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Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets Paperback – 3 Feb 2005


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Frequently Bought Together

Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets + Do Not Alight Here: Walking London's Lost Underground and Railway Stations + Under London (Regional London)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (3 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349115656
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349115658
  • Product Dimensions: 12.2 x 2.7 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 57,971 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Brilliant... so much more than just another city ramble. (MAIL ON SUNDAY)

(Smith) offers an enjoyable guide to the subterranean parts of a great city...his sense of the enveloping mysterious is spot-on. (OBSERVER)

A notable portrait of London... By becoming a proper witness to the unseen, covert and little-known, [Smith] rescues reportage and makes of it a kind of poetry (Iain Sinclair, EVENING STANDARD)

Smith's cast of fluffers (Tube cleaners), flushers (sewermen) and toshers (scavengers) make engaging company (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Book Description

* Fresh, funny and impeccably researched, UNDERGROUND LONDON is 'alternative' history at its best - an illuminating glimpse into the hidden world beneath our feet.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Helen on 12 Mar 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the first book for a very long time that I simply haven't been able to put down. This should be compulsive reading for every Londoner! Stephen Smith has managed to bring to vibrant life the world beneath our concrete and glass city. History has never been so vivid with the sights and sounds of London gone by echoing in every page. The only down side is that it has made me aware of a whole world I am not allowed to be part of existing just a few metres beneath my feet (that and peering into every little door and window on the tube).
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David on 6 Jan 2005
Format: Hardcover
It is a very wordy book, each chapter is an essay. The type of articles you get by a broad sheet journalist who is not limited by space and not in a hurry to tell the facts. It is a different perspective. Concentrating on trips he has made to the various subjects; down the sewers, bits of Roman wall under buildings. etc.
What it does not have is any photos or maps. The lack of any maps especially I found annoying. They would have helped illustrate the articles and for the reader to find them himself.
The author must have put a lot of time into researching his data, I just found the style annoying to read.
This is a view of London you will either like or dislike.
I edged towards the latter.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on 13 Feb 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
News reporter and author Stephen Smith goes below pavement level in London, allowing the reader to vicariously explore burial crypts, dug-up plague pits, sewers, excavated Roman walls, remnants of Henry VIII's tennis courts, poncy wine cellars, secret government bunkers, the bowels of Parliament, and forgotten corners of the Tube.
For me, the the most intriguing chapter dealt with that subterranean environment most obviously accessible to the tourist, the London Underground ("Mind the Gap!"). Did you know that the most prevalent litter in the system, cleaned up during routine housekeeping between 1:00 and 5:00 AM, is human hair blown from the heads of thousands and thousands of train riders every day? Then, there are all those wallets plundered and discarded by pickpockets. And, though it won't be on my Must-Do short list for my next visit to the city, Smith's slog down the northern outflow sewer was gratifyingly informative.
However, UNDERGROUND LONDON is an uneven read. In the chapter dedicated to Anglo-Saxon artifacts, the author first describes a modern day ceremonial ritual involving holding a small schoolboy by his heels over the Thames while he beats the water's surface with a stick, and then goes on to describe the confiscated oddities to be found in the cellars of Her Majesty's Custom House. The connection between these and Anglo-Saxon period seemed forced. And the chapter in which Smith visits an underground vault of safe deposit boxes could just as well have been penned in the above-ground strong room at my local bank. No revelations there.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By shinglma on 4 Feb 2009
Format: Paperback
This is not a serious book about Subterranean London. If that's your bag try Richard Tench and Ellis Hillman's book. This is a more light-hearted, journalistic piece, which wouldn't be fine if the author had a sharp eye for telling detail and the wit of a Bill Bryson. Unfortunately he is equipped with neither.

Some chapters are better than others (was I alone in wondering what the beating of the bounds - including regatta ceremony on the Thames - had to do with underground London?).

All in all it was a struggle to find enough enthusiasm to finish it. Given the errors pointed to by other readers I wonder how much garbage I assimilated in having done so.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rainy Day on 7 Jan 2010
Format: Paperback
I noticed from other reviews that this book by Stephen Smith has been rated anything from one to five. The clue to the content of this book is in its' subtitle 'TRAVELS BENEATH THE CITY STREETS'. This is more of a collection of anecdotes about the author's quest to gain a better understanding of London by looking under the city streets rather than an attempt to provide comprehensive archeological and historical details of what is under there. Thus, its not a traditional book on history as such. However, there are plenty of interesting facts. For example, I was intrigued to find out that the reason Muswell Hill does not have a tube station is because a plague pit was found during tunnelling.

The book is divided into chronological chapters, from Roman into modern times, with two introductory chapters at the beginning, explaining why the author became interested in this subject and how he commenced his search (the sewers). The over-riding theme is to show how much London is a city literally built on history, and how the old intertwines with the new. For example Smith descibes a Roman wall that has been integrated into a car park, and a door located under a subway in Merton, leading to the ruins of an abbey.

Smith's dry sense of humour permeates the book throughout, and several times I found myself chortling out loud. The chapter on Saxon London was somewhat weak, but overall I found it entertaining enough to keep turning the pages, and there was enough information to increase my understanding and knowledge of London. However, those who prefer a more traditional approach to history may not get so much out of it.
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