Roy Porter, noted and trained as a medical historian, turned his attention to the social development of London, and we are the richer for it. Porter is a Londoner, and has a passion for the city. He is, however, frank in his conviction that London has had it's hour upon the stage:
'London is not the eternal city.... Between the two Elizabeths, between 1570 and 1986 to be more precise, it was to become the world's greatest city.'
Porter sees the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) by Margaret Thatcher as a benchmark to the demise of London as a great city (I happen to disagree; will he change his opinion in light of the upcoming mayoral elections in London?) Porter's current pessimism about London is very apparent from page 1 of the introduction; however, this does not keep him from doing a sterling job with his subject throughout the text.
Porter gives brief description to Londinium (mentioning among other things that it was abandoned 'to the dogs' by the Romans in the fifth century), however, begins his history in earnest about the year 1500 because while 'the Romano-British city and its medieval successor have left extensive archaeological remains and chronicles, ...we have no full visual record from before the Tudor age.'
Porter examines eras in terms of the history of culture, of commerce and industry, and of population and social changes. The nineteenth century (in which there was practically no urban planning, as any current map will inform you) is described as 'Bumbledom', particularly in the field of London politics.
Porter describes the expansion of London as a 'fungus-like growth' in the late 19th/early 20th centuries; he concludes his analysis with chapters on 'Swinging London' and 'Thatcher's London'. Porter leaves us with a question: 'London was always a muddle that worked. Will it remain that way?'
In all, a wonderful read, a wonderful story, and a wonderful topic.