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By Aurelio on 23-12-11
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.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Daniel on 18-08-12
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.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful