cover image London's Thames: The River That Shaped a City and Its History

London's Thames: The River That Shaped a City and Its History

Gavin Weightman, . . St. Martin's, $23.95 (150pp) ISBN 978-0-312-34017-9

There are many great cities situated on rivers, but none has been shaped so profoundly by its aquatic artery as London, or "London-on-Sea," as Weightman, a documentary filmmaker, author and expert on the city's history, wittily calls it. As he points out, the Thames is different from, say, the Seine, in that it is tidal in both directions, meaning that "a sailing ship could weigh anchor near the mouth of the Thames as the flood tide began, and for six hours it would be carried inland"; it could then "get a free ride back to sea on the ebb tide." For centuries, these powerful Thames tides helped the world's sailors provide an expanding London with the food and raw materials it craved. Given the modern predominance of the road and the airport, rivers may not be so important anymore to urban growth and commerce, but Weightman makes a persuasive case that the "strong brown God" (as T.S. Eliot dubbed it) continues to bestow on London its unique dynamism. Thanks to 25 concise chapters covering everything from the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race to sewers and bridges, Weightman's book makes an amiable companion for Londoners and tourists alike. B&w photos. (Dec.)