The best books about London

36 authors have picked their favorite books about London and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

London's Docklands: A History of the Lost Quarter

By Fiona Rule,

Why this book?

This book is carefully researched and gives fascinating insights into the area around London’s docks. Rule begins her account in Roman times and takes the story through into the twenty-first century. She is committed to explaining how London’s docks, which employed around 100,000 men some sixty years ago, could so quickly have been swept away, and she shows huge sympathy for the people who lived and worked in the area. What I especially like is the range of sources she uses, from archaeological records to personal interviews.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

Dockland Life: A Pictorial History of London’s Docks 1860–2000

By Chris Ellmers, Alex Werner,

Why this book?

This volume explores all the major aspects of the Port of London, from warehousing and ship repair to the quayside and dock trades. The 2000 edition takes the story right up to the redevelopment of what is now called London Docklands, including Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. The many well-chosen illustrations help to convey the drama and mystery of the docks but also the daily grind and danger of some of the work that went on there.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of London and the Georgian Navy

London and the Georgian Navy

By Philip MacDougall,

Why this book?

This book focuses on the myriad ways in which Georgian London and the Royal Navy were intertwined. Thousands of Londoners contributed to work that helped to keep the navy at sea; all understood that the navy protected maritime trade, on which London’s prosperity depended. MacDougall looks at bureaucratic links between the navy and the City, and at the practical business of supplying the fleet; he explores key geographical locations in detail and uncovers colourful personalities.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

London's Sailortown, 1600-1800

By Ken Cozens, Derek Morris,

Why this book?

Morris and Cozens have written a series of books that look at the history of East London. These books are a rich resource for historians and offer many points of interest for general readers. In this volume they look at Shadwell and Ratcliff, and chiefly focus on the period between 1700 and 1800, analysing hundreds of archives including land tax records and insurance policies. Their research allows them to up-end the traditional view of a deprived East London to show that actually the population in this period was mixed and included many wealthy families.

From the list:

The best books on maritime London

Book cover of For Love & Money

For Love & Money

By Jonathan Raban,

Why this book?

Jonathan Raban’s nonfiction books take travel writing to another level. He has a special mastery of the intersection of self, journey, place, and narrative. This collection – of essays, short memoirs, travel pieces, and more – isn’t necessarily his best book (that would probably be Passage to Juneau); but it’s full of brilliant reflections on the writing life, and on the challenges facing the writer as a craftsperson. There’s a particularly memorable section on the difficulties of transferring real-world dialogue onto the page. “You isolate the speaker’s tics and tricks of speech, his keywords,” Raban says, “and make him…

From the list:

The best books that capture the complexities of writing about the real world

Book cover of London Labour and the London Poor

London Labour and the London Poor

By Henry Mayhew,

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.

From the list:

The best books about London for the curious

Book cover of Lost London: 1870-1945

Lost London: 1870-1945

By Philip Davies,

Why this book?

This fascinating doorstopper of a book contains more than 500 photographs of buildings that have long since disappeared from London’s streets. It provides a tantalising glimpse of the city that our ancestors knew and carries me off on a time travelling adventure every time I look through it.

From the list:

The best books on Victorian London

Book cover of London A-Z Street Atlas

London A-Z Street Atlas

By Geographers' A-Z Map Co Ltd,

Why this book?

This facsimile of the original A-Z shows London before huge swathes of the city were destroyed by enemy bombing in the Second World War. It is invaluable when searching for old addresses and presents a picture of areas that had not changed much since Victorian times but would soon be altered beyond recognition.

From the list:

The best books on Victorian London

Book cover of Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

Citadel of the Saxons: The Rise of Early London

By Rory Naismith,

Why this book?

In my own writing I’ve recently ventured into the Anglo-Saxon period, so I know how hard it is to conjure the history of these early medieval centuries from the meagre source material that survives. Rory Naismith manages this brilliantly in his highly engaging history of London in the centuries between the end of Roman Britain and the Norman Conquest. Naismith’s earlier books are on coins and coinage, but he does not allow his specialism to pull the book off balance. It’s a comparatively short volume, but it provides a comprehensive overview of the emerging capital, and it wears its considerable…

From the list:

The best books on medieval Britain

Book cover of History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

History of London Transport: The Twentieth Century to 1970

By T.C. Barker, Michael Robbins,

Why this book?

This is one of the only comprehensive books on the history of London’s transport system and though long out of print and written in the 1960s, it is still the best explanation of how the network developed. It is the starting point for anyone seeking to research this field.

From the list:

The best books on the history of London’s railways

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