2011 was a bumper year for non-fiction books about London. With the Olympics fast approaching, publishers and authors are scrambling to fill the shelves with guides to the capital. Here's a round up of our five favourites from the past 12 months.
1. Londoners by Craig Taylor
Our favourite book of the year (if not decade) is also the simplest. 83 Londoners talk about their lives. That's all there is to it. But Taylor seems to have a nose for a good story, assembling a hugely diverse cohort from all walks of life. We discover the London of an airline pilot, a dominatrix, a nightclub bouncer, a homeless person, a currency trader, a crematorium technician and many more. It's like a non-fiction Quantum Leap, entirely set in the capital. Read our full review.
2. Walk The Lines by Mark Mason
Follow in the footsteps of the man who walked the length of every Tube Line. Mark Mason's epic journey around the Underground took him over 400 miles through the city, suburbia and occasional countryside. Along the way he meets a trainee taxi driver, the Krays' biographer, the person behind automated Tube announcements, and the chief planner for the City of London. Walk the Lines is a fun- and fact-packed excursion around the disparate quarters of our great city, with a champion front cover to boot. Read our full review.
3. Dickens's Victorian London 1839-1901 by Alex Werner and Tony Williams
Coinciding with the Museum of London's major Dickens exhibition, and the titular author's bicentenary, this chunky picture book has plenty to offer. Hundreds of period photos from Victoria's reign are interposed with text explaining Dickens's relationship to the areas and buildings on show. Many of the photos are as haunting as they are unfamiliar. The 1841 shot of Westminster minus the Houses of Parliament, for example, is particularly striking. Read our full review.
4. London Under by Peter Ackroyd
London's biographer turns his attentions to the subterranean city — the Tube, the sewers, the pipes, passages and bunkers that lay beneath our feet. Plenty of other books have passed this way before, and many in much greater detail. But Ackroyd's 'me too' book, is also a 'me best' book. His silky prose and eye for a good human story elevate (if that's a good thing in the context) this slim guide above the competition. Definitely one for the 'newby' subterranean, though. Read our full review.
5. Ghost Milk by Iain Sinclair
We're in two minds about this one. Like any book by Sinclair, it's full of difficult sentences and, as one critic put it, ‘endless vainglorious cameos from tediously eccentric friends’. Yet there are many brilliant touches to Ghost Milk. We particularly liked the passage where somebody normal asks Sinclair what the hell the title means, and the author, playfully confirming his reputation for difficult prose, responds with the most esoteric non-explanation imaginable. Ostensibly a one-man rant against the Olympics, the book is actually much broader (both topic-wise and geographically) and less pessimistic than some reviews (and the dust jacket) would have you believe. Read our mini-review.
Naturally, we weren't able to read every book about London in the past year, so if you think you've found something better, let us know below.
Read further London book reviews here.