Recommended books

Apologies, this page is presently out-of date and it may be a while before that situation is rectified

The Times Atlas of London
The 2011 edition of The Times Atlas of London

For lovers of the story of London, the publishing event of late 2011 was the launch of a new edition of The Times Atlas of London. Over the years, this excellent work has been in and out of print, and variously marketed as a histor­ical atlas, then as a history and now as an atlas. It’s hard to under­stand why the ‘histor­ical’ part has been dropped from the title of the latest version, because the capital’s evolution over the centuries is central to this beau­ti­fully produced volume. In addition to its many maps, the book is also crammed with photographs, espe­cially aerial views.

Another wonderful history of London in maps is Joe Brown’s London Railway Atlas, now in its third edition. It’s highly recom­mended not just to rail enthu­siats but to anyone who wants to under­stand the way the capital has evolved and how its disparate parts are joined up.


Unlike the Hidden London website, most guide­books under­stand­ably concen­trate on the city centre and the more popular desti­na­tions for excur­sions, like Hampstead or Hampton Court. Time Out: London is one of the best, and the most up-to-date.

Chambers London Gazetteer (by the author of this website) includes every locality in Greater London, from Coulsdon in the south to Crews Hill in the north; from Harmondsworth in the west to Hornchurch in the east. However, it’s now out of print, so it may be hard to find. The locality articles here on Hidden London are taken from the London Gazetteer, with numerous adap­ta­tions and updates.

Books about Londoners, the English and the British

Londoners, Craig Taylor’s recent anthology of ‘the voices of London’, has been a surprise best­seller. As the blurb says: “From the woman who is the voice of the London Under­ground to the man who plants the trees along Oxford Street; from a Muslim currency trader to a guardsman at Buck­ingham Palace; from the marriage registrar at West­min­ster town hall to the director of the biggest Bethnal Green funeral parlour – together, these voices and many more, paint a vivid, epic and wholly fresh portrait of twenty-first century London.”

cover image for Britain etc.
Mark Easton’s insightful series of essays on the UK today

For a broader exam­i­na­tion of the British people, Britain etc., by the BBC’s Home Editor Mark Easton, is highly recom­mended. Metic­u­lously researched but acces­sible essays take a look at the UK through its rela­tion­ship to 26 subjects – one for each letter of the alphabet. With each lettered chapter, the reader is invited to observe the United Kingdom in a new way: standing back to see the nation in a global or histor­ical context, and then diving down to scru­ti­nise some fasci­nating and insightful details.

You might also like to consider Kate Fox’s Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour, Jeremy Paxman’s The English and (if you haven’t yet read it) Bill Bryson’s classic Notes From A Small Island.

Other London non-fiction

For an academic perspec­tive, the The London Ency­clopaedia is unbeat­able, but it doesn’t cover some of the most obscure suburban local­i­ties discussed on this website.

Brewer’s London Phrase and Fable is arguably the ultimate compendium of London infor­ma­tion, past and present, serious and frivolous. From the Blooms­bury Group to the Camber­well carrot and Oranges and Lemons to apples and pears (as the blurb says), no other book about London can offer such breadth and diversity of content, including people, places, events, culture, anecdotes, slang and catch­phrases. Admit­tedly, however, the dictio­nary is also the work of the author of this website, so there may be some bias in this recommendation.

Richard Guard’s Lost London is “An A–Z of forgotten landmarks and lost tradi­tions.” It’s been a best­seller in Kindle format for several months – although its success was driven by very aggres­sive price-cutting that now seems to have ceased.

Other excellent non-fiction works include Roy Porter’s London: A Social History, Barry Miles’s, London Calling: A Coun­ter­cul­tural History of London Since 1945 and Dan Cruick­shank’s, The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital.


Several novels explore the local­i­ties of London in distinc­tive ways, from GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill to Geoff Nicholson’s Bleeding London. Two essential reads are Michael Moorcock’s Mother London and Martin Amis’s London Fields. London’s best contem­po­rary writers of both fiction and non-fiction are Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair, though both have quirky styles that won’t suit all tastes.

Zadie Smith - NW
The Patron Saint of Willes­den’s new bestseller

Charles Dickens is almost univer­sally acknowl­edged as London’s greatest writer and yet many modern Londoners are deterred by the sheer bulk of his books. But pick one up and you may find it hard to put down. Our Mutual Friend is espe­cially recom­mended. But if you’d prefer a 21st-century take on life in the metrop­olis, try David Thewlis’s painfully funny The Late Hector Kipling.

John Lanches­ter’s Capital has been hailed as a State of the Nation (or at least a State of the Metrop­olis) novel for the 21st century. “Brimming with percep­tion, humane empathy and relish, its portrayal of this metro­pol­itan miscel­lany is, in every sense, a capital achieve­ment”, said Peter Kemp in The Sunday Times, while The Times chose it as a Book of the Week.

After a gap of seven years Zadie Smith has produced another sweeping explo­ration of multi­cul­tural life in north-west London, following the simul­ta­ne­ously tangled and divergent lives of four people in their 30s who were all born on the same Willesden council estate. The Observer called it “flawed, frag­men­tary and unde­ni­ably brilliant … a universe away from the roaring, schematic books of her male coun­ter­parts.” NW imme­di­ately entered the best­sellers list on its publi­ca­tion at the end of August 2012.