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London: A History
     

London: A History

by Jeremy Black
 
Everyone thinks they know London. Its landmarks have been used in a hundred films; its skyline is instantly recognisable; and the winding course of its river familiar, in great detail, from the satellite imagery used to begin the BBC’s Eastenders. For London is at the centre of the nation’s attention, and has been, on and off, for two thousand years.

Yet

Overview

Everyone thinks they know London. Its landmarks have been used in a hundred films; its skyline is instantly recognisable; and the winding course of its river familiar, in great detail, from the satellite imagery used to begin the BBC’s Eastenders. For London is at the centre of the nation’s attention, and has been, on and off, for two thousand years.

Yet familiarity does not necessarily bring enlightenment. The very size of the city has the power to obscure as well as to mesmerise; the unparalleled tangle of experience over such a long period of time becomes impossible to unravel, at least in one telling or from one perspective.

What, then, was London? The answer depends on who you ask, and when. London was a capital city, a port, an economic powerhouse, a magnet for talent. Two hundred and fifty years ago London was the first modern city, with the world’s highest wages and best standard of living, at least for those in settled employment.

Yet it could just as easily be portrayed (and often was) as a sink of depravity, a slum of despair with some of the worst death rates in the world, in which urban expansion and population explosion outstripped the city’s capacity to provide even the basic means of life to ordinary citizens. Was London, as the radical pamphleteer and champion of the virtues of rural England William Cobbett said disparagingly in the 1820s, the ‘Great Wen’ – a pathological swelling on the face of the nation? To those from the furthest corners of the land it could appear from afar to be a seething snakepit of avarice, prostitution, corruption and vice … yet one that could be seductively attractive, full of opportunity for fortune or salvation.

To political commentators, or scheming courtiers, London was the heart of the nation state and of empire; to economists and financiers it was where you had to be to do real business; to lawyers there was nowhere else like it; to lightermen, sailors and watermen who worked the river or sailed the world it was their home port, the city on the most important artery of world trade; to socialites it was the tiny, febrile centre of their universe; to social reformers it was, and seems destined always to be, the den of iniquity, inequality, inequity.

London was wealthy, populous, central to the nation, cosmopolitan yet self-absorbed and inward-looking. When young, enterprising provincials made their way to London – as they did in their thousands – they knew that they would find everything they needed there – financial institutions, the law and all its multifarious (or nefarious) practitioners, a huge potential market, contacts, networks, the court – all in one place – along with coffee-houses, fine restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs, salacious entertainments, fashionable assemblies and a cult of celebrity.

People did get spat out of the vortex. Many who migrated to London became disillusioned, and some went home again. Some who made fortunes chose to retire to a quieter, landed seclusion, but many more, not just in the East End, would have left if only they been able to. But they couldn’t. They came; they saw; and they were conquered. The filth, the squalor, the misery and the poverty: these were as much the real London as the elegant squares of Belgravia and the fine villas of Kensington. The stews of Southwark, the opium dens of Limehouse, the child prostitution of Stepney … a walk and a world away from the heaths of Hampstead and the shops of Regent Street.

In fact, of course, we cannot really talk of one London at all. Properly speaking, the City – the ancient walled city rather than the financiers’ Square Mile of today – is the true London, with its City wards, beadle, sheriffs and lord mayor (with his official home at Mansion House), ancient Guildhall, Customs House, city walls and royal castle. But when we think of London now, we casually and understandably include much else besides, including the separate City of Westminster and the no less ancient ‘Borough’ of Southwark.

What we have, then, is a complex, bedevilling place whose history has been enacted upon so many different fields of play that it is hard to encompass in a single survey.

REVIEWS

"London: A History by Jeremy Black is a beautifully illustrated compendium history that starts at the beginning of London as a settlement and follows through until now. The photographs, maps and paintings make this one history that will keep you turning the pages. A professor of history at Exeter College and the University of Durham, Black is well qualified to write this excellent work, as a graduate of Cambridge and Oxford.His writing style is very interesting, not the boring histories of yore but one which will keep you wanting to read and absorb all you can about this wonderful city. I highly recommend it for any history buff and for anyone who enjoyed the Olympics 2012 in London. Very timely and beautifully done! "
Bonnie Neely, Real Travel Adventures, 2012/09

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
London: A History by Jeremy Black is a 440-page, illustrated compendium of the history of England's single most important and universally identifiable metropolitan city. Originally founded by the Romans to serve as their capital, London: A History continues the city's history under Anglo-Saxon rule (410-1066); the city's medieval era (1066-1485); city life under the Tutors (1485-1603); under the kingship of the Stuarts (1603-1714); the city as the heart of the globe spanning British Empire (1714-1815); as a 'World City' (1815-1914; the decline of the city's international influence (1914-1945); and the city's modern era (1945-2010). Of special note is the concluding chapter 'Into the Future" and the author's 'Postscript: The Biography of a City". Informed and informative, London: A History is enhanced with the inclusion of copious notes and references, an extensive bibliography for further study, a list of included illustrations, and a comprehensive index. An impressive work of meticulous scholarship,London: A History is highly recommended for community and academic library World History and British History reference collections and supplemental reading lists.

London: A History by Jeremy Black is a beautifully illustrated compendium history that starts at the beginning of London as a settlement and follows through until now. The photographs, maps and paintings make this one history that will keep you turning the pages. A professor of history at Exeter College and the University of Durham, Black is well qualified to write this excellent work, as a graduate of Cambridge and Oxford.His writing style is very interesting, not the boring histories of yore but one which will keep you wanting to read and absorb all you can about this wonderful city. I highly recommend it for any history buff and for anyone who enjoyed the Olympics 2012 in London. Very timely and beautifully done!

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781859361726
Publisher:
Carnegie Publishing
Publication date:
08/01/2013
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
745,610
Product dimensions:
7.50(w) x 9.80(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

JEREMY BLACK is Professor of History at the University of Exeter. Born in London, he studied at Cambridge, graduating with a Starred First, before doing postgraduate work at Oxford. From 1980 he taught at the University of Durham, eventually as Professor, before moving to Exeter in 1996. He has lectured extensively abroad, especially in the USA. A past Council member of the Royal Historical Society, Black is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. In 2000 he received an MBE for services to postage stamp design, and in 2008 received a Samuel Eliot Morison Prize of the Society for Military History. He is the author of many books and articles on British history.

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