London Books

When you've tired of books about London, you've tired of being a publisher.

Two books on London, one that could fit in your stocking, the other likely to block your chimney halfway down.

Retro London by Lucinda Gosling

What is the appeal of these whopping glimpses of history? Are we so grumpy with the modern day that we like nothing more than wallowing in nostalgia? Whatever the root cause, it's hard to be immune to the charm.

Gosling's book is a weighty collection of gorgeous images from a capital lost in time. Covering the first seventy or so years of the twentieth century, the book is broken down into thematic chapters (nightlife, transport, wartime etc.). There are beautiful portraits of London's landmarks of course but where books like this really succeed is by showing the people who call the city home. Streets and architecture are all well and good but it's in the glimpses of citizens as they go about their lives that history really opens up. From the nondescript shoppers at Balham market to lovers kissing in the lamplit fog on the Embankment, from the awed faces of children at a cinema matinee to a scout collapsing from heat exhaustion at the 1948 London Olympics. The joy is in the people.

Gosling's text is restricted to introductory passages and captions that put the imagery in context, no more is needed. 

New Holland, available now.

London Book of Lists by Tim Jepson & Larry Porges

A London book compiling 'fascinating facts, little-known oddities and unique places to visit' should be a corker. London drips with the weird and wonderful. It's a mistake though to assume this is a QI-like read offering nuggets of strange facts. The book is a visitor's guide as much as a compendium of archaic London lore.

Random examples: space is given to areas of the capital still retaining visible damage from the Blitz (with a note pointing out that other UK cities took a pounding, most UK readers probably don't need telling that Coventry took a bomb or twelve during the war). The same spread offers a list of what other countries call the city (Londres, Llundain, Lontoo...). There is a list of the restaurants or bars offering the best views; addresses showing 'where famous Londoners lived' and locations of famous murders. There is even a page devoted to sites associated with Princess Diana.

All of which is perfectly jolly and the book will certainly give visitors a stitch as they dash from lunch at Alexandra Palace to afternoon tea on the top of Centre Point.

Residents will still find a few facts and odd history to entertain them but, overall, the book is clearly intended as a kickstart guide for an informed holiday visit.

National Geographic, available now.

 

 

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Guest Wednesday, 29 January 2020

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