Check It Out: Books about London calling out to readers

The games are over. The Olympic flame has been extinguished. The athletes have headed home.

However, the accolades have just begun. Observers around the globe have hailed London 2012 a smashing success.

NBC awarded itself a gold medal for its coverage. Network execs are exchanging high-fives since more Americans apparently tuned in to watch some part of the competition than any other televised event in history, outdistancing even the season finale of "Two and a Half Men." For most of us, however, NBC's performance can be fairly summarized in just two familiar words, "spoiler alert."

On the other hand, the city of London can take a well-deserved bow. Despite a few early kerfuffles over the availability of tickets and worries over transportation and security, the games proceeded with nary a hitch.

London proved to be a spectacular backdrop. With historic landmarks seemingly around every corner, the city provided viewers with numerous postcard moments. Has any Olympic venue ever been more picturesque?

Readers who wish to learn more about the newly-declared "capital of the world," to use Mayor Boris Johnson's phrase, will find the following books of particular interest. All are available to cardholders of the Newport Beach Public Library.

In "I Never Knew that about London," Christopher Winn has gathered a trove of miscellany about the Olympic host city. Winn takes readers on a kind of magical mystery tour that winds through the various villages and districts that make up London. We see the river views that inspired Turner, discover which church steeple led to the design of the traditional wedding cake, learn where the sandwich was invented, visit the house where both Handel and Hendrix lived, and more.

Peter Ackroyd explores the hidden world beneath the streets in "London Under." Ackroyd, the author of a previous work about the city's above-ground history, tunnels below the surface where he finds ancient streams, Roman amphitheaters, Victorian sewers and modern tube stations. Along the way, he meets the real and fictional inhabitants of this underworld — rats, eels, ghosts and mythological creatures.

In "Dickens's London," Peter Clark is our tour guide to places that received mention in the fiction and correspondence of the celebrated writer. The core of the book consists of five separate walks around central London. Travelers looking for an introduction to points of historical or literary significance in the city will find this invaluable.

Poet Mark Ford has compiled an anthology of poems inspired by London in "London: A History in Verse." All the major poets of British literature are here: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Keats and Eliot. Also included are other forms of significant verse from anonymous ballads to nursery rhymes. The result is a cultural history of the city during the last 700 years.

In "Johnson's Life of London," Johnson argues that London is perhaps the greatest city of the last 500 years. He supports this immodest claim with biographical profiles of individuals who have made significant contributions to the cultural, political and technological history of the city. Included in this medley of greatness are figures such as the Roman Emperor Hadrian, William the Conqueror, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Churchill, and even Keith Richards. Johnson wears his erudition lightly, making this work a pleasure to read.

CHECK IT OUT is written by the staff of the Newport Beach Public Library. All titles may be reserved from home or office computers by accessing the catalog at http://www.newportbeachlibrary.org. For more information on the Central Library or any of the branches, please contact the Newport Beach Public Library at (949) 717-3800, option 2.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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