This is a fascinating book; at over 600 pages jam packed with anecdotes, details and facts, it's a book which I found easiest to read in chunks, giving myself time to absorb each aspect.
The story of London in the eighteenth century is broken down into five sections: city, people, work, culture and power, and thirteen chapters within these five parts. Each chapter starts with the story of some one person who is directly connected with an aspect of London in this time - James Gibbs, Robert Adam, Samuel Johnson, Ignatius Sancho, William Beckford, Francis Place, Eliza Haywood, Teresa Cornelys, Martha Stracey, Mary Young, The Fieldings', Jonas Hanway and John Wilkes. Some names we know well, like Samuel Johnson with no `passion' for `clean linen' or Robert Adam, the great architect. Other characters in the book we are not so familiar with, like Rhynwick Williams, the so-called London Monster who apparently gained great satisfaction from lewdly talking to and stabbing women in the street!
We get to read in this book about the great, like Sir Thomas Grosvenor, and the unnamed like the immigrants and the thieves, the charlatans and the merchants. We read about the city, its people, their work, their culture and the power which made London in the Eighteenth Century so fascinating to so many people, both then and now. This book brings it home how much of a city of contrasts London was in this time; a callous and brutal world where you could be hanged for the theft of a handkerchief, but where great fortunes were also made (and lost).
Totally enthralling stuff from beginning to end; looking forward to reading the story of London in the nineteenth century next.
on 18 April 2012
In this his third book on the last three century's history of London, Mr White has given us once again a rich and varied tale of how Londoners of all sorts of Tastes, hues and personalities came through this it's "Seventeenth Century".London has always been a magnet drawing all shades of Engand and the world to its lively life. Here are tales familier and almost unknown brought to life by a master teller of history and how these people made us the people we are today.
I am very gratefull for this and the other two books, they have prompted me to search out, buildings, alleys, streets, pubs and monuments and make it posssible to see some of the lives of those mentioned in the books,from their point of view.
on 14 May 2013
A fantastically written and well researched book that picks up from where its predecessors left off. White breaks the book down into swctions that cover the whole sweep of the century through architecture, commerce, people and the merging of discrete boroughs to form the shell of what we now know as London. Highly readable and strongly recommended.
on 10 August 2012
A magisterial book. Mr White manages to tread the difficult line between comprehensive and excessive detail, providing in one (admittedly, dauntingly sized) volume a masterly summary of this massive subject. I especially liked the device of theming the chapters around representative individuals. In addition, he writes well, with an easy, elegant, style, leavened with occasional humour and wry comment.
Only one thing puzzled me - after apparently labouring on this vast project for six years, you might expect its author to have 'pulled out all the stops' for its conclusion. I certainly was hoping for a profound synthesis and insightful reflections, in keeping with the rest of the volume. However, the book bows out with a whimper rather than bang, ending in a few short pages reading like a below-par Guardian editorial. For the next edition (surely inevitable?) perhaps Mr White might redraft this and let us into his inmost thoughts?
However, that quibble aside, this book is highly recommended for both pleasure and enlightenment.
on 9 November 2014
A brilliant read, a fascinating nugget on every page, my disappointment at finishing it softened by knowing I have the same author's book of the next century in store. One reservation: I read this on my Kindle Paperwhite. The illustrations have come out small and indistinct. I hoped they would be clearer on my Kindle Fire but instead they are even smaller, not much more than the size of a postage stamp. A great pity as the pictures are well chosen and would otherwise have added much to the pleasure. This is something Amazon need to fix.
on 25 February 2015
This is the first of three books looking at London in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries - an essential read for London history buffs such as myself. It tends to centre on a key personality in each chapter. Unlike Peter Ackroyd, it avoids a sentimental or mystical approach to the capital's history. As a Londoner, I was hooked.
on 28 October 2015
This is an accomplished, well written, though rather dry look at a period of London history. Impeccably researched, but somehow the excitement of the period does not come through. (But there again, it is an academic book, and we should perhaps seek our thrills elsewhere.)