London Under: The Secret History Beneath the Streets
By: Peter Ackroyd
Challenges: What's in a Name
# 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.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.
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.”
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."
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