Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World

Boris Johnson. Riverhead, $27.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59448-747-7
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Colorful London mayor Johnson (The Dream of Rome) profiles 18 people, beginning with the Celtic queen Boudica and ending with Keith Richards, to produce an engaging if uneven history of “his” city. He opts for a mix of familiar names like Shakespeare and Churchill along with such lesser-known figures as Robert Hooke, a 17th-century inventor and rival of Isaac Newton, and W.T. Stead, a journalist who wrote prurient exposés of Victorian London’s prostitution trade. Johnson’s litany also includes a few names that may be unfamiliar to American readers, including Richard Whittington, a medieval banker celebrated in Christmas pantomime, and Mary Seacole, a black woman who served alongside Florence Nightingale as a nurse in the Crimean War. Acknowledging his debt to previous historians, Johnson focuses on making his subjects accessible to a general readership, anachronistically dubbing Boudica, London’s “first banker-basher,” and comparing Lionel Rothschild to the comedy Trading Places. His political agenda (he faces a new election in 2012) is hard to miss, but not intrusive enough to dampen the pleasures of his lively, informal prose. Johnson’s brilliantly vivid portraits of his namesake Samuel and the foppish 18th-century radical John Wilkes make up for an embarrassingly self-indulgent tribute to Keith Richards and mark a highly entertaining work of popular history. Agent: Elyse Cheney. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/02/2012
Release date: 05/31/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-101-58469-9
Paperback - 403 pages - 978-0-00-741894-7
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-101-58568-9
Hardcover - 322 pages - 978-0-00-741893-0
Paperback - 386 pages - 978-1-59463-146-7
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