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on 31 January 2012
This is Boris's cleverly constructed manifesto to secure his next sojourn as London's Mayor and it's better than stuffing pamphlets through doors. He shows a love of London and an instinctive grasp of what makes Londoners tick, presented in his unique Beano-like style where he lays his scholarship under a veneer of prep-school vulgarity and japery. You get the feeling this is a rather well-educated toff having fun; Private Eye of course has captured the vernacular perfectly in its Boris lampoons. The reader/voter can feel Boris is not taking himself too seriously and nobody likes a pompous politician. From Roman times to the present he continually updates himself with references to the Euro or recession.He pays homage to big finance and big ideas without which we wouldn't have a London, but he also takes a pot now and again at bankers and money-men.He covers the building of the city from all angles of its culture, brown-nosing nobody but appreciative of the myriad skills that go into making London, from the real story of wealthy Dick Whittington to the foresight of Joseph Bazalgette and his sewers.He overdid it a bit extolling the virtues and importance of Keith Richards and the Stones and his final chapter is unashamed vote seeking even down to the desirability of his pet project, the Thames Estuary Airport. But whatever your politics this is gripping and educational and downright hilarious stuff, while its accuracy and viewpoint will be questioned endlessly as every historical document should be. I'd rather read this than the election address that's just landed in my letter-box....
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on 3 September 2017
Boris is one of lifes master orators. Boris is Boris and is actually very clever! Well packed and prompt delivery. Thank you
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on 31 December 2011
I was given this book by a relation who, to my knowledge, has never voted Conservative, so it came as quite a surprise.
Boris clearly loves to entertain as well as inform. There is also the teasing - each chapter contains a word I have never heard of - is he creating a new lexicon?
This book is full of vitality and energy and has evidently had a huge amount of research. Where did he find the time?
Peter Rust
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on 27 January 2012
Thank goodness for a man who can say what he thinks (and put it into print), and not give a fig about what anyone else thinks. In Boris Johnson's account of the personalities that shaped London, we find a book which is unashamedly personal and indulgent. Endearingly, it reveals the hopes and values of the author. And yet any narcissism is disarmed by the highly entertaining, tongue-in-cheek conversational style it is written in. One can't help but laugh - frequently.

Johnson's Life of London is not an academic work. The factual information is limited to the bare basics required to set the scene. What Johnson is interested in sharing is the humanity and life force of his subjects. He makes it clear that any great city is a product of the personalities that inhabit it as much as the historical events that occur. He also argues strongly that great cities inspire competition amongst individuals, thereby leading to intellectual progress. Johnson dicusses how the 16th century theatres, bidding for audience share, promoted the emergence of Shakespeare; the 18th century feuds within the Royal Society gave us Newton and Robert Hooke; the 19th century competition in the Royal Academy produced Turner and Constable.

Johnson has chosen his subjects with this central thesis in mind. In addition, Johnson clearly identifies with and idealises many of them. The longest chapter in the book is devoted to John Wilkes - journalist turned Mayor of London. Second prize goes to Winston Churchill. He lauds unfailing principles (even when unpopular), the ability to influence others into action, and a healthy dose of eccentricity as admirable character traits. In the end, I couldn't help but think that Johnson himself would like to be added to his own book in the future. On the cover art, he is riding the bicycle. Turn to the back however, and there is an empty seat. Perhaps reserved for you.
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on 23 March 2012
Great book really interesting, passed it on to my 91 yr old mother who is a londoner, she loved it.
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on 22 November 2011
History comes alive only when written from the heart and Johnson's is full of swashbuckling japes, bloodthirsty yells and energetic sideswipes. A fantastic read. Sean - did you read the wrong book?
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VINE VOICEon 15 January 2012
Boris Johnson has been 'Boris the buffoon' in my book for as long as I can recall but, despite that, he seems still to propel himself to greater popularity. I was given this book by two much-loved relatives who like the fellow and I wrote to them as follows:

"Dear ****** and *****,

As it appears that Boris Johnson is in with a chance of becoming the next Tory leader, I'd better bone up on him more than I had previously (when I was convinced that he was just a blond-haired buffoon with a good classical education). Therefore, your Christmas present to me has come at an opportune time and, what's more, I hadn't already got it - and, what's even more, I had got it on my mental list to get (along with a biography of Otto von Bismarck: I go for high flyers). It's just the sort of 'stuff' that I like and given to me by two people whom I like very much!"

Having now read the book, I can appreciate better why it is that otherwise nice and sensible people go head-over-heels for the blond-haired buffoon for he writes amusingly and engagingly about a subject that is - for the present, at least - closest to his heart.

Boris (most folk call him that: he seems to need no surname nowadays) is a charismatic mayor of London and he is a fine historian of London. The book, which, irritatingly, has no index nor reference notes, was evidently written in some haste and with, I guess, no more fact checking than an Old Etonian with a good classical education would think that he needed and such effort that the mayor put it into it makes for a rollicking read (rather like the author's articles in the Daily Telegraph).

The thing is, did I enjoy it? Yes, I did, and it had me laughing out loud at many moments. It is a very entertaining book and, for all lovers of London, essential reading.

But why did Boris the candidate for re-election write this splendid book? Why, because it's a combined manifesto and election address, of course, and, despite my strong reservations about the man and some of his ideas and policies, it's a better manifesto and election address than Ken Livingstone (Boris's likely Labour rival) could ever produce. It's very clever stuff, much as one would expect from this extraordinary and extremely ambitious man.
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A city has a life and a history to match its magnitude. Fortunately for London, and for us, it has a worthy chronicler of its march of heroes. Author and Lord Mayor, Boris Johnson, has put together this alluring book about The People Who Made the City That Made the World. Johnson provides brief biographies of the featured persons with a particular focus on the crucial role each played in the making of London. Some are familiar names of whom we learn more about their contributions to London and others are names we have never heard of but should.

From chapter to chapter we read of Boudica, the native woman whose attack convinced the Romans to reestablish their authority, Hadrian, the Emperor who made London the capitol of the province of Britain, Melitius, the Sixth Century missionary who brought Christianity back to London, and Alfred the Great, the Anglo-Saxon king who restored London only to have it taken by William the Conqueror who made his new city a center of trade.

A city is not built only of bricks and masonry. It needs a life of the mind, of arts and letters that was provided by the five of the subjects: Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, J. M. W. Turner and Keith Richards. What I found to be most interesting is the way that these chapters go beyond the artistic veneers to introduce the reader to the men behind the legends, those who contributed more to his city than is apparent to the general public.

Any great city needs money and two titans of finance are featured. The first is a London Giant about whom I had never heard, Richard Whittington, who made a fortune, served as mayor and endowed a foundation that, 600 years later, continues to support the needy in the city he helped shape. The other is Lionel Rothschild, the banker whose loans, among other things, enabled the purchase of the Suez Canal that enhanced England's the control of the seas. To be great a city needs innovators of new processes, new services and new businesses. Do you know anything about Robert Hooke, the inventor who drove London's technological advancement? We have all heard of Florence Nightingale, who strove to improve public health, but have you a clue as to how she did it? Have you ever heard of her collaborator in the Crimea, Mary Seacole, the mixed race nurse who placed herself in harm's way to nurse the wounded to health? Are you familiar with W.T. Stead, the inventor of the tabloid journalism that crafts headlines and molds societies? If not open this book and get to know them.

For me the biggest surprise was the chapter on John Wilkes. I thought that he must have been an actor, like his namesake John Wilkes Booth, but I now know differently. John Wilkes was a parliamentarian who defended the liberty of the commoners against the tyranny of the establishment, a worthy role model for any American.

Of course no history of London is complete without a mention of the man who stood at the head in the face of the Blitz and led them to victory in World War II, Winston Churchill. Johnson gives his readers a more multi-faceted view of Churchill, showing not only the great wartime leader, but also the domestic innovator who put into place much of the social safety net on which Britons rely.

I hope that I have given you enough detail to whet your appetite for more and there is plenty more here. Okay, it is a great story of a London that rises and falls and is rising again, but how is it told you ask? This well researched tome is written in a light hearted, clever and thoroughly entertaining style. Perhaps the secret to this book is that it is told by a man who loves his city, who can see its history in its buildings, who feel it on its streets and who can make it flow from his pen. I give "5" ratings sparingly, but "Johnson's Life of London" cannot be denied.
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on 27 January 2012
I am only part way through the book so far but it was an excellent choice. I chose it after reading the first few pages on line and it keeps up that style and interest as the history progresses. Boris has a great ability to write fluently and convey the interest in his topic, yet still move it along at a cracking pace like the good journalist that I imagine he was. He covers a lot of detail, here and there, by dipping in and out of what he found interesting as the story rushes past. This is not an academic history, but deals with far more details than would normally appear in a gloss covering 2000 years. And whenever he can, Boris draws out conclusions, comparisons, things about the period he is describing that he thinks are relevant to our understanding of the broad sweep of history, or to our situation today. This is history written for the interested general reader, not the professional historian, and I heartily recommend it on that basis. Bye the bye, it also shows Boris as a much greater personality and brain than he is sometimes given credit for.
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on 22 December 2011
Absolutely loved this book, fun, witty, well written and a fascinating account of the history of my home city. Bravo!
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