A history of London as reflected by the Thames traces the river's long-standing role as a key component of British commerce, in an account that covers a range of topics from waterside architecture and the lives of local residents to the river's wildlife and its ecological issues.
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There are many great cities situated on rivers, but none has been shaped so profoundly by its aquatic artery as London, or "London-on-Sea," as Weightman, a documentary filmmaker, author and expert on the city's history, wittily calls it. As he points out, the Thames is different from, say, the Seine, in that it is tidal in both directions, meaning that "a sailing ship could weigh anchor near the mouth of the Thames as the flood tide began, and for six hours it would be carried inland"; it could then "get a free ride back to sea on the ebb tide." For centuries, these powerful Thames tides helped the world's sailors provide an expanding London with the food and raw materials it craved. Given the modern predominance of the road and the airport, rivers may not be so important anymore to urban growth and commerce, but Weightman makes a persuasive case that the "strong brown God" (as T.S. Eliot dubbed it) continues to bestow on London its unique dynamism. Thanks to 25 concise chapters covering everything from the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race to sewers and bridges, Weightman's book makes an amiable companion for Londoners and tourists alike. B&w photos. (Dec.)
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Weightman's eleventh book is his second on the famous Thames River in England. He chronicles its historical significance in the rise and growth of London, focusing on such features as the Old London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Westminster Bridge, the Tower of London, the ships that once carried coal to the city, the Great Fire of 1666 (when many people fled to the river), and the wharves, warehouses, docks, and fisheries of a bygone era. Weightman vividly describes the crisis of London's sewage in the 1800s, caused by the rapid growth of flush toilets, boat races in the river, and its railway bridges. With black-and-white illustrations throughout, the book is an absorbing account of the river's history, and will be a good background-reading source for the traveler heading to England. George Cohen
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