London is special. For centuries, it has been amongst the greatest cities of the world. But a city is nothing without its people. This sparkling new history of London, told through a relay-race of great Londoners shows in one, personality-packed book that the ingenuity, diversity, creativity and enterprise of London are second to none. Boris Johnson believes that in order to understand London one has to know about its past. The heart and spirit of London lies in its people, in the range of its cultures. Through its diversity and energy, London provides an environment which empowers people to create, the impetus to invent. Boris Johnson's new book explores this cross current of influences between Westminster and the City, between the politicians and the wealth creators, over many centuries. Johnson's Life of London - a fitting tribute of course to one of the greatest Londoners - celebrates many of the characters who have made this city great. Boris's book provides a chronological story of London but is written in the form of a relay race of biographies - some very famous figures, some more obscure. He ranges from the Romans to one of the author's predecessors as mayor, Dick Whittington; from John Wilkes (a strong upholder of the freedom of the press) to J.W. Turner; from Chaucer to Gandhi, and through to modern times.Boris Johnson writes with wit and erudition, providing the reader with delightful insights. The book discovers London as none of us have seen it before and the journey is exhilarating and surprising .
©2011 Boris Johnson (P)2011 HarperCollins
"Thoroughly entertaining - history on a human scale"
One of the joys of reading well-written history is the recognition that people who lived centuries ago were not all that different from people living now, and that many of the great mysteries of the past can be illuminated by asking how people today would react in the same circumstances.
Boris Johnson is a master at this. The pictures he paints of Boudicca battling incompetent and greedy Roman bureaucrats, Robert Hooke creating wonderful inventions and implacable enemies with equal ease, and the marvellously rascally John Wilkes bending every law to get himself elected could be fables explaining how public life works in London today.
Although these portraits are written with warmth, humour and affection, Johnson does not shy away from the darker side of his subjects' characters. These are real people, described in the round, who have each made some remarkable contribution to the city he clearly loves.
The early chapters are the best. I'm afraid that Keith Richards just isn't as interesting a character as Samuel Johnson, and the chapter on Churchill is strangely thin - as if he had to be included, but Johnson's heart just wasn't in the task of summarising his faults and his achievements.
But this is a terrific listen, even if Boris doesn't actually read it all himself. Highly recommended for anyone with even a passing interest in how London came to be.
A misleading title, somewhat. The book starts brilliantly then halfway through it turns into some biography and history of Shakespeare for a considerable length of time. Whilst he and the entertainment industry at the time completely revolutionised what happened in this area for centuries to come, I felt the far too in-depth information on particular plays and Shakespeare himself to be detracting from the story of the city of London. The start is excellent though and really engages in an anthropological discussion about why people migrate to the city. All fairly obvious, but interesting nonetheless. Just a shame the start was the best bit.
"Fantastic Boook. Needs more Boris!"
It is a fantastically enthusiastic and enjoyable book, that kept me entertained every step of the way. I was a little disapointed when Boris stopped narrating after chapter 2 and only returned for two more chapters before the end. Once I got used to that it was great fun!
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