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4.6 out of 5 stars32
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 18 January 2007
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.
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It helps if you're familiar with London, or parts of London (as another reviewer has noted, there aren't many maps involved although there are small area maps at the start of each chapter). But even if you're not, the wealth of information in this exhaustive study, especially the people-related stuff makes this a book that you just keep on turning the page to see what new little nugget comes up. It's a complete treasure trove of information for those, like me who delight in what is probably useless knowledge (though you never know, it may come in useful for Trivial Pursuit, Mastermind or the like).

If you live or work in London you're almost certain to find something fascinating in here; for example, I discovered that the square where the office I was working in last year is located was where all the "penny dreadfuls" were produced and published. Totally useless to know, but it pleases me to think that these have now been replaced by a news agency office and an office of one of the "big four" accountants, who are probably cooking up something just as lurid as their predecessors.

On the basis of this I've also ordered Jerry White's study of 20th century London and hope it will be just as entertaining and fascinating.
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on 26 February 2007
The breadth of this book would be astonishing enough if it wasn't also for it's coherent structure and - most importantly - lively writing. Mr White knows his subject, but he doesn't lose his thread beneath a mountain of statistics or (Peter Ackroyd take note) lose himself in flights of fancy. He brilliantly portrays, above all, the human drama which makes this such an exciting - and unique - period of history.
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on 9 May 2009
Having decided to take a break from my Family Tree compilation, in favour of getting to know the relatives. This book has raised my consciousness to how my forebears developed. With a wish list of many dozens Victorian, London and nineteenth century books to choose from, I am pleased this is one of the first 10 or so that I got. I shall continue now in my quest to turn Public Record and Census stats into real life people.

Thoroughly recommended and selfishly I will not be lending this out.

Glyn White
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on 17 October 2009
K.S. William's has said it all about Jerry White's book. Touching upon every aspect of the development, structure and life of the city - the physical development and redevelopment of its buildings, infrastructure, transport and services - hospitals, schools, sanitation, charities and poverty relief - the evolution of local government, policing, crime, punishment, trade and industry, demographics and sociology - the life and times of its people, mainly from the viewpoint of the working class, then the vast bulk of its population, political movements and organised labour. Amusingly, the author gently satiries the churches and the endeavours of the multiplicity of rival evangelical movements to save souls and cure society's ills.

A vast mass of research has been digested into a book that is page-turningly interesting. In it, all the seeds of the present-day city can been seen growing. It makes the 19th century feel truly alive and real.
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on 13 March 2008
This book is both informative and entertaining. What I find particularly fascinating are the various similarities to own period. Problems such as overcrowding, street crime - even the fact that statistically at least, crime figures fell during the course of the century, but people "felt" surrounded by it - seems to be remarkably familiar. I for one have to confess to a much more "cosy" image of the Victorian period (probably fuelled by too many middle-class novels and an "Upstairs Downstairs"-type of preconception. So it was most educational to be told how things really were.
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on 20 April 2011
What a wonderful book!!!!!!!!!!!!! I just couldn't stop reading it. There were so many details, names, events and places that I had heard my father talk about and that had to do with the research I was doing on my grandfather and his forefathers that it seemed as if Mr. White had sat down and written the story of my past. I am so grateful for that. It helped me to put so many things into perspective, I found myself saying "Yes,yes", over and again.
Subsequently I purchased London in the 20th Century and again found much to identify with. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book.
I greatly look forward to Mr. White's next contribition, which I understand is to be London in the 18th Century.It seems my family goes back a long way as Londoners and as I have recently discovered a great great great great Grandmother born in London in 1762 I am anticipating with impatience the publishing of this next instalment.
I really cannot recommend these books highly enough. They are full of well-written fascinating detail.

Thank you very much.
Tina Wootton.
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on 15 February 2009
The best book on the history of London that I have read since the same author's London in the Twentieth Century. Epic in scope and endlessly fascinating, microscopic in detail yet always entertaining, this is a great achievement.
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on 2 August 2010
this book is really good, you can feel the places he is talking about, see how the city changed but also its affects on the inhabitants and the way the inhabitants changed the place. dispels a lot of myths about modern life, you will see from reading this book that a lot doesnt change even within a fast changing metropolis like london, you will see parallels with our own society and see how we developed out of 19th century london. Im also amazed at the stuff we werent taught at school about this period.
My only complaint is that there are no maps, i read it alongside the A-Z! so that I could understand what he was talking about
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on 23 January 2009
Treated myself to this. No regrets at all.As a real history buff, with ancestors in London at this time, it brings everything about this era to life! Really enjoyable and easy to read and a book I will keep dipping into in the future!
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