I’ve embarked on re-reading Peter Ackroyd’s epic London: The Biography, nearly 800 pages packed with knowledge, insights and story-telling skills that weave a cornucopia of fact and legend into a luxuriant narrative in which the city is the central character – a living, evolving entity, yet one in which certain traits recur down the centuries.
The book was published in 2000 and followed by a TV series based on it, which Ackroyd presented. Here’s a clip in which he describes one of the great, persisting struggles within a city that has sometimes been thought ungovernable: the one between West London and East London; between elegance and vulgarity; between order and chaos.
As the Russian traveller said: “The grandest and most complicated monster on the face of the Earth.” Peter Ackroyd’s latest book on London is Queer City and he is also the author of Thames: Sacred River and London Under, among other books about the city. There is also an abridged edition of London: The Biography.