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This review is of the book "Johnson's Life of London - The People Who Made the City that Made the World" by the current Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
Most people have a view of Boris, some may think he's an out-of-touch Conservative, some think he's a competent mayor with a unique personality and sense of humour, and others view him as a future Prime Minister. Indeed, in a poll released today (July 2012) he was rated as the person most likely to succeed David Cameron. But whatever your view, and mine has gone from negative to positive in recent years, Johnson is certainly a fascinating character.
The book is structured in chapters which feature one person, and in one case a bridge, and tell the story of their part in London's history. The book is an historically interesting view of how London has developed, but never takes itself too seriously. It certainly isn't a dry history book, the chapter on Hadrian starts, "Clonk. They were rebuilding London Bridge in 1834 when workmen hit something on the bed of the river. It was green and slimy".
The book marches through subjects as diverse as Hadrian, William the Conqueror, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Wilkes, Lionel Rothschild, WT Stead, Winston Churchill and Keith Richards. All of these in Johnson's view have had a major part in the cultural, social, economic and political development of the city.
I'm not entirely sure personally that Keith Richards has played as an important part in British history as many other figures that people could think of, but of course, everyone would pick a different list, and there is a humour not just within the writing, but also in the choice of the characters selected.
I consider that the quality of writing is very high, there is dry humour throughout, but the book's contents has be read in a serious way even with the writing being quite light-hearted. It's certainly the sort of book that I'd have expected to see from Boris Johnson. I certainly found out a number of new things about both London and the historical figures that he's selected.
There is some politics in this book, both in terms of how Johnson writes about the past and how his own beliefs impact on that, and also coverage of some issues which are more modern. These issues, such as transport, construction and bankers, were relevant to the Mayoral elections, which took place between the publication of the hardback and paperbacks versions of this book. However, although I noted the politics, I considered that it was referred to in a humorous way, which I didn't find was trying to over-make a point, be patronising or to distort history by deliberately hiding some facts.
I borrowed this book from the library, but at the time of writing, there are hardback, paperback and Kindle versions of the book available for those that want to own it themselves. The ISBN is the hardback is 9780007418930 and the paperback is 9780007418947.
In terms of the price, the hardback retails at 20 pounds and is currently available for 13.24 pounds including delivery on Amazon, the paperback retails at 8.99 pounds and is currently available for 6.29 pounds including delivery on Amazon, and the Kindle version is available for the reasonable price of 4.99 pounds.
In summary, I found this book excellent and I read it in one sitting. I found that the combination of history and humour blended in a way that is typical of Boris Johnson, and I was both entertained and informed by reading the book. For history to come to life, I feel that it needs to do both of these, and to encourage readers to find out more about the subject. I found the book did this, and I'd personally recommend it.