Santa’s Lap: The Best London Books Of 2012

London book of the year.

Every day until Christmas we will be pointing you in the direction of a London-inspired Christmas present that (with a bit of luck) you won’t already have on your list. Climb up onto our collective lap and we’ll see what we can move from our sack to your stockings…

It’s been a bumper year for new books about London, as publishers (ourselves included) jumped on the Olympic bandwagon. We did our best to keep up with the glut, reading and reviewing the majority. Here are some of our favourites.

Book of the Year

2012 was The Year Of The Tome. Two excellent thicksters hit the shelves in the balky shapes of Great Houses of London by James Stourton, and London Hidden Interiors by Philip Davies. The books are similar, describing the glorious innards of London’s buildings with sumptuous photography. Hidden Interiors, in our opinion, slightly edges it, and we’re happy to commend it as our London book of 2012. It’s currently on Amazon for £25.60, which is an absolute bargain for a leviathan that weighs 3kg.

Transport

The best transport book goes to Underground by all-star tag team David Bownes, Oliver Green and Sam Mullins. It charts the 150 years of the Underground network and somehow manages to find plenty of original information and visuals. Underground Maps by Claire Dobbin did much the same for the Tube’s cartography.

Historical

Mr Foote’s Other Leg by Ian Kelly is a surprisingly entertaining biography of the most famous person you’ve probably never heard of. Samuel Foote was an 18th century actor and theatre manager whose turbulent life makes for a spanking good read. You’ll learn plenty about the history of London theatre along the way. And you’ll never forget the amputation chapter.

Shakespeare’s Local by Pete Brown is a rambunctious romp through the history of coaching inns, focusing particularly on The George in Southwark. Written with humour and sparkle, it’d make a good gift for the barfly in your life.

Local London

The champion here was Scarp by Nick Papadimitriou, a highly eccentric and eloquent ramble around the extreme northern sections of London and parts of Hertfordshire (as well as the author’s occasionally troubled mind). Buy it.

The Secret History of Our Streets tells, in minute details, the ins and outs of six London streets, charting the changing demographics, affluence and poverty. It’s a good read, even if you’re not familiar with the terrain, but is perhaps overshadowed by the impressive TV series it accompanied.

We also enjoyed Over The Border: The Other East End by Neil Fraser. This timely account picks apart the history of London east of the River Lea, taking in Stratford, West Ham and Plaistow — areas traditionally overlooked by London books. The Sugar Girls by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi covers similar geographic space, documenting the lives of the female employees of Tate & Lyle during the Second World War. The War on Our Doorstep also covered the East End in this period — it’s a triumph of story recording and curation by editor Harriet Salisbury.

Food & Drink

Secret London: Unusual Bars And Restaurants by Rachel Howard built on the winning formula of its predecessor by offering truly unusual places that even the most explorational Londoner will have missed. A notable mention also to Meat London.

Short Stories

Two recent books come highly recommended. London Lies edited by Cherry Potts and Katy Darby contains many short tales set in the capital, while Stations (various authors) offers short fiction set in each station of the former East London Line. Both are perfect for nippy reading on the commute into work. The most unusual anthology was perhaps Acquired For Development, a series of short tales and non-fictional descriptions of Hackney and its varied communities. Most books of short stories are patchy, but this one sings from every page.

Oddness

A special mention for London Pride: The 10,000 Lions Of London for its sheer quirkiness. Valerie Colin-Russ achieves a new highpoint in niche publishing by documenting every lion sculpture in the capital. A miniature beast of a stocking filler.

That roundup represents fewer than half the books we reviewed this year. To browse the entire set, see here. You might also like to look through our top five books of 2011.

Previously on Santa’s Lap

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  • Zuzi

    Sorry, I cannot find the Hidden Interiors book for under 30GBP anywhere?!?