Book review: London: the Concise Biography by Peter Ackroyd


Ackroyd’s biography of London comes garlanded with accolades and they are well deserved: beautifully written, with a telling eye for detail and stuffed full with anecdote and incident, it is a meditation and discovery of an almost infinitely varied city. Calling it a ‘biography’ rather than a ‘history’ is not, in fact, an affectation but a description – Ackroyd treats London almost as a living creature, obeying the primal impulse to grow and spread (although London does not reproduce itself but, like the Borg, assimilates). My only real criticism is that while Ackroyd argues for the essential paganism of the city, he often brings up but then ignores the many expressions of radical religious dissent that have arisen in London – it’s the only major lacuna I noticed in the book.


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