London Under by Peter Ackroyd

In brief: A history of what exists under London’s streets- much more than tube lines and pipes, there’s bunkers and secret rivers.

The good: A good overview, and some very interesting points about the London Underground.

The not-so-good: Quite succinct in some places and enormous page borders.

Why I chose it: I like reading about London history, particularly the Underground.

Year: 2011

Pages: 202

Publisher: Vintage

Setting: London, England

My rating: 7.5 out of 10

I’m quite interested in reading about London and its history, despite being Australian! After reading Underground London last year, I wanted to know more about what lurks under the streets. In hindsight, it would have been more useful to read London Under first, as it’s a sound introduction into what’s under the streets, from rivers to trains to burial grounds. Not all topics are covered in great detail – a good thing when I wasn’t that interested in the topic, but can leave you feeling unsatisfied if you want to know more detail.

Ackroyd demonstrates excellent research skills in explaining each element of London underground, and each chapter contains several pictures (usually drawings rather than photographs given the history). Initially, I found some sections rather dry, but I became more engrossed in the history the more I read. I felt that Ackroyd’s passion for the subject really shone through when discussing the history of the London Underground (train system). There were multiple chapters devoted to this, which I really enjoyed. You can even add to the experience by looking at pictures and histories on the internet – I spent a lot of time looking at Tube station designs!

As I stated earlier, I found this book easier to read the more I read it. Ackroyd’s sentences are long and wordy at times, which can be distracting at times. It’s also a bit less personal than Underground London, but does cover some sections that it doesn’t go into. The books complement each other and also act as a good starting point to discover exactly what it is you like about the streets under London. (For me, it’s the Tube).

The copy of this book I purchased had incredibly huge margins, so don’t be put off by the thickness of the book – it’s probably about 120 pages of text with pictures and a comprehensive index. One for the interested in this topic, this is an easy book to read in short chunks (i.e. good for a commute).


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