Customer Reviews


28 Reviews
5 star:
 (12)
4 star:
 (8)
3 star:
 (4)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favourable review
The most helpful critical review


121 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Father Thames finds a perfect biographer
The hugely industrious and readable Peter Ackroyd has released what can be seen as a follow up to the rather amazing `London; A Biography' with `Thames: Sacred River'. This substantial book charts the history of the River Thames, the vital waterway at the heart of London life for centuries. Given the history of this vital conduit is pretty much the history of the...
Published on 12 Sep 2007 by I. Curry

versus
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Murky metaphor
Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook.

The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also...
Published on 19 July 2012 by Philip Spires


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

121 of 125 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Father Thames finds a perfect biographer, 12 Sep 2007
By 
I. Curry "IDC" (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
The hugely industrious and readable Peter Ackroyd has released what can be seen as a follow up to the rather amazing `London; A Biography' with `Thames: Sacred River'. This substantial book charts the history of the River Thames, the vital waterway at the heart of London life for centuries. Given the history of this vital conduit is pretty much the history of the metropolis, at least until the invention of the railway, it allows Ackroyd to delve once more into the murkier and less well known depths of London history.

Ackroyd is never a writer to deliver a straightforward narrative history. And in many ways his subject matter lends itself to this meandering, potted approach. As the river twists and turns, is fed by tributaries and becomes the mighty estuary feeding into the North Sea, so too does the book change subject, period and characters with each chapter. Broad subjects are covered, trade, communications and naval associations, but Ackroyd has a gifted eye for the smaller details and more obscure gobbets of history.

Ackroyd is best served by two key attributes, a voracious appetite for research and a style of prose that is both intelligently accessible and deliciously evocative. It is almost with an unrestrained glee that the author tackles the subjects associated with the river, the same clear interest that sustained `London: A Biography'.

However it is important to note that the book is wider than just being a follow up to that book. The Thames flows from its source at Thameshead to the sea, and as well as London flows through Oxford, Reading and Henley. It encompasses royal history, passing within sight of Windsor, next to Hampton Court, and through Greenwich. It is the artery connecting the heart of empire, London, with the world. It has been the source of great pleasure and entertainment as well as dark sorrows and tragedy. Ackroyd deftly captures the many moods and colours of the river, the characters who have interacted with it, the major events and the minor common happenings to construct a rich and vivid mosaic of life by and on the water.

This is not a complete or narrative history of the river, or the city. There are better books available if one is seeking an overview of these massive subjects. But for an idiosyncratic glimpse of a huge variety of colourful threads of London's watery past, there is no better writer than the talented, readable and researched Ackroyd.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Strangely compelling, 11 Feb 2008
By 
William (Buckinghamshire) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
Rather like The Thames itself, this book has a mysterious beguiling quality. It draws you in and won't let you go. Ackroyd's prose, his playful mingling of history and legend, his almost overwhelming attention to detailed research combine to make this a compelling, oddly unsettling read. I learned so much.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars swept away, 1 Dec 2007
By 
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
Peter Ackroyd's bestseller London: The Biography seemed to be part of a fashion a few years ago to write 'The Biography' of any kind of inanimate object ranging from the Bible to the Moon. It was however a fascinating journey through the history of the capital and as a Londoner myself I still get a thrill walking through some of the ancient streets and passages (especially those around the river) thinking of who else has been there before me. So what of this history of the river itself?

Following a meandering course this book is divided into short thematic chapters such as 'The Working River' and 'The River of Art'. With this approach Ackroyd is able to write not only about the history of the river but what it represents. Some reviewers have complained that this way of writing is not suited to the subject but I found it refreshing and invigorating to read a writer who sees the river in similar terms to the other great rivers of the world. The Ganges is seen as sacred in India and all life in Egypt runs alongside the Nile. In Britain, the Thames has always been associated with power and industry, literally the lifeblood of the capital but its influence is also felt along its full length from Thameshead to the sea.

If there is a problem it is that Ackroyd tends to give us all of his copious research and so the myriad of facts in each short chapter, whilst thematically linked, can feel a little disorganised. It is his trademark enthusiasm which keeps the momentum going though and as we follow the river's course it is hard not to get caught up in its wake. I am sure there are better textbooks available for those who want a more serious study but just as his book on London provided a popular, accessible history of the city this companion volume is sure to do the same for its famous river.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A meandering journey, just worth taking, 9 Feb 2009
By 
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
I am not surprised that this book delights and exasperates reviewers almost in equal measure. Ackroyd's marvellous knowledge of London and its surroundings, and his seemingly endless store of anecdotes and nuggets of historical information, make this book worth reading. But be ready to be annoyed by repetitiveness, sloppy editing, and a division of chapters by theme that makes the overall timescale of the history hard to follow.
Just about any other contemporary author would have been unable to write a historical treatise of this ambitious scale without imparting a more rigid formal structure. Ackroyd shakes unconnected snippets of London life from his huge sleeves like a magician, and just about gets away with it,.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book to dip in to, 9 Feb 2008
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
This is an interesting and eclectic look at the River Thames by the author of 'London: The Biography'. The meat of the book is a series of vignettes dealing with different aspects of the river, its people, and it's environs. Also included is what the author titles 'An Alternative Topography, from source to sea' which is fascinating in its own right. This is really a book to dip into, rather than to read from end to end, and in some places it gets a little too mystical for my taste. It has it's own fascination, though, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it - especially to read in bed before you go to sleep.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A box of delights, 11 May 2008
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
Chapeau! Kudos! Peter Ackroyd has done a terrific job with this book. From his early novel _Hawksmoor_, Ackroyd has evolved into the chronicler par excellence of London, both through his book of the same name and by the flavour of London life in his biographies of Shakespeare, Chaucer, Sir Thomas More, Dickens, Blake, and other works (both fictional and non).

This cornucopia has history, geography, geology, spirituality, sociology, literary and cultural referencing, psychology, life cycles, transport, trade, ecology, hedonism, commercialism. It's a staggeringly accomplished chronicle and a worthy tribute to the liquid heart of London.

Ackroyd ranges masterfully from facts and statistics - some of them fascinating - through to dreams and legends. Although London dominates, this deals with the villages and towns along the Thames - e.g., Windsor as represented by the poet Alexander Pope. The historical thread moves from the prehistoric river, and the Thames Caesar conquered, through to the modern flood protection afforded by the Thames Barrier. Notwithstanding its erudition, the flow is ceaseless and the touch light, so that it's an easy, satisfying read.

Thankfully, Ackroyd controls his trademark fascination in filth and murk aspects, balancing them judiciously with the elevated, refined and spiritual. He delightedly describes the Fleet as "merd-urinous", "wholly rank" and "the excremental centre of London's polluted life". This is tempered by the view "at twilight, a soft grey, a lacustrine light."

With its buried coins and weapons, syringes, severed heads, the river is a "depository of past lives" but Ackroyd gives us a final vision of "estuarial river" rushing to the "sea's embrace."

I can do no better than let the chapters speak for themselves:

1. "The Mirror of history": river as fact (statistics) and metaphor - the "museum of Englishness", symbolizing the national character. Time of the river: Hydrologic and geologic.
2. Father Thames - river deities, Thames Basin, birth/source aspects
3. Issuing Forth: tributaries, especially the Fleet.
4. Beginnings: Ice Ages, barrows, and henges; Caesar and Vikings.
5. The sacred river - saints and ruins: includes Norman palaces, Westminster Abbey, monasteries(work and education), plague and fire.
6.Elemental and Equal: riverine cycle/essence and social upheavals/revolutions.
7. The working river -: River boats, London Bridge and subways, river law and conservation; the criminal element (theft, witches); watermen, porters, weir keepers.
8. River of trade - wharves, mills, breweries, docks, modern decline - new financial districts e.g. Canary Wharf and Docklands.
9. The Natural River: fog, wind, rain, the Thames Barrier (flood protection). Sacred woods and trees, villages, swans and whales (!)
10. A stream of pleasure - pubs, sports, carnivals, Lord Mayor's pageant, physic gardens Contrasts with mortality, sewers, and typhus in the 18th-19th centuries.
11. The healing spring - wells, hospitals, flowers. A rhapsodic chapter....
12. The river of art - Turner, Conrad, Jerome - chroniclers (the 16th-century antiquarian John Leland), novelists (Dickens, Grahame), poets Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, Pope, Shelley, Arnold.
13. Shadows and depth - Visions of Carroll and Traherne. Local history; dreams and legends.
14. The river of death - riverine findings (coins, weapons, syringes, severed heads). Mythology. Suicides, murders, drownings.
15. The river's end - the estuarial river which "rushes to the sea's embrace."

A grand achievement. Prepare to be delighted, amazed - and moved.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Murky metaphor, 19 July 2012
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook.

The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also regularly conveys a sense of the incomplete, sometimes that of a jumbled ragbag of associations that still needs the application of work-heat and condensation in order to produce something palatable. Thus a book that promises much eventually delivers only a partially-formed experience.

Ostensibly the project makes perfect sense. London: The Biography described the life of the city, its history and its inhabitants. There was a stress on literary impressions, art and occasional social history to offer context. This was no mere chronicle and neither was it just a collection of tenuously related facts. It was a selective and, perhaps because of that, an engaging glimpse into the author's personal relationship with this great city.

Thames River flows like an essential artery through and within London's life. Peter Ackroyd identifies the metaphor and returns to it repeatedly, casting this flow of water in the role of bringer of both life and death to the human interaction that it engenders. And the flow is inherently ambiguous, at least as far downstream as the city itself, where the Thames is a tidal estuary. At source, and for most of its meandering life, it snakes generally towards the east, its flow unidirectional. But this apparent singularity of purpose is complicated by its repeated merging with sources of quite separate character via almost uncountable tributaries, some of which have quite different, distinct, perhaps contradictory imputed personalities of their own.

Thus Peter Ackroyd attempts by occasional geographical journey but largely via a series of thematic examinations to chart a character, an influence and a history that feeds, harms, threatens and often beautifies London, the metropolis that still, despite the book's title, dominates the scene. These universal themes - bringer of life, death, nurture, disease, transcendence and reality, amongst many others - provides the author with an immense challenge. Surely this character is too vast a presence to sum up in a single character capable of biography. And, sure enough, this vast expanse of possibility is soon revealed as the book's inherent weakness. Thus the overall concept ceases to work quite soon after the book's source.

A sense of potpourri and pastiche begins to dominate. Quotations abound, many from poets who found inspiration by this great river, but their organisation and too often their content leaves much to be desired. Ideas float past, sometimes on the tide, only to reappear a few pages on, going the other way. Sure enough they will be back again before the end. Dates come and go in similar fashion, often back and forth within a paragraph. No wonder the tidal river is murky, given that so many metaphors flow through it simultaneously.

And then there are the rough edges, the apparently unfinished saw cuts that were left in the rush to get the text to press. We learn early on that water can flow uphill. Young eels come in at two inches, a length the text tells us is the same as 25mm. We have an estuary described as 250 miles square, but only 30 miles long. We have brackish water, apparently salt water mixed with fresh in either equal or unequal quantities. Even a writer as skilful as Peter Ackroyd can get stuck in mud like this.

At the end, as if we had not already tired of a procession of facts only barely linked by narrative, we have an `Alternative Typology' where the bits that could not be cut and pasted into the text are presented wholly uncooked - not even prepared.

Thames: The Biography was something of a disappointment. It is packed with wonderful material and overall is worth the lengthy journey but, like the river itself, it goes on. The book has the feel of a work in progress. This may be no bad thing, since the river is probably much the same.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thames, 10 Dec 2009
By 
J. Cunningham "Jamar" (Sussex UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Paperback)
Fabulous book full of interesting snippets all relating to the course of the River Thames, the areas it flows through and the life of the people it touches, beautifully written.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


34 of 44 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars One man's view of the Thames, 12 Nov 2007
By 
Brian R. Martin (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Hardcover)
Anyone who has read Ackroyd's `London: the Biography' will not be surprised that this book about the Thames is no straightforward history of a great river. Rather, Ackroyd sees the river as a metaphor for some everlasting truths and he approaches this via a series of thematic chapters: `The Working River', `The River of Death', `The Sacred River' etc. Each of these is fairly short, but all are packed with vast numbers of facts, anecdotes and speculations. Unfortunately, because these are thrown at the reader in an almost random fashion, the effect is often overwhelming. Lists of examples can extend over whole paragraphs and are sometimes simply boring and even lessen the impact of the point being made. I was prepared for a rather rambling unstructured style, but the writing here is far more flowery than in `London' and too mystical for my taste. Also, too often the author has difficulty in separating speculations from facts. Wanting something to be so, does not make it so. Peter Ackroyd has a substantial and well-deserved reputation, not least for the wide range of books that he has written, but for me this is not one of his better works.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5.0 out of 5 stars The history of the river Thames, 6 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Thames: Sacred River (Paperback)
I was very pleased with this book, I had been unable to source one locally when looking earlier in year. No delay with receiving the book and I most certainly will be using this site for future book purchases
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

Thames: Sacred River
Thames: Sacred River by Peter Ackroyd (Paperback - 7 Aug 2008)
£13.29
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews