Reading to celebrate the city, on the eve of the 2012 Olympic Games.

City of Ravens

By Boria Sax

According to legend, Charles II warned that if there were no ravens at the Tower of London, the British Nation would collapse. The truth behind how these clever birds became tourist attractions is unpacked by natural historian Boria Sax, who combines a study of the storied relationship between humans and ravens with a romp through London’s recent history. The result is a captivating exploration of how we make myths and endow animals with unique meaning.

London Under

By Peter Ackroyd

Ackroyd peers beneath the city streets at the subterranean reflection of London’s historic edifices. From the Victorian sewer system that ended years of cholera epidemics to the Underground’s Metropolitan Line, which revolutionized public transportation in 1864, the story of the city’s guts is that of the Western world’s march toward modernity. An engrossing follow-up to the author’s classic London: A Biography.


By Craig Taylor

A Canadian living abroad in London, Taylor was curious how locals viewed themselves. In interviews with a broad cross-section of London’s residents — including a mounted soldier of the Queen’s Life Guard at Buckingham Palace, a West End rickshaw driver, and even a Sarah who used to be a George — the author delivers a pointillist portrait of contemporary life in the British capital. (For a take from one of the city’s most colorful current denizen’s, there’s also Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World by London mayor Boris Johnson.)


By China Miéville

The high priest of the “New Weird” delivers a marvelous comic thriller that tips a British Museum researcher into a shadow reality where London’s accreted mythology and occult legacies take on a menacing life. What starts with the theft of a giant squid gets infinitely stranger and as sprawlingly entertaining as the city it’s set in. (Miéville also penned the enchanting Un Lun Dun, a vision of London’s doppelganger seen through an Alice in Wonderland-like looking glass.)

Sketches by Boz

By Charles Dickens

A novelist synonymous with the city, Dickens began his career as a journalist, covering parliamentary debate and election campaigns. His reporting, often appearing as vignettes in various periodicals, formed his first book-length work, Sketches by Boz. The wildly entertaining result is a jewel of the form that our columnist Michael Dirda calls, “an approachable, friendly book. …Theatrical to the bone, in these pages Dickens instinctively transforms any group of people into a mini-drama.” When you’ve sampled its’ charms, take a trip to Victorian London’s dark side in the author’s epic masterpiece Bleak House.