What a book! I don't read much history, so I was not thrilled when a friend gave me London in the Nineteenth Century as a present. I confess I had never heard of Jerry White. I dipped into it for form's sake one Friday evening, and ended up locking myself away for the rest of the weekend until I had read all 600-odd pages. Generally, reading history feels like work: not in this case. It is written with an obvious passion for its subject, and crammed with nuggets you want to read aloud to someone. It's completely free of the pompousness I associate with academic historians, and I developed a real liking for the author. He doesn't impose his intellect and learning on you, but shares it with you, so that you can't help catching his enthusiasm. It seems fluent and effortless, despite the compendious knowledge and research that went into it. The sources (all meticulously referenced) are innumerable - it's when you dip into the index and footnotes that you really begin to realise what a feat of learning this is. I can't begin to pick out favourite bits: there are too many. But where I really got hooked was in the second part, "People". At that point, it came fully alive for me. The book has a democratic feel, because so much of the material relates to the common people. Throughout the remaining chapters on "Work", "Culture" (with a fascinating study of shared and private pleasures), and "Law and Order", it read as easily and engagingly as a novel.
As soon as I finished this I had to find myself a copy of the same author's "London in the Twentieth Century" - which, scandalously, is out of print! I eventually tracked it down on the internet, and found to my delight it is every bit as good. I can only hope he will tackle another century or two.