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An entertaining way to see a London that may no longer exist

  • Feb 20, 2008
"When You Go to London" was first published in 1926, under the title A London Year. When it was released in the US the next year, it was given a new introduction and title. From what I can tell, this is the first of H.V. Morton's books (apart from one small travel guide) that was written *as* a book, instead of as a collection of essays that first appeared in newspapers. As such, I found it more satisfying when read cover-to-cover than his earlier titles, which -- made up as they were of individual essays -- were too disjointed for long-term reading although great for random picking-up and enjoying in short bursts.

This book is written for, and dedicated to, "all those knowing Americans who prefer London to Paris." The conceit of the book is that you have arrived in London at the start of the year, "with nothing to do and with enough money to do anything." You will, he continues, "wander in a haphazard way through twelve months gathering impressions of scenes and ceremonies, places and people, When you feel like it you will follow the crowd; when the mood takes you you will slip off alone to watch Cynthia [your nonspecific wife/girlfriend/travel companion] swaying against a punt pole somewhere on the Thames."

Portraying a London more than 80 years past and with a major war and untold social changes in between it and us, there may not seem at first glance to be much contemporary value in Morton's guidance. And if you choose to read this merely as a period piece, that's fine because it's a well-written and entertaining one. But I think there's still a certain degree of relevance to it, and discovering Morton's perspective on events that you can still witness today can, I'd argue, give them a deeper and richer coloring. While this is not as good, I think, as his later and better-known "In Search of..." books, Morton even this early in his publishing life has a fine eye for historic and contemporary detail and an ability to combine the grand with the mundane. Fans of his work will probably want to add this to their shelves.

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About the reviewer
Andrew S. Rogers ()
Ranked #364
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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Author: H. V Morton
Publisher: R.M. McBride

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