A Great and Monstrous Thing: London in the Eighteenth Century

Jerry White, Author
Jerry White. Harvard Univ., $39.95 (670p) ISBN 978-0-674-07317-3
Reviewed on: 12/03/2012
Release date: 02/01/2013
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The titular superlative, courtesy of Daniel Defoe, aptly fits this engrossing history of the city that by 1700 had surpassed Paris to become the largest in Europe. Veteran British historian White (London in the Twentieth Century) delivers a focused, mostly chronological account in 13 chapters, each covering a single aspect of the city and built around a significant, if sometimes obscure, personage—Samuel Johnson (who once remarked that “[w]hen a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”), Henry Fielding, and John Wilkes make appearances. But there is also Ignatius Sanchez—writer, composer, and freed slave whose chapter reveals the city’s rich stew of nations, races, and religions, and Mary Young, hanged after a life of thievery in a city with unimaginably high levels of crime and prostitution. White’s encyclopedic knowledge may, like bustling London, overwhelm some, but this is still a richly satisfying compendium of history, biography, anecdote, and statistics on the great city’s daily life, vibrant culture, and byzantine politics. 13 images, 13 maps. Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Feb.)
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