Thursday, June 16, 2011

Histories of Great Cities

After my last New York City focused post (which honestly, seemed like my 20th NYC focused post, although I'm pretty sure it wasn't), I decided I really need to broaden my horizons and talk about somewhere else in the world. I love New York, but I also love cities in general, so I thought I'd look around and see what other urban histories I could dig up and dig into. Be forewarned, one of these cities could be my next obsession.

Author Peter Ackroyd seemed like a good place to start when trying to find a new city to read about. Ackroyd is a respected British novelist and historian who has penned several city focused books.
In 2000, Ackroyd published London: the biography a sweeping account of the history of the city of London: in 2009, he gave a similar treatment to an Italian city in Venice: pure city.

Most recently, he has released another London history: London Under is described by the publisher as "a wonderful, atmospheric, historical, imaginative, oozing little study of everything that goes on under London, from original springs and streams and Roman amphitheatres to Victorian sewers and gang hide-outs".

While we're in Europe, let's visit Paris with two recent histories of that city. Seven Ages of Paris by Alistair Horne seems a good place to start, particularly for readers who haven't read a history of Paris previously. A great overview of 7 centuries of history, examining not only the politics but also the social history of the city.

Parisians: an adventure history of Paris by Graham Robb might be better suited to the reader who is already well versed in the standard story of Paris. A behind-the-scenes take on Parisian history, described by the publisher as "the Paris you never knew. From the Revolution to the present... a series of astonishing true narratives, all stranger than fiction, of the lives of the great, the near-great, and the forgotten."

Looking for something a little closer to home? Quebec: the story of three sieges by Stephen Manning looks at the military history of Quebec City.

A little further flung? Try Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash which the publisher says "unearths the stories behind [Mumbai's] fabulous history, viewing Mumbai through its turning points and kaleidoscopic ideas, comic book heroes, and famous scandals--the history behind Mumbai's stories of opportunity and oppression, of fabulous wealth and grinding poverty, of cosmopolitan desires and nativist energies."

And if you're looking for something a little broader, perhaps this title is for you: The City: a global history by Joel Kotkin. Kotkin's short book looks at the history of the city as a whole, bringing in various time periods, geographic regions and ultimately looking forward to imagine the city of tomorrow.

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