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Writing that goes beyond the usual territory

Most London guidebooks concentrate on the city centre and the more popular destinations for excursions, like Hampstead or Hampton Court. Time Out: London is one of the best, and the most up-to-date. If you’re looking for a pocket-sized collection of fascinating facts, David Long’s The Little Book of London is very highly recommended. You may also enjoy the same author's Tunnels, Towers and Temples and Spectacular Vernacular, both of which seek out some of the capital’s most interesting structures.

For a more academic perspective, the The London Encyclopaedia is unbeatable, but it doesn’t cover some of the most obscure suburban localities discussed in Hidden London. The Times History of London is a slimmer but more colourful study, with an emphasis on maps. London Suburbs, an English Heritage production, combines a concise look at outer London’s development with sumptuous photography, but it’s now out of print and hard to find.

Chambers London Gazetteer is the book of this website – and much more. The gazetteer includes every locality in Greater London, from Coulsdon in the south to Crews Hill in the north; from Harmondsworth in the west to Hornchurch in the east. The locality entries on this website are taken from the London Gazetteer, although with occasional adaptations and updates. 64 pages of colour photographs show London at its best – and sometimes at its worst.

Several novels explore the localities of London in distinctive ways, from GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill to Geoff Nicholson’s Bleeding London. Two essential reads are Michael Moorcock’s Mother London and Martin Amis’s London Fields. London’s best contemporary writers of both fiction and non-fiction are Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, though both have quirky styles that won’t suit all tastes.

Charles Dickens is almost universally acknowledged as London’s greatest writer and yet many modern Londoners are deterred by the sheer bulk of his books. But pick one up and you may find it hard to put down. Our Mutual Friend is especially recommended. But if you’d prefer a 21st-century take on life in the metropolis, try David Thewlis’s painfully funny The Late Hector Kipling.

Brewer's London Phrase and Fable

The recently published Brewer's Dictionary of London Phrase and Fable is arguably the ultimate compendium of London information, past and present, serious and frivolous. From the Bloomsbury Group to the Camberwell carrot and Oranges and Lemons to apples and pears (as the blurb says), no other book about London can offer such breadth and diversity of content, including people, places, events, culture, anecdotes, slang and catchphrases. Admittedly, however, the dictionary is the work of the author of this website, so there may be some bias in this recommendation.

 
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