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John Russell, author of Abrams' highly successful Paris and a score of other volumes, lived in London for nearly 50 years. Here, he offers a matchless, wonderfully illustrated tour of the city and its most notable citizens through the centuries.
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An elegantly idiosyncratic, leisurely and--at its most successful--revealing stroll through London's highways and byways that transcends the coffee-table genre. A long-time art critic for the the New York Times, British- born Russell is an erudite guide to the city he made his home for over 50 years (if one at times rather too fond of the sound of his own voice). He takes the reader on a wholly personal, unsystematic, yet surprisingly thorough ramble through London's long history and its labyrinthine social topographies as well as its protean physical aspect. Though he occasionally lapses into travelogue bromides (``there is no better school of life than the streets of a great city''), more often Russell succeeds in finding neglected perspectives that help us reimagine a city made overfamiliar by mass tourism and media: a history of London's 19th-century salon culture, an explanation of what goes on behind the closed doors of the city through a history of its architecture, and, throughout, a refreshing emphasis on London as the living and working home of millions of ordinary folk rather than a picturesque museum. Having come to know the city in its imperial twilight, Russell does sometimes fall prey to nostalgic Edwardianisms (for instance, in his rose-tinted and pompous descriptions of Parliament); but at his best he combines the historian's long view, the aesthete's appreciative gaze, and the social critic's inquiring eye to paint a bracingly complex picture of a city whose heritage continues to evolve--such as his account of the Docklands transformation from commercial and imperial hub to the sometimes combustible social laboratory of the new London. At its unstuffy best, Russell's ``tour'' is brought to vivid life by his unfailingly apposite selection of paintings, engravings, architects' drawings and photographs, in general excellently reproduced (though on occasion large-scale images have been reduced beyond comfortable scrutiny). Russell for the most part offers the armchair traveler and the inquiring mind alike five-star service. (183 illustrations, 86 in color) (Book-of-the-Month Club dividend selection) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Library Journal:
A reminiscence of times experienced and histories explored, this offering is a very personal look at a city of infinite attractions that has captured the hearts and imaginations of generations of natives and visitors alike. Russell, an eminent writer on the arts for over 50 years, brings to life, through anecdote, illustrations, and memoir, the city of London from its re-creation after the Great Fire of 1660 through the great fires of World War II and up to the present. He takes us into the world of Wren and Constable, Boswell and Handel, Shaw and Olivier, and Lucian Freud and R.B. Kitaj in this love letter to what is less a geographic concept than a state of mind and memory. Recommended both for Anglophiles and everyone else waiting to be convinced.
Paula Frosch. Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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