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Dr. Johnson's London: Life in London, 1740-1770 Hardcover – 12 Jul 2000


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 362 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; 4th impression edition (12 July 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0297842188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297842187
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 3.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 433,944 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Liza Picard certainly isn't tired of London. The lives that once thronged its streets are the stuff of her books, and Dr Johnson's London updates her 1997 volume, Restoration London, by one hundred years or so. Samuel Pepys gives way to Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, though, entertainingly, she shows no affection for the pair. She pursues them solely for their era, stretching 30 years from 1740 to 1770, pivoted on the publication of Johnson's Dictionary in 1755. Starting with a "virtual" sedan-chair tour of the city, she proceeds to elucidate every aspect of urban life, with particular attention paid to the poor, and the "middling sort", a fledgling middle class. This goes some way to redressing a balance which historically has tended to favour the rich and famous, who left behind the majority of buildings and ephemera.

Picard's conversational style, as bursting with rhetorical questions as a primary teacher, belies the breadth of her reading and research. Her informality breathes life into dry descriptions, and her sharp eye lends itself to shrewd selection from source passages. The familiarity of this Blackadder-esque London is borne out by its physical dimensions, with parks, hospitals and even bridges already starting to become recognisable to a contemporary eye, as well as its phenomena, such as lottery tickets and road rage. Although Picard sways between tenses with a giddy ease, adding a sprinkling of her own curious observations, her assimilation of information renders her prose sprightly, whether she be observing a meal in "real time", or delighting in the medical remedies, often involving quite the worst ingredients (though it's useful to know that powdered roast mouse is a reliable cure for incontinence). Saving the best to last, the concluding pages offer a cost of living index, which, as Picard admits, almost renders the book redundant. From a 1/2d half-loaf of bread to a £64,000 reward, it evocatively summarises the victuals and commodities of the time, and closes a bustling, collective portrait of the city not just of Johnson, but also of Henry Fielding, Tobias Smollett and William Hogarth.--David Vincent

Review

'Picard's writing is engaging and lucid, Fiona Shaw narrates with enthusiasm and the book has been thoughtfully abridged' (THE TIMES)

It is packed with the sort of period detail I relish, the sections are linked with Handel, 18th century London's most celebrated composer (THE GUARDIAN) --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 3 Aug. 2000
Format: Hardcover
Generally when I have bought books like this in the past I have started reading enthusiastically only to find myself losing interest due to the dry nature of the prose. Thankfully I have presevered & been rewarded with this fantastic read. From start to finish it is a fascinating journey through a smelly, vibrant, dangerous and totally foreign London.
It gives a real feel of time and place and kept me gripped from start to finish. It also made me thankful for 21st century plumbing and the demise of the press gang!
If you have any interest in history at all then this is an excellent light and entertaining read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By I Read, Therefore I Blog VINE VOICE on 14 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a fascinating and well-researched book that gives you interesting snippets about how life was lived between 1740 and 1770. Particularly interesting is her use of first hand accounts of daily life in the time, told by foreign visitors, who must have viewed the customs as strangely as we do looking back.

My main criticism is that the subject matter is perhaps too broad, which means that Picard barely scratches the surface of some of the most interesting topics - transport, the lives of the wealthy, shopping etc - but her book is good enough to encourage the reader to conduct their own research into these areas.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 23 Oct. 2000
Format: Hardcover
A vivid, disgusting, harrowing, charming evocation of London life just 250 years and a lightyear away.
If the press gangs and smallpox did't get you, then the medicine would. Find out how many Londoners died of "lethargy" or "grief". Smell the sewers, taste the powdered chalk in the milk. It makes todays health scares seem utterly banal.
Fascination stuff. A history book that you don't tire of after five chapters. Buy it and curl up in front of the fire this Christmas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Chippindale TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Feb. 2008
Format: Hardcover
I stumbled on Liza Picard's books quite by chance. After looking at the publishing date in some of the books it is apparent some of them have been around for several years. I am now recommending them to anyone and everyone and I am so glad I stumbled across the first one I read on a rainy afternoon, lonely and far away from home. I have now read them all.

As soon as you start to read the book it becomes apparent that the author is passionate about her subject and wants the reader to enjoy the reading experience as much as she has in the writing of it. Liza Picard presents an enthralling picture of how life in London was really lived. The book is about the period from 1740 to 1770 when many great men walked the streets of London, among them Hogarth, Fielding and Dr Johnson. Names that are well known in history, but the author puts meat on the bones and brings these people to life for the enjoyment of the reader.

Liza Picard was born in 1927. She read law and qualified as a barrister but did not practice. Quite where she gleaned all this information from I am not sure. That it was a labour of love is obvious to anyone who reads her books and I for one am grateful.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By J. Chippindale TOP 500 REVIEWER on 6 Sept. 2006
Format: Paperback
I stumbled on Liza Picard's books quite by chance. After looking at the publishing date in some of the books it is apparent some of them have been around for several years. I am now recommending them to anyone and everyone and I am so glad I stumbled across the first one I read on a rainy afternoon, lonely and far away from home. I have now read them all.

As soon as you start to read the book it becomes apparent that the author is passionate about her subject and wants the reader to enjoy the reading experience as much as she has in the writing of it. Liza Picard presents an enthralling picture of how life in London was really lived. The book is about the period from 1740 to 1770 when many great men walked the streets of London, among them Hogarth, Fielding and Dr Johnson. Names that are well known in history, but the author puts meat on the bones and brings these people to life for the enjoyment of the reader.

Liza Picard was born in 1927. She read law and qualified as a barrister but did not practice. Quite where she gleaned all this information from I am not sure. That it was a labour of love is obvious to anyone who reads her books and I for one am grateful.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By -sweetmolly-(barbaracoe@mediaone.net) on 17 Sept. 2001
Format: Hardcover
Author Liza Picard tells us right off that she is a lawyer by profession, not an historian. This opens her up to sniffy comments by academics who think no history can be written unless it done in the dullest way possible. In spite of the fact Ms. Picard did voluminous research and adequately footnoted and indexed her book, she still came in for some sniping. In my mind, it is most unfair for she has produced an entertaining, interesting, breezy account of times during the reign of George III. (1740-1770)
Though Ms. Picard is clearly no fan of the revered Dr. Johnson and has a very poor opinion of biographer James Boswell, they do weave in and out of the text. She divides the book into three sections, The Poor, The Middling Sort, and The Rich. She gives us what they wore, ate, with what they entertained themselves, and how they lived with great immediacy. You will wonder how anyone survived to grow up in filthy, smelly, incurious London. Most surprising to me was the Gin Wars and how pervasive this cheap form of alcohol was among the poor. It had a huge effect on a great portion of the populace for an extended period of time. The ladies' three-foot high hairdos forced them to sit on the floor of coaches when traveling to balls. I couldn't help but wonder if they just slid out the door when they reached their destinations.
"Dr. Johnson's London" is a lively read with interesting details. Ms. Picard does a good job of getting us into the sensibilities of 18th century London. Recommended.
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