Tuesday, December 7, 2010

London the Biography by Peter Ackroyd

London the Biography by Peter Ackroyd. Hardcover book published 2000.

This is a lovely looking book written by the well known and prolific author Peter Ackroyd.  It looks great and:
  1. Its quite thick (authoritive?)
  2. Its got some pictures (but not too many)
  3. Looks great on the shelf (nice picture on the spine)
  4. It’s on a popular subject (…at least I think London is popular).
There is something about this book that bothers me.  The author (or publisher) has decided the book isn’t a history, it’s a biography and indeed, besides the title, the publishers blurb indicates as much.  If I were looking for a book about London, I doubt very much I would ever consider looking for a “biography”.  Anyone (or me) looking for a “history” of London who stumbles on this book… a “biography”… will possibly become as confused as I am.  I could do a quick search of the www and bore you with a definition of “biography” and “history”… but I/we have a fair idea that a “biography” is about a person and “history” is about a thing or event (…is this right?... and thinking about it even more I’m starting to get very confused).  So how can a prospective buyer decide whether this is a “biography” or a “history”? Lets look at what the publisher says:

“Ackroyd portrays London from the time of the Druids to the beginning of the twenty-first century, noting magnificence in both epochs, but this is not a chronological record. There are chapters on the history of silence and the history of light, the history of childhood and the history of suicide, the history of Cockney speech and the history of drink. Anecdotal, brilliant and wonderfully entertaining, LONDON is animated by Ackroyd’s concern for the close relationship between the present and the past as well as by what he describes as the peculiar ‘echoic’ quality of London, whereby its texture and history actively affect the lives and personalities of its citizens.”

Now I’m really confused.  This section of the publishers blurb uses the word “History” 7 times and this all comes straight after saying it’s not a history.  Well to me if it looks like a history, smells like a history and is described by the publisher as a history…. IT’S A HISTORY.  So does this help sell the book?  Well I’m sitting here quietly considering this book and taking my time about it and I’m confused.  If I was window shopping (this includes shopping on the www) and scanning briefly at titles and blurbs I think I would pass on this one. 

The book looks great and probably is a great read, but this confusing title and blurb has left me a little shaken.  I can’t imagine anyone out there being tempted to buy this book without actually seeing it in front of them and scanning through the text.  Indeed I have already listed this once on ebay to no avail… and here I am writing about this book… and writing that I wouldn’t buy it…??? …I think I’m in trouble.

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