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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
London is the greatest city in the world.
I hold strong views on this subject.
With the exception of New York and Santa Monica, California, I've passed more days and nights in London than anywhere else in the world. I know the city and I love showing it off, in all its grandeur and homey variety, to foot-weary friends.
There are probably more books, of both words and pictures, about London than about any other city on the planet, and each one can present a different view of London. Simply because there is so much there, London shows a different face to every observer.
The editors of LONDON: A CITY REVEALED have concentrated on monumental London, stately London, royal London — there isn't a fish-and-chip shop or a pint of lager anywhere in sight — and, by drawing on photos and other illustrations from a wide variety of sources, they've assembled an extraordinarily handsome book, in oversize format, that brings this aspect of London, at least, to very impressive life.
The book is generally organized as a sweeping journey from west to east along the Thames. At the beginning of the visual tour, there's a breathtaking aerial view of Hampton Court with the trees around it glowing in autumn colors. After visits to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Richmond Park, we come into the city itself.
Here are the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Albert Hall, its stately and rather stolid exterior in sharp contrast to another image of flag-waving fans at the Last Night of the Proms. After the impressive food halls at Harrods, the book offers one ofLondon'smany surprises, the restful view of the British countryside preserved in Hyde Park and a field of yellow daffodils near Marble Arch in the very heart of London.
Two photos in particular are representative of the book. The picture of Buckingham Palace shows a gray, overcast sky that produces the kind of beautiful, silvery light one sees so often in London. Another, a two-page spread of the Houses of Parliament, shows the golden light of morning on its riverside facade, every detail as crisp and perfect as a finely worked jewel. And don't miss the tiny plane in the deep blue sky.
Many other sights are just as familiar but are equally well-done. Westminster Cathedral is viewed from Dean's Yard, the best vantage point of all, and Trafalgar Square is seen from the main entrance of the National Gallery as one looks across the open space and down Whitehall toward Parliament Square, seeing them all in relation to each other.
There's a striking shot of the balconies inside everybody's favorite store, Liberty's; an equally handsome view of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge and on past there to the newly developed areas of Canary Wharf and the Docklands; and on again eastward with pictures of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and the engineering marvel (or monstrosity, depending on your view) of the Thames Flood Barrier at Woolwich.
Then the book backtracks a bit to include some South Bank sights (the South Bank Arts Centre and the replica of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre) and then heads northward to my London with pictures of the British Museum, Bedford Square, Russell Square, and Regent's Park, and then farther north still to Hampstead and Highgate.
Across pages 164 and 165 is a picture taken in Russell Square of Bloomsbury. A gentleman sits reading on a wooden bench. Looming behind him through the trees is the red brick facade of the Hotel Russell. (Remember the lyrics from "Cats:" "Up, up, up past the Russell Hotel.") In London, I live within five minutes of that spot and have many times eaten my lunch and sat reading on that very bench.
Amidst all the monuments, all the grandeur and elegance, all the history and variety of London, this great city has countless such spots. And the editors of LONDON: A CITY REVEALED, though their focus lay elsewhere, could not help but record some of them, too.
No book — no lifetime! — could contain all of London, but LONDON: A CITY REVEALED vividly captures the more regal face of this great metropolis. The pictures are handsomely reproduced, the text is well written, informative, and filled with anecdotes, and the book does justice, as well as any single book can, to its magnificent subject.