The best books about London

Simon Leyland Author Of A Curious Guide to London: Tales of a City
By Simon Leyland

The Books I Picked & Why

London: The Biography

By Peter Ackroyd

London: The Biography

Why this book?

The daddy of all London books, an encomium to a city of myth. Its buildings hold and hide legends. Its rivers are lost underground. Its backstreets vanish into fable. Its characters are blurred between fact and fiction. Truths have been twisted by fantasy. Tourists are rendered blind, stepping around beggars to photograph the past, and sit in parks reading of a city that only springs to life in the mind, for in reality only the faintest outline traces now remain. A truly remarkable tour de force.


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Street Haunting: A London Adventure

By Virginia Woolf

Street Haunting: A London Adventure

Why this book?

Written in 1927 it is one of the most entertaining accounts you will ever read of a typical day in London. Using the excuse of needing to buy a pencil, Woolf meanders through London taking in all the day-to-day activities of the populace. Admiring and also sometimes disapprovingly, she comments on the ordinary lives of every kind of Londoner from the sales girls at the haberdashery to the costermongers in the street.


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The Diary of Samuel Pepys

By Samuel Pepys

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

Why this book?

Through his jaundiced eyes we accompany our erstwhile hero into coffee shops, the arms of actresses, and experience the ebb and flow of London life. Later we watch as his beloved London undergoes the rigors of the plague of 1665 and then how he buries his beloved cheese in the wake of the Great Fire of London. A true classic.


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London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew

London Labour and the London Poor

Why this book?

A sadly neglected masterpiece that describes a series of visits into the darker areas of the city where few rarely trod. In an extraordinary and vivid series of interviews, Mayhew gets the mudlarks, rat catchers, pure finders, and the whores of Shadwell and Seven Dials to tell their stories in their own voices.


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London: A Social History

By Roy Porter

London: A Social History

Why this book?

An interesting but idiosyncratic overview of the history and the resultant growth of London. The result is a book full of interesting insights, amusing anecdotes, and historical highlights. A vivid celebration of the city, but also an elegy for its decline, bubbling with statistics and anecdotes, from Boadicea to Betjeman.


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