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London: A Social History [Paperback]

Roy Porter
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
Price: 10.34 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 Oct 2000
'Roy Porter, a historian of formidable range, turns to urban history in this marvellously lucid, informative and passionate book... Porter's facts are always at the service of the narrative, which has a finely maintained momentum, balancing statistics with the words of historians, diarists and novelists, poets and churchmen: Pepys, Boswell, Fielding, Walpole, Blake, Mayhew, Wells, Woolf, Spark, ... a timely and brilliant book.' CLAIRE TOMALIN, EVENING STANDARD 'A vivid celebration of the city, but also an elegy for its decline, bubbling with statistics and anecdote, from Boadicea to Betjeman.' RICHARD HOLMES, DAILY TELEGRAPH BOOKS OF THE YEAR

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Product details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (5 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014010593X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140105933
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 12.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

ROY PORTER is Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London. He is most recently the author of THE GREATEST BENEFIT TO MANKIND (HarperCollins, 1998) and the forthcoming (10/00) Allen Lane title ENLIGHTENMENT: BRITAIN AND THE CREATION OF THE MODERN WORLD.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
62 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent review of how London developed 29 Feb 2004
By A Customer
Roy Porter skilfully weaves together interesting facts and quotations from historians, diarists, novelists and official documents to give the reader a very good picture of how London has grown and developed from its foundation in Roman times until the present day.
The earlier periods of London’s history are each allocated a single chapter, but from the Georgian period onwards more chapters are allocated – each on a separate theme. For example, the five chapters on the Victorian period chronicle separately: the economic growth of the capital, the population explosion and land development, how London was governed (including the birth of the LCC and the borough councils), the social problems and social improvement, and Victorian life.
The text is enormously rich in the detail it gives to enable readers to picture London at various stages. We can appreciate both the efforts made by many good people over the ages to make London a better place to live and how certain areas came to be slums, avoided and neglected by the more prosperous citizens.
The author writes eruditely and with passion. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning when, how and why the various districts of the city came to be urbanized. It is also interesting for Londoners to read of how eminent figures of the past viewed the streets we walk along today.
The noticeable weakness of the book is its illustrations. Most of the maps are too small so that the writing and most of the features are not discernible, even with the aid of a magnifying-glass. The text and pictures would be better served by being presented in a hard-backed book of double the size. However, the meat is there, even in this Penguin paperback; with its depth and scope it constitutes a very important history of London, perhaps the best that has been written so far.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars London: A Social History 8 Oct 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roy Porter's bestselling "London: A Social History" provides an interesting but idiosyncratic overview of the history and development of that greatest of modern cities. It is partially an ecclestiastical history of the city; partially a history of social and cultural norms in the 17th and 18th century; partially an indictment of Thatcher's government and her attitude towards London; partially a rehabilitation of private developers in the 19th century; and part popular historical overview. The result is a book full of interesting insights, amusing anecdotes and historical highlights, but it is severely lacking in structure and uneven as to its scope. Porter himself was famous particularly as a historian of medicine and medical practice, in which field he was an uncontested pioneer, but his period specialization in the early modern era puts too much of a stamp on the book. It is fairly common for popular history to spend a great part of the book on the 19th century, especially when it concerns British topics, and so a counterweight in early modern history is not unwelcome. But the book spends 180 pages on early modern history, another 150 or so on the 19th century, and barely even a hundred on the 20th century.

There is also unevenness in the range of topics. Since the book is labelled 'a social history', one expects an emphasis on the daily life of Londoners and the development of demographics, of neighbourhoods, and so forth. Much of this is provided, but interestingly it takes the form of mainly tracing social developments in the city through the ecclesiastical history on the one hand, and the physical construction of roads and boroughs on the other hand.
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A city and its peoples... 23 Jan 2005
Roy Porter, noted and trained as a medical historian, turned his attention to the social development of London, and we are the richer for it. Porter is a Londoner, and has a passion for the city. He is, however, frank in his conviction that London has had it's hour upon the stage:
'London is not the eternal city.... Between the two Elizabeths, between 1570 and 1986 to be more precise, it was to become the world's greatest city.'
Porter sees the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) by Margaret Thatcher as a benchmark to the demise of London as a great city (I happen to disagree; will he change his opinion in light of the upcoming mayoral elections in London?) Porter's current pessimism about London is very apparent from page 1 of the introduction; however, this does not keep him from doing a sterling job with his subject throughout the text.
Porter gives brief description to Londinium (mentioning among other things that it was abandoned 'to the dogs' by the Romans in the fifth century), however, begins his history in earnest about the year 1500 because while 'the Romano-British city and its medieval successor have left extensive archaeological remains and chronicles, ...we have no full visual record from before the Tudor age.'
Porter examines eras in terms of the history of culture, of commerce and industry, and of population and social changes. The nineteenth century (in which there was practically no urban planning, as any current map will inform you) is described as 'Bumbledom', particularly in the field of London politics.
Porter describes the expansion of London as a 'fungus-like growth' in the late 19th/early 20th centuries; he concludes his analysis with chapters on 'Swinging London' and 'Thatcher's London'. Porter leaves us with a question: 'London was always a muddle that worked. Will it remain that way?'
In all, a wonderful read, a wonderful story, and a wonderful topic.
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