You are here: Home > Issue 462 > Brief book reviews
Brief book reviews
London's Lost Rivers: A Walker's Guide
Tom Bolton, with photography by S F Said and a foreward by
Christopher Fowler (Strange Attractor, 2011)
270pp, including black and white maps and photographs, with
8 colour photographs 978-1907222030
For those who have enjoyed Nicholas Barton's classic work
"The Lost Rivers of London" (Historical Publications), this
excellent book of walks is a handy companion, sized to fit a coat
pocket and including an elegant page layout and clear maps.
In separate chapters, the original courses, now mostly subterranean,
of the Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet, Walbrook, Peck,
Neckinger, Effra and Wandle are shown, and the walker is led
from the sources of each of these rivers toward the Thames
along the nearest route currently available, with descriptions
of the localities along the way. Wherever possible, the author
identifies the imprints and traces left by these lost rivers upon
the current road layout and property boundaries. It is also very
worthwhile to have not just nostalgic tales and legends of old
London Town relating to each river, but also references to very
recent history and to new buildings and roads.
The guide is enlivened by the eerie photographs of S F Said,
better known as a writer. They were taken on expired Polaroid
stock, whose decaying emulsion has created odd runny-egg
blobs, flares and crackles in the photographs included in the
book – the better to emphasize the other-worldly nature of the
investigation. The several hundred photographs taken for this
project but not included in the book are on Said's Flickr stream
under the name "The Gentleman Amateur".
Yuri Gagarin in London and Manchester: A Smile
that Changed the World?
Gurbir Singh (Astrotalk UK, 2011) Softcover, £10
175 + x pp., black and white illustrations
This fascinating and well-researched book recounts the legendary
Soviet cosmonaut's visit to the UK in the summer of 1961
at the height of the Cold War, setting it within the context of
scientific advance, the political climate in the UK, and Gagarin's
relationship with his political masters in Russia. A timeline is
included, as well as much new information from personal interviews
with those who met Gagarin, by all accounts a personally
charming man who found himself in a difficult and charged
Cedar Lewisohn (Merrell, 2011)
176pp, full colour throughout 978-1-8589-4526-2
This copiously-illustrated book of essays and interviews is
worldwide in scope, featuring examples of graffiti from the
streets of major cities (London being well-represented),
discussing the eco-system of gangs, aerosol spray-paint manufacturers,
and the fine art community that has taken what one
might consider a voyeuristic interest in transgressive acts for
several years now.
The reverent tone in which the interviews with "taggers",
skateboarders and performance artists are conducted, and the
critical parallels drawn here with pop-art and avant-garde
graphic design (at which some graffitists show an untrained but
genuine talent, while others have a fine-art training), sometimes
bemuse the reader into forgetting the great truth at the heart
of graffiti: it is an "artform" based on criminal damage to other
people's property or to public property. Therein lies the thrill.
Some of the graffitists interviewed speak of their addiction
to tagging up the public space, under the eyes of the police. In
the interests of balance, there is an interview with a judge who
patiently explains that criminal damage to private property is
a serious matter, even if it is non-violent, because "it gives an
impression of social deprivation and probably crime as well" (p.
You can bet that most of the graffiti connoisseurs and critics
who enjoy this book would not like to find that their own
garden wall had been tagged up. while they were asleep. But it
is worth noting, as Ruth Miller points out in her article about
London's murals in this issue, that many wall paintings that
were executed properly with the owner's consent are much-loved
and familar features of their area many years later.
Walk the Lines
Mark Mason (Random House, 2011)
Mark Mason walked along (roughly) the routes of the Underground
lines, several hundred miles in all, recording historical
trivia and personal reflections and experiences along the way.
This is not a book aimed at London Transport enthusiasts, by
the way, it is light on trainspotting detail.
If you enjoy walking, you could use it as a walking guide to introduce
you to parts of London you have never visited, through
you may need to supplement the author's whistlestop tour with
Except where explicitly identified as the views or opinions of the London Society, all contributors express their own views and opinions, which are not necessarily those of the Society.
Except as identified in particular instances, copyright in all contributions, literary and visual, remains the property of the respective contributors. All rights reserved.
The London Society Journal is the magazine for members of the London Society and is published twice a year. The London Society was founded in 1912 and works to stimulate appreciation of London, to encourage excellence in planning and development, and to preserve its amenities and the best of its buildings.
The London Society is a registered charity, number 206270.