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The People Who Made the City that Made the World

by Boris Johnson

Pub Date: June 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59448-747-7
Publisher: Riverhead

The mayor of London demonstrates that understanding his city requires an acquaintance with key historical personages, from Alfred the Great to Keith Richards.

On the eve of the 2012 Summer Olympics, the author provides a lively thematic guide to the city’s historical evolution as represented by the legacy of notable Londoners, ancient and modern, from the Romans who overran the city to the great statesman who staunchly defended it from attack, Winston Churchill. Johnson has served as mayor since 2008, previously the editor of The Spectator and thus a trained, amiable journalist. With an engaging, felicitous tone, the author obviously enjoys offering his account of what the English have done best, from spreading the good word in the form of the King James Bible to parliamentary democracy and habeas corpus to the marvels of the English language. Johnson pays tribute to numerous illustrious Londoners, some better known than others—e.g., the early avenger Boudica, the first in a tradition of powerful female leaders; a previous mayor, 15th-century financier Richard Whittington; a fabulously inventive, now-forgotten genius of the 17th century, Robert Hooke; eccentric civil libertarian John Wilkes; Samuel Johnson and his lexicographic wit; saintly nurses Florence Nightingale and Mary Seacole, who challenged notions of hygiene and ventilation in the treatment of disease; and W.T. Stead, inventor of tabloid journalism with his work on the Pall Mall Gazette in the mid 19th century. Along the way there are shorter bios of some incredibly important innovators and inventors, such as Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I and fashioner of the flush toilet of which she was so fond; Beau Brummel and his now-ubiquitous men’s suit; and Denis Johnson and his significant modifications on the bicycle in 19th-century London.

In this amusing, rah-rah pep rally for the imminent crush of summer tourists, the author shows that there is much more to London than Big Ben, London Bridge and William Shakespeare.