Saturday, November 10, 2012

Johnson's Life of London by Boris Johnson

Whenever I travel, I love to immerse myself in literature of the area to which I am traveling. Knowing that we were going to spend 2 weeks in London at the end of October and beginning of November, I downloaded Boris Johnson's Life of London  to my iPad. Johnson is the mayor of London and quite a character in his own right. His book is a look at the history of London by historic personalities who made a significant contribution to that history. The book was a bit controversial on the other side of the pond because it was viewed as a campaign ploy for reelection. 

Johnson includes those figures whom one would consider seminal to the life of London - Boudica, William the Conqueror, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Samuel Johnson, and Winston Churchill. And then he includes some some lesser-known subjects like Dick Wittington (of cat fame), Robert Hooke, John Wilkes, and Lionel Rothschild. Johnson's style is conversational and one can almost hear him speak through the written word. His selections are enhanced with anecdotes that show historical figures as human and nearly as eccentric as he often is. The book was quite readable and, despite the bias, a very informative one. Interspersed with the biographical part are chapters on London institutions and traditions: the bicycle, The Tube, the Routemaster bus, the King James Bible, the suit and flush toilet. Perhaps the most impassioned chapter is the one on the Midland Grand Hotel and its recent renovation and reopening. I am not sure if at one time it was named the Millennium Hotel, but in fact today it's a star in the Marriott chain. 

It was a bit amusing to see the velocipede on the cover carrying through the theme of Boris' Bikes. The book is a very enjoyable and interesting read. It can be read straight through or in numerous settings - certainly a book for train and airplane journeys.

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