London: A Social History
This dazzling and yet intimate book is the first modern one-volume history of London from Roman times to the present. An extraordinary city, London grew from a backwater in the Classical age into an important medieval city, a significant Renaissance urban center, and a modern colossus. Roy Porter paints a detailed landscape--from the grid streets and fortresses of Julius Caesar and William the Conqueror to the medieval, walled "most noble city" of churches, friars, and crown and town relationships. Within the crenelated battlements, manufactures and markets developed and street-life buzzed.
London's profile in 1500 was much as it was at the peak of Roman power. The city owed its courtly splendor and national pride of the Tudor Age to the phenomenal expansion of its capital. It was the envy of foreigners, the spur of civic patriotism, and a hub of culture, architecture, great literature, and new religion. From the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, London experienced a cruel civil war, raging fires, enlightenment in thought, government, and living, and the struggle and benefits of empire. From the lament that "London was but is no more" to "you, who are to stand a wonder to all Years and ages...a phoenix," London became an elegant, eye-catching, metropolitan hub. It was a mosaic, Porter shows, that represented the shared values of a people--both high and low born--at work and play.
London was and is a wonder city, a marvel. Not since ancient times has there been such a city--not eternal, but vibrant, living, full of a free people ever evolving. In this transcendent book, Roy Porter touches the pulse of his hometown and makes it our own, capturing London's fortunes, people, and imperial glory with brio and wit.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
'London was always a muddle that worked. Will it remain that way?' is Roy Porter's closing question in this extensive, but engrossing, work. I chose his final remark to start this review because it encapsulates his view that London is "not the eternal city" and, he argues, may well now be at its end as a livable metropolis. Pessimistically he argues that it was at its greatest " ... between the two Elizabeths, between 1570 and 1986 to be more precise..." and he seems to sincerely fret that, once again, as in Roman times, London might be abandoned and "left to the dogs". Certainly he presents the evidence that London grew too fast and too big "like a fungus" and he details the social and human dimension of that massive growth - unstructured, uncontrolled and ungoverned. From the mobs, the riots the plagues and the Great Fire came an unruly tradition that was translated into a totally unplanned sprawl as the people moved up, and away, from the collapsing city's origins. Given the published date it is appropriate that he concentrates on the hardness of the Margaret Thatcher policy years and the dreadful impact that such laissez faire, "market forces" led attitudes to the city's growingly desperate needs for public housing, transport and infrastructure. The industries that provided the employment - that provided the taxes and disposable income for the city's fitness and survival - fled to the provinces (or over-seas). The redevelopment, Porter explains, did nothing to resolve these problems as the jobs that were created were filled by transfer, the housing that was built was so `upscale' that the indigenous could not afford to live in it and the `gentrification' of the East End and London Docks only provided for the Thatcherites of the "greed is good" generation. Tourism is now how London survives as even its traditional money-based `service industries' evacuate the remaining centers, to internet-commute, diversify, down-size or are sold off to foreign interests. Porter's pessimism then is perhaps justified? We must hope not ... as Dr. Johnson once remarked; London is life and its crumbling and dissolution would be our collective loss.
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
Porter gives a good overview of London's rise as a great city, then a detailed view of its society (poor, rich, and in-between) during the long 19th century, covering the rise of capitalism and the Victorian era. If you are interested in the English classics (Defoe, Dickens, Doyle, etc.), this is a great companion book. It can help you to understand the many sides of a city that grew too fast at the beginning of the industrial revolution. It paints a fine picture of the glories and the filth and shame of London.
List of Illustrations
Formation to Reformation 11
War Plague and Fire
From Restoration to Regency
Bumbledom? Londons Politics 18001890
Victorian Life 2 79
The London Marathon