Although I’m late to the party as ever, I see via Chris Fowler that Londonist editor M@ has come up with his personal list of the 15 best non-fiction books about London. It’s a good list, as you would expect, and has prompted me to come up with my own favourite 15.
1 ‘The London Encyclopaedia’ by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert
The definitive A-Z of London history, fascinating and accessible. I much prefer this to narrative histories like Roy Porter and Peter Ackroyd.
2 ‘In Search of London’ by HV Morton
My single favourite piece of narrative London writing, featuring Morton wandering around the bomb-battered city in 1951, describing what he finds and remembering what it once looked like.
3 ‘Shaping London’ by Terry Farrell
A fascinating look at the tangible forces that have shaped the infrastructure of London, and a welcome antidote to the airy tediousness of so much contemporary psychogeography.
4 ‘The History of London In Maps’ by Felix Barker and Peter Jackson
Excellent and accessible cartographical guide from 1993, divided into sensible sections and well illustrated.
5 ‘Curiosities of London’ by John Timbs
Hefty Victorian guidebook that is an intriguing contemporary reference source.
6 ‘London: The Unique City’ by Steen Eiler Rasmussen
A Danish architect analysis in 1937 why London looks like it does.
7 ‘Subterranean Railway’ by Christian Woolmar
Definitive and readable recent history of the London tube.
8 ‘The Lost Rivers of London’ by Nicholas Barton
The classic guide to the old rivers of London, first published in the 1960s and flawed, but still the best.
9 ‘Violent London’ by Clive Bloom
Superb study of the London Mob through history, recently updated.
10 ‘In Camden Town’ by David Thomson
Gloriously whimsical half-finished diary by a BBC producer from the 1980s, which captures Camden on the brink of gentrification. (See also Jonathan Raban’s ‘Soft City’.)
11 ‘London Under London’ by Richard Trench
To be honest, it’s on a par with the many other subterranean London books, but makes my list because it was written by a bloke called Trench.
12 ‘People Of the abyss’ by Jack London
Wonderful late-Victorian journalism from the destitute East End. I should also include Henry Mayhew’s ‘London Labour And The London Poor’ but shamefully I’ve only ever dipped into it.
13 ‘Night Haunts’ by Sukhdev Sandhu
Following in HV Morton’s footsteps, Sandhu explores the nocturnal economy of 21st century London.
14 ‘London peculiars’ by Peter Ashley
One of many ‘Secret London’-style books I own, but probably the best looking. See also the fine recent ‘Secret London: An Unusual Guide’, ‘Eccentric London’ by Tom Quinn and ‘Curious London’ by Robin Cross.
15 ‘The Likes Of Us’ by Michael Collins
A biography of working-class South London.