England in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing

Written by Jerry White
Review by Sarah Cuthbertson

This is the third in a history of London from the 18th century to the 20th by Jerry White, professor of London History at Birkbeck College, London. There’s such a wealth of contemporary documentation that the author needed to find a structure that would both support the vast detail and hold the reader’s attention. He has succeeded magnificently. After an introduction describing London in 1700-1708, when it had risen from the devastation of the Great Plague and the Great Fire ‘to become the largest – if disputably the finest – city in Europe’, the book is divided into five parts: City, People, Work, Culture and Power, each focusing on outstanding personalities before panning out into a richly-detailed perspective of the sights, sounds and smells of the city and the politics, economics and social conditions of its people, including many little-known human stories which should appeal to the historical novelist.

A couple of criticisms: the maps are too small to read and the endnotes badly laid out. Nevertheless, it’s an exhilarating read, written with a modern version of the wit and elegance that so delighted the people of the period.