7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: Necropolis: London and Its Dead (Paperback)
This could have been a very good book indeed. after all, death and its accompaniments are endlessly fascinating and a cultural history of death in the world's most vibrant and interesting city could be a particularly good read. unfortunately, this whistle-stop tour of several millenia of the disposal of London's dead (with a prolonged halt in the Victorian period and an unnecessary diversion to Princess Diana's death and funeral) just doesn't come up to expectations.
Catherine Arnold is very good at the Victorians, their organised and dignified cemeteries a response to the unspeakably revolting conditions of burial grounds in the early nineteenth century. She covers Victorian burial and mourning culture extremely well. However the remainder of the book covers simply too much ground in too little detail with too many irrelevancies (from ghost stories from the Tower of London to yet another rehash of the extraordinary events around the death and funeral of Princess Diana). And around the irrelevancies are too many generalisations, misleading statements and errors. to take just three examples - plague is not due to a virus; the place where Christopher Marlowe was murdered was not an inn; overall life expectancy was short in previous centuries because of massive infant and child mortality - in fact if you survived childhood your chances of achieving a respectable age were actually quite reasonable.
Perhaps most disappointing of all, the book could have been so much better just with decent map/s and a gazetter of important London cemeteries (location, how to get there, main features, interesting sights, who is buried therein). And the few illustrations are generally of poor quality.
So, worth reading for the chapters on Victoriana, skim the rest.