London's history has been told many, many times. Such is the volume of literature on the subject, it can't be long before someone writes a history of all the history books available. So we were curious what Historic London by Stephen Inwood might add to the mix.
And yes, at first glance, this looks like another scholarly account of our city's 2000 year adventure, weighing in at some 400 pages with additional photographic plates. This you'd expect from the chap who crafted the 1100-page epic A History of London, and 2005's excellent London: City of Cities.
But the clue is in the subtitle: 'An Explorer's Companion'. Inwood wants you to enjoy London the way he does - by wandering its streets. Each chapter is themed (criminal London, shops and markets, London pubs...etc.), and includes suggested walking routes among the lesser known sites. The whole ensemble reads as though Inwood had been asked to sing his own version of 'These are a few of my favourite things', expanding several orders of magnitude on Julie Andrews' paltry brown paper packages and warm woollen mittens. Particularly welcome is the chapter on London science - an under-appreciated but immense factor in our city's success story.
For the sake of novelty, the author includes three 'walking quizzes'. These were written as 'treasure hunts' to amuse his friends, and were so popular he persuaded the publisher to allow their inclusion, despite being in verse and, by his own admission, 'of no literary merit'. Well, we love them, and will be trying one out very soon.
In conclusion, you'll adore this book if you have a limited appreciation of the city and want a walker's guide for locals; the depth, breadth and detail will open up new avenues in both senses of the word. For the London know-it-all, it is perhaps a less essential purchase, but the walking quizzes will give you an off-the-shelf means of sharing your passion with friends.
Historic London, An Explorer's Companion by Stephen Inwood is out now from Macmillan.