“Thames: The Biography” by Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese, 2008)


British author Peter Ackroyd—of London: the Biography, Shakespeare: the Biography, and numerous other works—presents the most comprehensive biography ever written on the most renowned river of all time. After reading this book, it can be said that you will know all there is to know about the river Thames. Beginning with its geology and topography, Ackroyd takes you on a full tour from wellspring to its draining into the English channel, filling your head with facts and details you’d never really thought about.  Then he begins a brief foray into references made about the Thames throughout history and literature.  This sets the stage for a great journey, which Ackroyd starts right at the beginning with the origin of its name in various languages and how it has changed over time.

With plenty of maps and pictures, along with a lengthy bibliography and index, the reader will feel confident enough to give a two-hour lecture to friends and family on the Thames, after reading this book, as well as answering any questions.  Thames: the Biography will have you planning a trip to the most famous river in history in no time!

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Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.

Originally published on December 17 2008.

“New York” by Edward Rutherfurd (Doubleday, 2009)

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From the author that brought you the great, sweeping, historical fiction epics of London, Russka, and Princes of Ireland comes his next magnificent tome, New York.  While Rutherfurd’s works are fiction per se, he employs so much research and detail that at the end the readers feels as if he or she has taken a course in the history of this particular location.  Charting a chronological timeline from the very beginning of this civilization to its present day, using families and telling stories through their eyes, passing from one generation to the next, as the great events are experienced through them; Rutherfurd has truly created his own sub-genre of writing within the world of fiction.

In New York he does all this and more, beginning with the small Dutch Settlement where there was little industry other than trading with pelts and other items with the Native American tribes, the French to the north, while the British build their forces with hungry eyes on the small settlements of what would one day become the eastern coastline of the United States.  Rutherfurd then travels forward in time with important events like the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the grandiose times of the Gilded Age, the World Wars, on through the seventies to the catastrophic attack on the World Trade Center; all seen and experienced through the eyes and bodies of New Yorkers of all types, ages, and cultures.  At the end, New York doesn’t only serve as a comprehensive history on this unique and possibly most famous city in the world, but also as an article of work on humanity and how it has changed over the centuries, and how we as human beings have changed and adapted to new ways, cultures, technologies and events over time.  New York is unlike most cities in the United States, but at the same time it is a symbol of this nation, whether it be with the Indian tribes and Dutch settlement of Manhattan, the influx of cultures and peoples with Ellis Island, or its uniting of a nation on 9/11.

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Originally written on September 16 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.