Top Ten Books About London

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You might not share Dr Johnson's famous sentiment, but London is certainly one of the world's - and literature's - iconic cities. It inspired countless non-fiction books, it is a customary setting of a lot of popular novels, from Dickens to modern chick-lit, and sometimes it becomes a character in its own right. Bookbag selected its very own top ten London books: a list as diverse and idiosyncratic as the city itself. There is history and crime, politics and literature, and even an alternative London in a parallel world. Why not tell us about your favourites?


London: The Illustrated History by Cathy Ross and John Clark

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A massive, thorough and attractive survey of the development of the capital. It covers nearly every aspect of the city's life - from glaciers to The Gherkin. Full review...

Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold

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An account of London's notorious 'mad' hospital, Bethlehem, as well as case histories of people who suffered from madness, and the varying attitudes of public and medical authorities to the condition, from Roman and Saxon times to the present day. Full review...

A Journey Through Ruins: The Last Days of London by Patrick Wright

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A marvellous account of the Thatcher years as seen through the eyes of East London. Witty, wise and humane, this re-issue seems remarkably apropos at a time when the collapse of Margaret Hilda's neo-liberal legacy seems unpleasantly imminent. Full review...

Saturday by Ian McEwan

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The book is constructed on a very simple premise: let's put a model rationalist and privileged professional into a situation challenging morally and emotionally; and we'll see if he and his whole seemingly solid character structure survives or collapses. McEwan keeps us unsure until the end. And the resolution is very satisfactory. Highly recommended. Full review...

The Worms of Euston Square by William Sutton

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Complex plot and a well researched and described setting of 1860s London - the greatest city in the world (and the most stinking) are main assets of this Victorian mystery. The main character is bit bland and the pace takes time to pick up, but overall recommended for an enjoyable, well written, atmospheric journey 150 years back in time. Full review...

The Good Old Days by Gilda O'Neill

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An evocative and authentic analysis of the lives of London's poor in Victorian times, The Good Old Days is an enjoyable and edifying read that comes with a lot of down to earth common sense attached. Perhaps a little light for the serious student of history and a little confused in its argument, it's still very much worth reading. Full review...

Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London by Jennifer Worth

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Jennifer Worth worked as a midwife-cum-district-nurse in Poplar and the Isle of Dogs in the 1950s, working among people whose lives had always been hard. In Shadows she shares some of their life stories with us. Evocative, heartbreaking, and a valid historical social record. What more do you want? Full review...

Un-Lun-Dun by China Mieville

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Un Lun Dun follows Zanna and Deeba's epic journey across a parallel world where they will meet ridiculous characters and a sinister adversary. All lovers of dark fantasy should get this and teens will love it! Full review...

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

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Beautifully written novel of here-and-now, with striking language taken from neuroscience, IT and marketing; a meditation on the lost soul of urban world cum thriller cum quest for illumination. Highly recommended. Full review...

Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report by Iain Sinclair

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A sprawling, ambitious attempt to pin down the indefinable, to excavate the essence of Sinclair's adopted home. It mixes fact, memory, myth and rumour, history, art and politics to produce a dizzying, perplexing yet endlessly fascinating portrait of people and of place. Full review...

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KANKANKIM@aol.com said:

I liked reading The Conspiracy of Paper the last time I was in London.