- Gebundene Ausgabe: 640 Seiten
- Verlag: Sinclair Stevenson; Auflage: First edition (5. Dezember 2000)
- Sprache: Englisch
- ISBN-10: 1856197166
- ISBN-13: 978-1856197168
- Größe und/oder Gewicht: 16,5 x 5,2 x 24,1 cm
- Durchschnittliche Kundenbewertung: 3 Kundenrezensionen
- Amazon Bestseller-Rang: Nr. 163.888 in Fremdsprachige Bücher (Siehe Top 100 in Fremdsprachige Bücher)
London: The Biography: A Biography (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 5. Dezember 2000
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When the eminent novelist and biographer Peter Ackroyd finished writing London: The Biography, he almost immediately had a heart attack, such was the effort of his 800-page work about the "human body" that is this most fascinating of cities. And not just any human body either, but "envisaged in the form of a young man with his arms outstretched in a gesture of liberation ... it embodies the energy and exaltation of a city continually beating in great waves of progress and of confidence". Probably there is no one better placed than Ackroyd--the author of mammoth lives of Dickens and Blake, and novels such as Hawksmoor and Dan Leno and the Lime House Golem which set singular characters against the backdrop of a city constantly shifting in time--to write such a rich, sinewy account of "Infinite London". Ackroyd's London is no mere chronology. Its chapters take on such varied themes as drinking, sex, childhood, poverty, crime and punishment, sewage, food, pestilence and fire, immigration, maps, theatre, war. We learn that gin was "the demon of London for half a century", and that "it has been estimated that in the 1740s and 1750s there were 17,000 'gin-houses'". Fleet Street was an area known for its "violent delights" where "a fourteen-year-old boy, only eighteen inches high, was to be seen in 1702 at a grocer's shop called the Eagle and Child by Shoe Lane". By the mid 19th-century "London had become known as the greatest city on earth". By 1939 "one in five of the British population had become a Londoner".
Though the variousness of London's chapters mean that it can be dipped into at random, Ackroyd is employing a skilful and continuous theme throughout, which constantly links past and present--the similarities of children's games in Lambeth in 1910 and 1999; the obsession with time--"in twenty-first century London time rushes forward and is everywhere apparent", while in 18th-century London the church clock of Newgate "regulated the times of hanging". Above all, he insists that the "dark secret life" of the metropolis is as relevant today as it was in perhaps its most appropriate period, Victorian London. Again and again Ackroyd returns to the image of London as a living organism, hence his use of the word "biography" in the title. At once awed by and intimate with this "ubiquitous" city, he stresses that "it can be located nowhere in particular ... its circumference is everywhere". --Catherine Taylor
“Fizzles with vitality and originality” -- Sunday Times
“Marvellous – the book about London.” -- Daily Mail
“Peter Ackroyd was born to write the biography of London...A brilliant book.” -- Sunday Telegraph
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Hier erfährt man alles über London.... von der Gründung und noch davor bis, eine wenige Jahrhunderte später, zum Ende des letzten Jahrtausends.
Ackroyd schafft es die Geschichte einer der schönsten Weltmetropolen zusammen zu fassen, ohne das es langweilig wird. Man erfährt viele neue, interessante Dinge, die vielleich nicht jeder weiß, aber man vertieft auch das Wissen das man schon hat.
Also, für jeden Geschichtliebhaber oder London-Fan ein MUSS!
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Imagine someone telling you stories about London; stories which over 2000 years have been embellished and polished to the point where they might be considered mythology. Consider these stories ranging over the whole course of the city's life, and you have some idea of what this book is like. It is a breathtaking book, where anecdotes of Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, The Victorian Era, and today are all seamlessly mixed in a wonderful stew. I cannot imagine the amount of scholarship that went into this work; I rather think that Mr. Ackroyd is some type of immortal who has experienced these stories and anecdotes of London firsthand.
This is a truly wonderful book to give to any Anglophile friends you may have; it is history at its compelling best, long on anecdote and short on drudgery. It is also written extremely well; there is never a jarring turn of phrase in the book. Well worth the hardbound price, this is the perfect Christmas present to anyone you know who has lived in London, been to London, or who loves history.
Since I'd rather be in London than anywhere else, especially the Southern California I'm in, I began this volume with giddy anticipation. In his narrative of the city from pre-Roman times to the present, Ackroyd touches on the history of many of its diverse aspects: rivers, commerce, architecture, transport, theaters, street ballads, parks, food, weather, maps, neighborhoods, nationalities, fires, fog, pestilences, the effects of the Blitz, public lighting, law enforcement, sanitation and clubs. He also doesn't neglect London's unsavory side: alcoholism, gambling, blood sports, prisons, crime, the homeless, poverty, beggars, mob violence, racism, child labor, prostitution, overcrowding, the insane, slums, air and water pollution, and general squalor and filth. Because the author seemed (to me) so preoccupied with the latter dreary group, I suspect he's a closet social reformer.
LONDON isn't a riveting read. Surprisingly, I could put it down for such jolly pursuits as taking out the trash and cleaning the cats' litter box. Perhaps it's because the author's style, never leavened by any humor, becomes at times almost ponderous. For instance, in the chapter "How Many Miles to Babylon?", he comments:
"Yet there is one more salient aspect to this continual analogy of London with ancient civilisations: it is the fear, or hope, or expectation that this great imperial capital will in its turn fall into ruin. That is precisely the reason for London's association with pre-Christian cities; it, too, will revert to chaos and old night so that the condition of the 'primeval' past will also be that of the remote future. It represents the longing for oblivion... The vision is of a city unpeopled, and therefore free to be itself; stone endures, and, in this imagined future stone becomes a kind of god. Essentially it is a vision of the city as death. But it also represents the horror of London, and of its teeming life; it is a cry against its supposed unnaturalness, which can only be repudiated by a giant act of nature such as a deluge."
Good heavens, man! Get a grip!
I assume that the author loves his city, or he wouldn't have expended such enormous effort to tell its story. However, his affection is ofttimes difficult to infer, as when he writes:
"This is the horror of the city. It is blind to human need and human affection, its topography cruel and almost mindless in its brutality... The image is of a labyrinth which is constantly expanding, reaching outwards towards infinity. On the maps of England it is seen as a dark patch, or stain, spreading slowly but inexorably outwards."
LONDON provides a magnificent tapestry of information, and is a colossal achievement. However, until the last twenty-five or so pages, the author failed both to convince me that he derived any personal joy from residence in the city or to remind me why I love this place so much. Ackroyd's references to a city brutalizing, oppressing and dehumanizing its inhabitants are numerous to the point of being tiresome. Therefore, I finished the book admiring it much more than feeling good about it. Indeed, it wasn't until page 772 that I came across a statement (by Boswell) that struck a very personal emotional chord:
"I was full of rich imagination of London ... such as I could not explain to most people, but which I strongly feel and am ravished with. My blood glows and my mind is agitated with felicity."
Ackroyd's book shares many characteristics with its namesake - it is crowded, organic, chaotic, and full of life. It also shares many of the City's faults - it's hard sometimes to find what you are looking for, and you can look in vain for any reason behind the juxtapositions of different cultural artifacts. Nevertheless, anyone who has spent more than the obligatory few days in the obligatory tourist sites will recognize the city from Ackroyd's prose.
One may complain that Ackroyd lingers too much on London's history of crime, social unrest, and dirt. Well, what do you expect of a city that boasts having had the "Great Stink" of 1858? Casual travelers, people who are looking for a simplistic history to read while in line for Madame Tussaud's, and anyone who desires a Disney-fied, Mary Poppins fantasy will be unhappy with this book.
But if you want to know what London _feels_ like, this book comes closer than anything else I have read to making me feel like I do when I am there. There is no city better for aimless wandering, stumbling through alleys, exploring the Underground, and observing the small details. It is a world-city grown pell-mell by greed, lust and need, with beauty in unexpected places and quiet rarer than gold, and more precious. In short, it is life. And, as Samuel Johnson famously said, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."
Yet this is certainly no treatise inspired the Annales school. Instead, "London" is a social history written by a novelist and literary historian, one who is more likely to quote Pepys, Boswell, Dickens, or Orwell than to invoke Cromwell, Pitt, Disraeli, or Churchill. The author favors fiction, diaries, essays, and similar remnants of the literati over court documents, tax records, and other types of evidence examined by English social historians such as Lawrence Stone or E. P. Thompson.
While Ackroyd excels in compilation, he neglects any attempt at true synthesis. The book's overwhelming erudition, while admirable, is sometimes oppressive, and there seems to be little thought given to the structure of the book. One could toss most of its 79 chapters into the air and read them in the order in which they fall to the ground, with little loss in comprehension. This encyclopedic doorstop is truly a book to dip into, not to read in several sittings. (In spite of how absorbing I found much of its content, it still took me six months to finish it.) The overall effect is a sequence of well-written, thematically ordered index cards flaunting the research assembled by a polymathic mind.
The lack of synthesis is further displayed by an annoying tic: Ackroyd often follows a quote or anecdote with a generalized sentiment that begins "So..." or "Here..." A few of the many examples from his otherwise fascinating chapter on children: "Here the idea of innocence, in a corrupt and corrupting city, is powerfully effective." "So the singing child is alluding to a dreadful destiny within the city." "So London children were, from the beginning, at a disadvantage." "So for at least two centuries London children have been associated with, or identified by, gambling." "So the city hardened its street children in every sense." The problem with these sentences is not simply their lazy, hypnotic construction; rather, their vacuousness and vagueness add no insight to the quotes they are meant to illuminate. And, more often than not, their fuzzy universalities could apply to Detroit as much as to London.
Nevertheless, in spite of its imperfections, one is hard pressed to discount entirely the wealth contained in these pages. I'm sure I'll spend the next few years hauling this tome off the bookshelf to look up a quote or revisit a London neighborhood. But I'm equally sure that I'll never again read through the entire book.
I could have done without the constant emphasis on a couple pet similes--London as body, London as theatre--which are repeated way too often. My other criticism is the way Ackroyd writes about the vast disparity between rich and poor. While the plight of the poverty-stricken is movingly described, he does not make clear why London in particular had such a huge population of homeless compared to other European capitols. He does describe the shock of French and Italians when faced with this poverty, but does not explain why there is such a difference. I was left wondering whether this was the result of social Darwinish or somethin else.I felt squeemish reading his broad conclusion that London "needs" its poor, meant,I am sure, in a philosophical sense, but still...