Dr Matthew Green explores the sights and sounds of London through history. This is a fascinating and unique guide to the capital that takes the reader off the beaten track and into unexplored territory.
This book allows the reader to travel through time to six key periods in the history of London. From Shakespeare to the plague, medieval London to the swinging 60s, readers can totally immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and smells of our capital at each particular moment.
It’s vividly written, and after reading this book you’ll never rush through the streets of Covent Garden or St Paul’s again without pausing for at least a moment to think of all the mad characters and epic lives that ran through the same streets centuries before.
Whether you are a tourist looking for an alternative way to see the city, or a Londoner that wants to learn more about the world around you, this is a must-have guide.
My obsession with London has still not waned, and I sincerely doubt that it will. I’m interested in all things London and all things to do with English history, so this book was right up my alley. It’s divided into several chapters, each discussing a different time period. The reader “travels” to a specific day in that period, and wanders the streets as the narrator discusses the history, similarly to a tour guide.
I had a few problems with this book. I found the narrative voice somewhat condescending at various points, which annoyed me. I dislike it when a guide assumes you can’t understand something, and “dumbs it down” for you, or treats you like a child in regard to manners and behaviour. The narrative voice of this guide goes very close to being unbearably condescending, which made me contemplate throwing the book at someone I don’t like.
I also found numerous spelling and grammatical errors, as well as a few formatting errors a decent editor should have picked up in the first edit. For example, a couple of dates were incorrect, words with letters mixed up or letters dropped completely and just general typos here and there. There was one glaring problem twice with a paragraph repeating itself back to back, using slightly different phrasing. It looks like Green wrote the sentence, then changed his mind, re-wrote it again, but forgot to delete the first one. A good editor should have pulled that pretty common mistake immediately.
I also really disliked that throughout the book, Green repeatedly assumes the reader is male. He will give directions for things a man can do, but drops that for women. He’ll tell you what to wear, but only for a man. He sometimes briefly says that if you’re a woman, you can’t do such and such, but offers no alternative. The history he focuses on is mainly the domain of men, including jousting, the Church, pub life, coffee house life, hunting and the various theatrical performances from bear baiting to the dance halls of the 19th century. Now, I enjoy this kind of history as well as the next man, or woman, but seriously… one assumes around half 0f London’s population was made up of women. What were they doing? I’d liked to have known that, and for Green to not assume that because I’m reading a history book, I’m a member of the breeches wearing gender.
Besides that, I enjoyed the book. It was quirky and had loads of interesting segments, and the flow of it was good. It covered quite a lot of ground in quite a short time, both historically and geographically. It wasn’t as detailed as some other histories of London that I’ve read, but that is mainly because they focused on a smaller time frame. I think that Green would have made himself stand out more if he had included a chapter on a more ancient era, such as the Roman occupation, rather than having the book begin in 1390. Fleeting references to more ancient times were made, but I think he could have expanded on the topic further.
Overall, I felt a bit underwhelmed by this book. I had quite high hopes as it had good reviews and looked to be exactly the kind of “light” history book I enjoy, but it fell short of the mark. The mistakes were comparatively minor, and the treatment of women possibly wouldn’t be noticed or bother many readers, but they bothered me quite a lot. I know some people dismiss “women’s history” as comparatively minor, but most of the things covered in the book would have affected women in some way, so why were they often not included or discussed? This disparity was troublesome, and put a real dampener on my enjoyment of Green’s work.