[Cross-posted from New Books in European Studies] Not long ago I had a discussion (prompted, I think, by a poll in The Economist) with my colleague about which city on earth could boast that it was the true 'World City'. We threw around a couple of ideas – it seems obligatory to mention something connected to China these days – before deciding that the city where we both sat was the true holder of that title.
London has its frustrations, and as somebody who recently moved out of London I am acutely aware of some of them: the crowds, the transport system, the sheer expense! But it is also a quite remarkable and exciting place (as the Olympic games seem to have demonstrated), full of energy, history and a sense of occasion that belies its location in the corner of a slightly damp island off the north west coast of the Eurasian landmass.
How this place became a real World City is the underlying story at the heart of Robert Bucholz and Joseph Ward's London: A Social and Cultural History, 1550-1750 (Cambridge University Press, 2012). England and London in 1550 were slightly peripheral places, and certainly in the shadow of some of the true great cities of Europe and beyond. By 1750, however, London had been transformed into a place of innovation, wealth, power and progress, and England was well on the path to becoming a nation that was to shape much of the history of the world over the next two centuries.
The story is also deeply human and very colourful, involving lashes of gin, some terrible smells, lots of sex, and countless accounts of amazing lives and shabby deaths. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and talk.