Take five

28th July 2000 at 01:00
BOOKS ABOUT LONDON. A History of London. By Stephen Inwood. Macmillan. pound;30.

Within the 1,000 encyclopedic pages of Stephen Inwood's narrative, there are countless smaller stories. He presents a living city that constantly refreshes itself by the infusion of new blood. From the Roman soldiers who established a trading town on the north bank of the Thames to the countless migrants enticed by opportunity or driven by oppression, he celebrates the paradox of outsiders whose children become citizens.

THE LONDON RICH. By Peter Thorold. Viking. pound;25.

Peter Thorold's well-researched book is all about growth. He starts with the Great Fire, that terrifying detonator of demographic explosion, and ends with the current volatility of "desirable" areas appropriated by the rich. Little houses subsist on great houses, as artisans and other service providers set up in the shadow of their wealthy masters. Thorold deals well with the colonisation of villages such as Islington with its dairies and Hampstead with its spas. He pays special tribute to the incomers, the Huguenot entrepreneurs, Jewish financiers and American buccaneers whose expansive style provided models for the aspirations of numerous poorer refugees.

RODINSKY'S ROOM. By Rachel Lichtenstein and Iain Sinclair. Granta. pound;20, pbk pound;8.99.

Rachel Lichtenstein, a 30-year-old artist, focuses on a scholarly recluse who lived until the late 1960s in a room above a synagogue in Spitalfields surrounded by maps, annotated books, coded messages and photographs. Into her memorialisation of Rodinsky and his possessions, Lichtenstein weaves her own anger, dreams and excitement, so that discovery becomes a meditation on the role of East European Jewry relocated in East London. The novelist Iain Sinclair shares the acount, using "visionary riffs" to thwart the memory thieves who would like to reduce mysterious history to the flat banalities of the heritage industry.

LITERARY GUIDE TO LONDON. By Ed Glinert. Penguin. pound;12.99.

Ed Glinert's pages contain an extraordinary mixture of the thrilling and the banal, mind-boggling fact and mundane fiction. This wonderful compilation celebrates an equally wonderful diversity. Can any street in the world match the reflected glories of Southwark's semi-squalid Borough High Street, which can justly claim Chaucer, Shakespeare, Keats and Dickens for its own? From the British Museum, home to the Beowulf manuscript, to the louche haunts of Mark, the narrator of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, there are fascinating associations on every page. Pocket-sized, it's still big enough for Shelley to rub shoulders with Sherlock Holmes.

THE VERY BLOODY HISTORY OF LONDON. By John Farman. Arrow. pound;5.99.

John Farman takes pride in the chauvinism that calls Germans "cruel Krauts", "Boches" and "the Hun". He manages to patronise "the poor old Roman Catholics", "the poor old Afro-Caribbeans" and even "poor Old Father Thames" himself. Jumping frivolously from stories about brothels to stories about "horse-poo" to stories about yet more specialised brothels, Farman turns what should be a history of great and marvellous scope into an assemblage of trivial just-fancy-that facts and unsubtle jokes. Dr Johnson dwindles into someone famous for his "acid piss-taking". There's not even an index. The back cover says this book is "for discerning travellers of all ages". Although the cartoons make it look as if it's primarily aimed at older children, the content is at least partly aimed at not very discerning teenagers or adults.

Tom Deveson

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