Ackroyd. Historians believe the river may have been important for transport and commerce as early as the Neolithic Age. The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis has a long association with the Thames, which was used for baptisms, both pagan and Christian, during the Roman Empire. The British tribes tried to use the Thames as a defense against Julius Caesar's invasion, and the Normans built the Tower of London and Windsor Castle on the Thames as symbols of military preeminence. The royal waterway carried Anne Boleyn to both her coronation and her beheading, and famously served as inspiration for paintings by Turner and Monet and for Handel's Water Music, commissioned to associate the German-born George I with a potent source of English power. Elegant and erudite, Ackroyd's gathering of rich treats does the famed tributary proud. Illus., maps. (Nov. 4) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
Because he has 30 books and numerous awards under his belt, it's difficult to imagine Ackroyd (London: The Biography) writing a truly bad book, but this one comes perilously close. It's best to dip into at bedtime: every page contains intriguing information about the Thames, those who live near it, and the activities surrounding it. But the book is overwritten--bloated and flabby, with too little spine. The first parts are highly impressionistic: Ackroyd treats the "sacral" Thames as though it were purposive, but his argument doesn't convince, and the reasoning throughout the entire narrative is questionable. Ackroyd fails to provide a clear historical narrative or topographical sequence. Instead, he has organized the book around a series of loosely connected topics, and the jumping around is confusing. Long lists--people, places, products, even colors, sounds, and smells--don't help. (In four pages, he describes 35 separate springs and wells!) If you don't possess a priori familiarity with the towns, springs, and so forth abutting the Thames, you will gain little from reading these lists. Ackroyd's observations on the connection between art and the Thames--an area where he should shine--are overly enthusiastic. Nonetheless, as many Ackroyd fans may still want to read this puffy book, it is recommended for large public collections--but with reservations.--David Keymer, Modesto, CA Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.
"Thames smells authentically of the water, of an author who has walked the towpath and knows not only the impressive statistics...but also the Turner water-colours of the Thames itself.... It is not just the subject that sets this book apart but also the compelling new perspectives that [Ackroyd] brings." --The Times "The pages glint with scintillating nuggets recovered from the river.... You might well think that the garlanded biographer of Dickens and Turner was born to write this extraordinary book." --The Observer "Mesmerising. . . As soon as you open this account of the Thames, you will want to immerse yourself in it. . . . No one is better than Ackroyd at evoking the texture and atmosphere of the distant past." --Daily Telegraph "An unmissable performance." --The Guardian "[A book of] substance and unflaggingly interesting detail. . . a very enjoyable and highly idiosyncratic account of the subject." --The Spectator "Wonderful.... Peter Ackroyd's writing is such a pleasure that Thames can be read all at once, with increasing delight, and afterwards dipped into, like stretches of the great waterway it charts and celebrates." --Financial Times Magazine "[Ackroyd's] exhaustive reclaiming of the Thames inks in colourful new detail. --TIME "a rich offering by a masterly writer..." --Times Literary Supplement "[Ackroyd] presents his material as a cornucopia of treats and insights delivered from all directions." --The Independent