London: A Social History

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Overview

This dazzling and yet intimate book is the first modern one-volume history of London from Roman times to the present. An extraordinary city, London grew from a backwater in the Classical age into an important medieval city, a significant Renaissance urban center, and a modern colossus. Roy Porter paints a detailed landscape--from the grid streets and fortresses of Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror to the medieval, walled "most noble city" of churches, friars, and crown and town relationships. Within the crenelated battlements, manufactures and markets developed and street-life buzzed.

London's profile in 1500 was much as it was at the peak of Roman power. The city owed its courtly splendor and national pride of the Tudor Age to the phenomenal expansion of its capital. It was the envy of foreigners, the spur of civic patriotism, and a hub of culture, architecture, great literature, and new religion. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, London experienced a cruel civil war, raging fires, enlightenment in thought, government, and living, and the struggle and benefits of empire. From the lament that "London was but is no more" to "you, who are to stand a wonder to all Years and ages...a phoenix," London became an elegant, eye-catching, metropolitan hub. It was a mosaic, Porter shows, that represented the shared values of a people--both high and low born--at work and play.

London was and is a wonder city, a marvel. Not since ancient times has there been such a city--not eternal, but vibrant, living, full of a free people ever evolving. In this transcendent book, Roy Porter touches the pulse of his hometown and makes it our own, capturing London's fortunes, people, and imperial glory with brio and wit.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post Book World

[London] deserves to be an instant classic. True London addicts will supplement it with the new edition of The London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, which Porter rightly calls "truly magnificent," but for those looking for a one-volume social history of the city, Porter's book could hardly be bettered.
— Michael Elliott

Washington Times

Lavishly illustrated and handsomely produced for no more than the price of most basic hardbacks these days, London is a treat for all lovers of London.
— James Bowman

New York Times Book Review

In his stunningly successful look at London between the Elizabeths, Roy Porter, a professor of medical history at University College, London, examines his home city not as some stretched-out cadaver but as a form evolving over time: sometimes a cancer, sometimes a monster, a heart, a stripling giant, an unknown disease, a fungus and also always a force, sometimes inorganic, a great tidal sea, a gravitational black hole, an imperial sun...History, not heritage, preoccupies Mr. Porter. His book makes no effort to chronicle the monuments of London building or rank masterpieces of architecture, although it puts coaching taverns and cathedrals into broader contexts...And, most happily, it is not ordinary, late-20th-century urban history, either, for it is acutely, indeed gracefully, written and it transcends the pettiness of scholars jamming facts into theories.
— John R. Stilgoe

Boston Sunday Globe

In this big book, London-born Roy Porter presents a social historian's guide to his native city. It is a great piling up of information and contemporary observation from the years that span the two Elizabeths. Porter's aim, which he achieves splendidly, is to show the interaction between the city's people, its economy and the built environment...This truly fine book includes many excellent illustrations.
— Katherine A. Powers

The Independent

This is much the best and bravest thing [Porter] has yet written. It is important because it makes the whole sweep of London's unique history comprehensible and accessible in a way that no previous writer has ever managed to accomplish...For cities, like nations, can only be understood in an historical perspective. It is that perspective which this book so brilliantly provides. In more senses than one, it is a capital history.
— David Cannadine

Dallas Morning News
If you want to know how a great urban area developed, look no further than Roy Porter's exhaustive--but never exhausting--history of London...[An] excellent study.
American Historical Review

[A] rich and evocative portrayal of London's teeming life...[A]ny interested historian or educated tourist who wishes to come to London to form a personal opinion should buy Porter's wonderful evocation of this "most possible form of life."
— Martin Daunton

Washington Post Book World - Michael Elliott
[London] deserves to be an instant classic. True London addicts will supplement it with the new edition of The London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, which Porter rightly calls "truly magnificent," but for those looking for a one-volume social history of the city, Porter's book could hardly be bettered.
Washington Times - James Bowman
Lavishly illustrated and handsomely produced for no more than the price of most basic hardbacks these days, London is a treat for all lovers of London.
New York Times Book Review - John R. Stilgoe
In his stunningly successful look at London between the Elizabeths, Roy Porter, a professor of medical history at University College, London, examines his home city not as some stretched-out cadaver but as a form evolving over time: sometimes a cancer, sometimes a monster, a heart, a stripling giant, an unknown disease, a fungus and also always a force, sometimes inorganic, a great tidal sea, a gravitational black hole, an imperial sun...History, not heritage, preoccupies Mr. Porter. His book makes no effort to chronicle the monuments of London building or rank masterpieces of architecture, although it puts coaching taverns and cathedrals into broader contexts...And, most happily, it is not ordinary, late-20th-century urban history, either, for it is acutely, indeed gracefully, written and it transcends the pettiness of scholars jamming facts into theories.
Boston Sunday Globe - Katherine A. Powers
In this big book, London-born Roy Porter presents a social historian's guide to his native city. It is a great piling up of information and contemporary observation from the years that span the two Elizabeths. Porter's aim, which he achieves splendidly, is to show the interaction between the city's people, its economy and the built environment...This truly fine book includes many excellent illustrations.
The Independent - David Cannadine
This is much the best and bravest thing [Porter] has yet written. It is important because it makes the whole sweep of London's unique history comprehensible and accessible in a way that no previous writer has ever managed to accomplish...For cities, like nations, can only be understood in an historical perspective. It is that perspective which this book so brilliantly provides. In more senses than one, it is a capital history.
American Historical Review - Martin Daunton
[A] rich and evocative portrayal of London's teeming life...[A]ny interested historian or educated tourist who wishes to come to London to form a personal opinion should buy Porter's wonderful evocation of this "most possible form of life."
Boston Sunday Globe
In this big book, London-born Roy Porter presents a social historian's guide to his native city. It is a great piling up of information and contemporary observation from the years that span the two Elizabeths. Porter's aim, which he achieves splendidly, is to show the interaction between the city's people, its economy and the built environment...This truly fine book includes many excellent illustrations.
— Katherine A. Powers
The Independent
This is much the best and bravest thing [Porter] has yet written. It is important because it makes the whole sweep of London's unique history comprehensible and accessible in a way that no previous writer has ever managed to accomplish...For cities, like nations, can only be understood in an historical perspective. It is that perspective which this book so brilliantly provides. In more senses than one, it is a capital history.
— David Cannadine
New York Times Book Review
In his stunningly successful look at London between the Elizabeths, Roy Porter, a professor of medical history at University College, London, examines his home city not as some stretched-out cadaver but as a form evolving over time: sometimes a cancer, sometimes a monster, a heart, a stripling giant, an unknown disease, a fungus and also always a force, sometimes inorganic, a great tidal sea, a gravitational black hole, an imperial sun...History, not heritage, preoccupies Mr. Porter. His book makes no effort to chronicle the monuments of London building or rank masterpieces of architecture, although it puts coaching taverns and cathedrals into broader contexts...And, most happily, it is not ordinary, late-20th-century urban history, either, for it is acutely, indeed gracefully, written and it transcends the pettiness of scholars jamming facts into theories.
— John R. Stilgoe
Washington Times
Lavishly illustrated and handsomely produced for no more than the price of most basic hardbacks these days, London is a treat for all lovers of London.
— James Bowman
Washington Post Book World
[London] deserves to be an instant classic. True London addicts will supplement it with the new edition of The London Encyclopedia by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, which Porter rightly calls "truly magnificent," but for those looking for a one-volume social history of the city, Porter's book could hardly be bettered.
— Michael Elliott
American Historical Review
[A] rich and evocative portrayal of London's teeming life...[A]ny interested historian or educated tourist who wishes to come to London to form a personal opinion should buy Porter's wonderful evocation of this "most possible form of life."
— Martin Daunton
Library Journal
"London was always a muddle that worked." Survivor of plagues, fires, wars, and rulers bordering on (or decidedly) incompetent, this city has always managed to retain at least some of its considerable glory. The question, as posed by Porter (Wellcome Inst. for the History of Medicine) is, "Will London survive, in spite of or because of her history?" In a narrative spanning London's beginnings through the time of Margaret Thatcher, Porter has drawn a dense picture of a complex city. Bogged down with the weight of too many details, with a focus too scattered and confused to do the question justice, this book leaves one wishing for the thorough grounding in English history that would make things come clear. For a colorful, accessible resource, turn to the Times' "London History Atlas" (LJ 3/92). Possibly useful as a secondary source for larger academic libraries. [For another recent book on London, see John Russell's "London", LJ 10/15/94.-Ed.] -Nancy L. Whitfield, Meriden P.L., Conn.
School Library Journal
A detailed analysis of London's growth from a Roman town to a modern metropolis. The chronological arrangement of the chapters makes it easy to pull out specific time periods. The Victorian age gets special emphasis. The details of everyday life, values, and work ethics can be difficult to locate elsewhere. An up-to-date synthesis of diverse writings about the city provides a social history. The primary sources included make it possible to feel a part of the events. Black-and-white, engravinglike illustrations provide a pictorial overview. Although the reading level may challenge some YAs, it is appropriate for most students of English literature and history.- Arlene Hoebel, W.T. Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674538399
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 2/12/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 523,787
  • Product dimensions: 0.91 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 9.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Roy Porter is Professor of Medical History at University College, London, and Research Fellow at the Wellcome Institute.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface

1. Introduction
2. Formation to Reformation

3. Tudor London

4. War, Plague and Fire

5. The Triumph of Town: From Restoration to Regency

6. Commercial City: 1650-1800

7. Culture City: Life under the Georges

8. Capitalism in the Capital: The Victorian Age

9. 'The Contagion of Numbers': The Building of the Victorian Capital 1820-1890

10. Bumbledom? London's Politics 1800-1890

11. Social Problems, Social Improvement: 1820-1890

12. Victorian Life

13. 'A Fungus-Like Growth': Expansion 1890-1945

14. Modern Growth, Modern Government: 1890-1945

15. Swinging London, Dangling Economy: 1945-1975

16. Thatcher's London
17. Conclusion: The London Marathon

Further Reading

Index

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