London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd

Just finished reading this and it’s really good; highly recommended. It’s a hefty tome – nearly 800 pages – but it’s a real page turner. I’ve always been interested in history, particularly that of London, and I learned loads of new things from this book. It’s also made me want to go and visit loads of key London sites and areas that I’ve never been to before.

I also appreciate how Ackroyd seems to focus on the seedier, grimier and poorer aspects of life London, as this is what often interests me about the city.

Although the scope of this book is huge, there are some areas where it is lacking. Perhaps Ackroyd overlooked them, as he felt they have been covered many times before. Still, I would have liked to see mention of them in “THE book about London” (as the cover states). These include:

Parliament – when was it established? When was Downing Street built? Is London traditionally Conservative, Liberal etcetera? Original London mayoral tradition (before it was reestablished circa 2000). The effect of the “Labour Isn’t Working” campaign in the late 70s/early 80s. The effect that the buying of council houses has had across the city and to the working classes.

Monarchy – barely mentioned at all.

Gansters – Krays and Richardsons et al. Also modern street gangs.

Fashions – how they have changed through the centuries.

Youth culture – skinheads, punks etcetera.

Jack The Ripper case.

The tube system – tube distasters (Bethnal Green, Moorgate). Design of the tube map (and how it bends reality/distance).

West London – also North-West and South-West (doesn’t really get a mention).

Terrorism – although the book predates recent Jihad fears, could have mentioned the Iranian Embassy siege in the 80s and IRA bombs.

Modern music scene.

Cinema/film – Ealing etcetera.

Modern art.

Animals – pets and the effect that urbanisation has had upon wildlife, such as birds and foxes in the capital.

The transition from horses/carriages to cars.

Big Ben? When was it built?

Iconic read buses and telephone boxes – when were this established?

Taxi drivers – “The knowledge”.

“Magnificent Seven” Cemeteries.

Schooling – when did it come into effect?

Healthcare – same as above.

Robert Peel.


Books, London Life


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