The exhilarating story of how London came to be one of the most exciting and influential places on earth—from the city’s colorful, witty, and well-known mayor.
Once a swampland that the Romans could hardly be bothered to conquer, over the centuries London became an incomparably vibrant metropolis that has produced a steady stream of ingenious, original, and outsized figures who have shaped the world we know.
Boris Johnson, the internationally beloved mayor of London, is the best possible guide to these colorful characters and the history in which they played such lively roles. Erudite and entertaining, he narrates the story of London as a kind of relay race. Beginning with the days when “a bunch of pushy Italian immigrants” created Londinium, he passes the torch on down through the famous and the infamous, the brilliant and the bizarre—from Hadrian to Samuel Johnson to Winston Churchill to the Rolling Stones—illuminating with unforgettable clarity the era each inhabited. He also pauses to shine a light on innovations that have contributed to the city’s incomparable vibrancy, from the King James Bible to the flush toilet.
As wildly entertaining as it is informative, this is an irresistible account of the city and people that in large part shaped the world we know.
Colorful London mayor Johnson (The Dream of Rome) profiles 18 people, beginning with the Celtic queen Boudica and ending with Keith Richards, to produce an engaging if uneven history of "his" city. He opts for a mix of familiar names like Shakespeare and Churchill along with such lesser-known figures as Robert Hooke, a 17th-century inventor and rival of Isaac Newton, and W.T. Stead, a journalist who wrote prurient expos s of Victorian London's prostitution trade. Johnson's litany also includes a few names that may be unfamiliar to American readers, including Richard Whittington, a medieval banker celebrated in Christmas pantomime, and Mary Seacole, a black woman who served alongside Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimean War. Acknowledging his debt to previous historians, Johnson focuses on making his subjects accessible to a general readership, anachronistically dubbing Boudica, London's "first banker-basher," and comparing Lionel Rothschild to the comedy Trading Places. His political agenda (he faces a new election in 2012) is hard to miss, but not intrusive enough to dampen the pleasures of his lively, informal prose. Johnson's brilliantly vivid portraits of his namesake Samuel and the foppish 18th-century radical John Wilkes make up for an embarrassingly self-indulgent tribute to Keith Richards and mark a highly entertaining work of popular history.