Your London Reading List: The Best Non-Fiction Books

By M@

Last Updated 25 March 2024

Your London Reading List: The Best Non-Fiction Books
London books
Image: Matt Brown

The ultimate reading list of London non-fiction.

What are the best non-fiction books about London? That's what we asked readers on Facebook and X and, as ever, you furnished us with some damn fine answers.

We've pieced together the following alphabetical list based on reader answers. Where the title is in bold, it means more than one person suggested this book, and the number in parentheses says how many.

We hope you find this list useful.

1700: Scenes From London Life, by Maureen Waller (snippets from everyday life before the Georgian era)

At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond, by Margaret Drabble

The Beatles' London, by Piet Schreuders et al.

Bedlam, by Catharine Arnold (biography of the most notorious asylum)

Bizarre London, by David Long

Brutal Outer London, by Simon Phipps (post-war modernist architecture around Greater London)

Cathedrals of Steam, by Christian Wolmar (the great railway stations of London)

Chambers Guide to London the Secret City, by Michael Chambers

Chambers London Gazetteer, by Russ Willey (hyperlocal guide to London's many quarters)

The City of London, a Record of Destruction and Survival, by CH Holden and WG Holford (post-war architectural look)

Curiocity (2), by Henry Eliot and Matt Lloyd Rose (huge tome of quirky London stuff... the best in class)

Derelict London, by Paul Talling (seeking out the crumbling corners of the city)

Dickensland, by Lee Jackson (the rise of Dickens tourism in the 19th century)

A beautiful art deco style building
A Guide to Modernism in Metroland by Joshua Abbott gets the thumbs up. © Joshua Abbott

The Fields Beneath, by Gillian Tindall (a detailed history of Kentish Town)

The Fringe of London, by Gordon S Maxwell (out of print book on wanderings round outer London between the wars)

From a Garden in London, by Henrik Ringsted (London as seen from a Danish amateur gardener in the 1950s)

The Great Stink of London, by Stephen Halliday (how the Victorians improved the stinking Thames)

A Guide to Modernism in Metroland, by Joshua Abbott

A Guide to the Architecture of London, by Edward Jones and Christopher Woodward

Hidden London, by London Transport Museum (secret bits of the underground)

Historias de Londres, by Enric González (Spanish language guide to London)

The History of the Port of London, by Peter Stone

The House By the Thames, by Gillian Tindall (history of the Wren-linked house near the Globe)

How to Read London, by Chris Rogers (tracing London's history through the built environment)

HV Morton's London, by HV Morton (Morton was one of the best London chroniclers of the first half of the 20th century)

I Never Knew That About London, by Christopher Winn (fast-paced trivia about the capital)

Joolz Guides Rather Splendid London Walks, by Julian McDonnell

Journals of James Boswell, by James Boswell (insights into Georgian London and Dr Johnson)

Knowledge Boy, by Mark Syme (one man's journey to get his black cab licence)

A Literary Guide to Suburban London, by Ged Pope

Londinium A Biography, by Richard Hingley (history of the Roman city)

London, by Dorling Kindersley Guides

London, by Michael Hebbert (architectural solutions for modernising London)

London: A Guide for Curious Londoners (2), by Jack Chesher (quirky London guide)

London: A Short History (2), by AN Wilson (relatively slim history of the city)

London: A Travel Guide Through Time, by Matthew Green (time hopping history of London)

London Before the Blitz, by Richard Trench

The London Compendium, by Ed Glinert (humorous, fact-filled guide to the city)

London Clay, by Tom Chivers (London geology, lost rivers and other landscape adventures round the capital)

London Dossier, by Len Deighton (bits and pieces from 1960s London)

Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf's The London Scene makes an appearance on the list. Image: public domain

The London Encyclopaedia (4), by Ben Weinreb et al. (key reference book to the capital)

London in the Nineteenth Century, by Jerry White

London in the Twentieth Century, by Jerry White

London Made Us, by Robert Elms (recent London history from the DJ's own lifetime)

The London Nobody Knows (2), by Geoffrey Fletcher (60s gem about London architectural details)

London's Hidden Walks vol 4, by Stephen Millar (self-guided walks through bits of town you might not have seen)

London Nights, by Stephen Graham (out-of-print 1920s book)

London The Biography (7), by Peter Ackroyd (the best-selling book about London from recent decades... we mapped it)

London's Oddities, by Vicky Wilson

London Perceived, by VS Pritchett (Beautifully written personal musings on the city)

London Railway Atlas, by Joe Brown (extremely detailed maps of all London's railways)

The London Scene, by Virginia Woolf (six essays on London life)

London Select, by Insight Guide (pocket guide)

London Under (3), by Peter Ackroyd (subterranean London guide)

London Underground: 50 Things to See and Do, by Geoff Marshall

London Under London, by Richard Trench and Ellis Hillman (another subterranean guide)

Londra chiama, by Valentina Agostinis (Italian language)

Look Up London, by Katie Wignall (walks around the quirkier side of London from the popular guide and blogger)

The Lost Rivers of London (2), by Nicholas Barton (the original guide to the buried rivers)

Mudlarking (4), by Lara Maiklem (looking for history on the Thames foreshore)

Nairn's London, by Ian Nairn (idiosyncratic architectural musings that every Londonist should have)

Necropolis (2), by Catharine Arnold (London's cemeteries)

Occult London, by Melvin Coverley

On Brick Lane, by Rachel Lichtenstein

Lots of books on a book shelf
Image by Matt Brown

The Other Side of Notting Hill, by Roger Rogowski (a guide to the area before gentrification took hold)

The Phoenix: St Paul's Cathedral and the Men Who Made Modern London, by Leo Hollis

Secret London, an Unusual Guide, by Rachel Howard (a superior example of a quirky London guide)

The Silent Traveller in London, by Chiang Yee (a 1930s book about London from a Chinese viewpoint)

Slow Burn City, by Rowan Moore (how the interplay between people, business and state defines London)

Spitalfields Life, by the Gentle Author (print version of the popular local blog)

A Spy's London, by Roy Berkeley (136 London sites connected with spies)

Square Haunting, by Francesca Wade (a group biography of five women of Bloomsbury)

Swimming to Heaven: The Lost Rivers of London, by Iain Sinclair

The Thames, by AP Herbert (1960s book about the river)

This is London, by Ben Judah (investigative journalism into areas of London life most of us don't consider)

This Other London, by John Rogers (personal rambles around London)

The Tunnel Through Time, by Gillian Tindall (the history of the places along the Elizabeth line)

Underground London, by Stephen Smith (another subterranean guide written in first person)

Up in Lights, by Marjorie Graham (memoirs of a West End chorus girl)

Welcome to New London (2), by John Rogers (more walks from John, but with some thoughts on regeneration and development)

West End Girls, by Barbara Tate (memoir of working girls in 1940s Soho)

What's in a London Pub Name?, by James Potts and Sam Cullen (etymology of unusual pub names)

What's in a Name, by Cyril M Harris

When London was Capital of America, by Julie Flavell (how London was a beacon for Americans before independence)

Curiously, many of the books you suggested when we last ran a survey back in 2011 have not even been mentioned this time round. There's almost nothing by Iain Sinclair, no Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu, nor Roy Porter's London A Social History.

If you'd like to suggest further additions, the comments are open below.

We've linked up where possible as this site sources titles from independent bookshops. Londonist will get a few pennies commission if you were to buy through our links.