Friday, August 23, 2013

An Irreverent, But Loving Take On London

"Johnson's Life of London - The People Who Made the City That Made the World" by Boris Johnson   Riverhead Books   320 pages   $27.95

Boris Johnson was born in America, but became such a Brit that he went from being a journalist to the House of Commons and then on to the heady title "Mayor of London."  Now 49, he's written an unusual book.  As a former journalistic, Johnson has a vast vocabulary and the wisdom to choose exatly the right word to describe something.

His chapters highlight the various periods in English thought, invention and progress.  He describes the Romans who founded "Londinium" as "a bunch of pushy Italian immigrants."  He stops to focus the spotlight on such as Samuel Johnson, Winston Churchill and "Keef" of the Rolling Stones. 

He also touches on British inventions and customs that are still in use today.  The flush toilet was not invented by Thomas Crapper, but instead by Sir John Harington in 1596 for use by the Virgin Queen.  Only two were ever made; one is lost to history and the other is in a museum.

Other "Made in Britain" ideas and objects include the King James Bible, the Bow Street Runners (an early version of police,) the bicycle, Ping Pong and the Tube.  There is quite a discourse on the filth of the London sewers which emptied into the Thames and carried foul water and odors that caused disease.
In fact, 14,000 Londoners died in 1848  of cholera -- right after all the city cess pools were emptied into the Thames.

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