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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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.