In London: A History, A. N. Wilson presents a condensed history of a city that he knows very well. Beginning as an outpost of the Roman Empire around 50 A.D., London has a long history difficult to squeeze into 221 pages or roughly 5 and ¾ hours worth of audiobook, and this book may not satisfy a reader wanting a detailed chronicle of the city. Wilson admits as much in his introduction, calling his book an arbitrary account, his view of the social and architectural events that have built the city.
I chose the audiobook for listening during gardening, which worked well for me, as I enjoyed the flowing narration very much. The reader is Christopher Kay, who is an actor and singer with experience announcing for British radio and television. Kay reads the text as though the words were his won. When he expresses Wilson’s opinions about Christopher Wren’s church spires (positive) or Victorian civil engineering (mostly negative), I forget that he is reading and believe every statement is his.
Wilson’s text is strong throughout the book, but I think it excels with his account of the twentieth century. While the chapter “The End of the Bowler Hats” describes the transformation of London from a city of labor and manufacturing to a post-industrial center for entertainment and spending easy money, it could be read as an indictment of international economic reality. Chicago has many of the same problems. Despite the poverty and bad architecture, Wilson finds much hope in the London melting pot of the 21st century, where peoples from all continents are congregating. London: A History is a good choice for history readers and travelers.
Wilson, A. N. London: A History. New York: Modern Library, 2004. ISBN 0679642668
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