London Under

London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets
By: Peter Ackroyd

Challenges: What’s in a Name

Published: 2011

# of pages: 240

Official description:  London Under is a wonderful, atmospheric, imagina­tive, oozing short study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheaters to Victorian sewers, gang hideouts, and modern tube stations. The depths below are hot, warmer than the surface, and this book tunnels down through the geological layers, meeting the creatures, real and fictional, that dwell in darkness—rats and eels, mon­sters and ghosts. When the Underground’s Metropolitan Line was opened in 1864, the guards asked for permission to grow beards to protect themselves against the sulfurous fumes, and named their engines after tyrants—Czar, Kaiser, Mogul—and even Pluto, god of the underworld. 
To go under London is to penetrate history, to enter a hid­den world. As Ackroyd puts it, “The vastness of the space, a second earth, elicits sensations of wonder and of terror. It partakes of myth and dream in equal measure.”

My opinion: I found this book to be very fascinating.  I only wish it was more detailed!  The author jumps around a lot, but it’s not so frustrating since it isn’t a novel.  However, he spent a lot of time writing about the underground train system, which I don’t think qualifies as “secret history.”  I wish more time had been spent on the parts of underground London that aren’t as well documented in other sources.

I love archaeology and so enjoyed reading about the civilizations that made up London before it was even London.  And the underground rivers were also fascinating.  It’s pretty crazy that so many different things exist under the city.  Ancient artifacts, natural formations, and modern improvements.

I just hope someday I will be able to visit London and see this complex city in person!

Why I gave this book 3/5 stars: Interesting non-fiction, but not detailed enough in the actual “secret history.”

Other reviews:  
Reading and Writing and Movies, Oh My!

Have you reviewed this? Let me know and I’d be happy to post yours as well.

One thought on “London Under

  1. Cath at Read-Warbler was reading this one recently too. I want to get this very much. I've been to London, and the underground….let's just say I prefer to ride the buses on the streets! lol Interesting thoughts you have that this isn't such a secret history of the underground, as just 'stuff' and things about it. I'll keep that in mind. Thanks so much for the review, Andrea.


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