The City on the Thames: The Creation of a World Capital: A History of London

Written by Simon Jenkins
Review by Susan Lowell

“All histories have their roots in geography.” Simon Jenkins begins his history of London with this thought-provoking statement (and one of particular interest to historical novelists).

An eminent British journalist and lifelong Londoner, Jenkins tells its story in masterly fashion: from prehistoric days to Roman Londinium and Saxon Lundenwic, on through medieval and Renaissance times, followed by many other eras and events including the Great Fire (1666) and the Great Stink (1858), two terrible world wars, and finally the chaotic vertical building spree of the last half-century. A great city definitely has a life of its own, growing and shrinking like a coral reef or a forest.

“London’s physical evolution has been intimately related to its location and topography,” he writes, and he builds a good case. London lies inland, a river port where trade routes meet, located in a temperate climate and surrounded by open space and, ultimately, open seas. Of course, this story includes many memorable characters too, whom Jenkins introduces with grace and gusto. His book features excellent illustrations, a comprehensive bibliography—but nary a footnote. Pure pleasure for Anglophiles and general readers!