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Thames: The Biography

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In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river’s endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river’s endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the Thames and such historical figures as Julius Caesar and Henry the VIII, and offers memorable portraits of the ordinary men and women who depend upon the river for their livelihoods. He visits all the towns and villages along the river from Oxfordshire to London and describes the magnificent royal residences, as well as the bridges and docks, locks and weirs, found along its 215-mile run. The Thames as a source of artistic inspiration comes brilliantly to life as Ackroyd invokes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Turner, Shelley, and other writers, poets, and painters who have been enchanted by its many moods and colors. In his signature entertaining and informative manner, Ackroyd allows the reader to dip into chapters in his own spirit, or to follow the Thames from source to sea. Illustrated with maps and photographs, THAMES is a vivid, highly original mosaic of life by and on the water.


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In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river’s endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river’s endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the Thames and such historical figures as Julius Caesar and Henry the VIII, and offers memorable portraits of the ordinary men and women who depend upon the river for their livelihoods. He visits all the towns and villages along the river from Oxfordshire to London and describes the magnificent royal residences, as well as the bridges and docks, locks and weirs, found along its 215-mile run. The Thames as a source of artistic inspiration comes brilliantly to life as Ackroyd invokes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Turner, Shelley, and other writers, poets, and painters who have been enchanted by its many moods and colors. In his signature entertaining and informative manner, Ackroyd allows the reader to dip into chapters in his own spirit, or to follow the Thames from source to sea. Illustrated with maps and photographs, THAMES is a vivid, highly original mosaic of life by and on the water.

30 review for Thames: The Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    I wish I knew what went wrong with this book. I thought it would be one that I would really enjoy, the kind of quirky history that focuses on one element, and then ties everything together around that element. Also, I am a huge fan of Peter Ackroyd. He is an elegant and entertaining writer. Beginning with fiction (Chatterton, Hawksmoor, Milton in America, etc.) and then extending into history and biography (Dickens, Pound, Chaucer, London the City...) he has created a bookshelf full of well writ I wish I knew what went wrong with this book. I thought it would be one that I would really enjoy, the kind of quirky history that focuses on one element, and then ties everything together around that element. Also, I am a huge fan of Peter Ackroyd. He is an elegant and entertaining writer. Beginning with fiction (Chatterton, Hawksmoor, Milton in America, etc.) and then extending into history and biography (Dickens, Pound, Chaucer, London the City...) he has created a bookshelf full of well written, entertaining and informative work. But somehow, he seems to have lost himself in this one. This book feels as though he spent ten years doing research, and filling out thousands of little note cards, then organized them together by topic and period, and then just dumped the damn things into his word processor. The sense one gets is of list after list after list, ad infinitum; followed by little story after little story, with no unifying theme at all. Ironically, his comment on John Leland's work Itinerary, describes his own book perfectly. "His was an anecdotal and perambulatory style, a collection of notes rather than a coherent narrative."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd charts the history, geography, flora and fauna of the Thames, as well its cultural, industrial, and economic impact on London and Londoners. It paints a vivid portrait of those who made their living on the Thames, by the Thames, or near the Thames. Ackroyd’s research is extensive and impressive. He explores the Thames under chapter headings ranging from its role as metaphor; its evolution through the centuries; as a site for the performance of rituals, incl Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd charts the history, geography, flora and fauna of the Thames, as well its cultural, industrial, and economic impact on London and Londoners. It paints a vivid portrait of those who made their living on the Thames, by the Thames, or near the Thames. Ackroyd’s research is extensive and impressive. He explores the Thames under chapter headings ranging from its role as metaphor; its evolution through the centuries; as a site for the performance of rituals, including baptisms and sacrifices; as an instrument of industrialization and trade; as a source of inspiration for art and literature; as a healer; as a depository for human waste; as a site for pleasure; and as a place of life and death. At various times in its long life and in its various locations, the Thames is described as pristine and full of potential; at other times, it is dark, murky, with an overpowering stench that saturates its surroundings. Although replete with interesting tidbits about authors and artists and where they lived along the Thames, the biography suffers from choppy writing and a lack of coherent unity. At times it’s as if Ackroyd merely parades names, activities, and/or locations, barely linking them with a unifying theme. The lists alternate with little anecdotes about life and activity on the Thames. Overall, the impression is of a series of research notes hurriedly pasted together. The narrative seems to mosey along, jumping from one point to the next, from one location to the next, and from one time frame to the next. Ackroyd is so profuse in his admiration for the Thames that he seems to endow it with almost mythic qualities, occasionally elevating it beyond reason. The Thames does have a long and interesting history. It has had a profound effect on the growth of a city. And it is a beautiful river. But it is worthwhile to remember, when all is said and done, it is just a river. Recommended with reservations.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jonfaith

    Early in Thames: The Biography the first post-Roman bridge is noted at being at York in the eighth century; we know this from church records stating that a witch was thrown from such and drowned. So, okay, what is the significance of this? We don't know, the events is passed over and the facts and images keep flowing. Employing a riparian model, Peter Ackroyd allows the jetsam and debris of history to be washed and buried in the mud immemorial. Thames proceeds thematically, but each sections is Early in Thames: The Biography the first post-Roman bridge is noted at being at York in the eighth century; we know this from church records stating that a witch was thrown from such and drowned. So, okay, what is the significance of this? We don't know, the events is passed over and the facts and images keep flowing. Employing a riparian model, Peter Ackroyd allows the jetsam and debris of history to be washed and buried in the mud immemorial. Thames proceeds thematically, but each sections is scattered in bits: Pepys, the Saxons and Victorian industry may appear under a heading, or maybe Turner, Satanism and angling. You never quite know and it doesn't appear to ultimately matter. Walter Raleigh appears a few times and Ackroyd notes that several volumes of his History of the World only led to a led B.C. timeline. Maybe Mr. Ackroyd should consider such focus. But that isn't the point here, is it? Sure enough Ackroyd has since started his history of everything British. He and Simon Schama can now stage pay-per-view pissing contests. Just remember 30 million years ago the Thames was connected to the Rhine.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook. The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also regularly conveys a sense of the incomplete, sometimes that of a jumbled ragbag of associations that still needs the application of work-heat a Thames: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd purports to offer a sister volume to the highly successful London: The Biography. To a point it succeeds, but in general the feeling of pastiche dominates to such an extent that the idea of biography soon dissolves into a scrapbook. The book presents an interesting journey and many fascinating encounters. But it also regularly conveys a sense of the incomplete, sometimes that of a jumbled ragbag of associations that still needs the application of work-heat and condensation in order to produce something palatable. Thus a book that promises much eventually delivers only a partially-formed experience. Ostensibly the project makes perfect sense. London: The Biography described the life of the city, its history and its inhabitants. There was a stress on literary impressions, art and occasional social history to offer context. This was no mere chronicle and neither was it just a collection of tenuously related facts. It was a selective and, perhaps because of that, an engaging glimpse into the author’s personal relationship with this great city. Thames River flows like an essential artery through and within London’s life. Peter Ackroyd identifies the metaphor and returns to it repeatedly, casting this flow of water in the role of bringer of both life and death to the human interaction that it engenders. And the flow is inherently ambiguous, at least as far downstream as the city itself, where the Thames is a tidal estuary. At source, and for most of its meandering life, it snakes generally towards the east, its flow unidirectional. But this apparent singularity of purpose is complicated by its repeated merging with sources of quite separate character via almost uncountable tributaries, some of which have quite different, distinct, perhaps contradictory imputed personalities of their own. Thus Peter Ackroyd attempts by occasional geographical journey but largely via a series of thematic examinations to chart a character, an influence and a history that feeds, harms, threatens and often beautifies London, the metropolis that still, despite the book’s title, dominates the scene. These universal themes – bringer of life, death, nurture, disease, transcendence and reality, amongst many others – provides the author with an immense challenge. Surely this character is too vast a presence to sum up in a single character capable of biography. And, sure enough, this vast expanse of possibility is soon revealed as the book’s inherent weakness. Thus the overall concept ceases to work quite soon after the book’s source. A sense of potpourri and pastiche begins to dominate. Quotations abound, many from poets who found inspiration by this great river, but their organisation and too often their content leaves much to be desired. Ideas float past, sometimes on the tide, only to reappear a few pages on, going the other way. Sure enough they will be back again before the end. Dates come and go in similar fashion, often back and forth within a paragraph. No wonder the tidal river is murky, given that so many metaphors flow through it simultaneously. And then there are the rough edges, the apparently unfinished saw cuts that were left in the rush to get the text to press. We learn early on that water can flow uphill. Young eels come in at two inches, a length the text tells us is the same as 25mm. We have an estuary described as 250 miles square, but only 30 miles long. We have brackish water, apparently salt water mixed with fresh in either equal or unequal quantities. Even a writer as skilful as Peter Ackroyd can get stuck in mud like this. At the end, as if we had not already tired of a procession of facts only barely linked by narrative, we have an ‘Alternative Typology’ where the bits that could not be cut and pasted into the text are presented wholly uncooked – not even prepared. Thames: The Biography was something of a disappointment. It is packed with wonderful material and overall is worth the lengthy journey but, like the river itself, it goes on. The book has the feel of a work in progress. This may be no bad thing, since the river is probably much the same.

  5. 4 out of 5

    K.

    Trigger warnings: suicide (there's a whole chapter devoted to death and the Thames, a lot of which focuses on suicides) 3.5 stars. This is a very comprehensive look at the Thames - its history, its geography, its flora and fauna, the way it has influenced artists and writers, the way that it's shaped life in the UK over the centuries. Some chapters are incredibly short. Others were a little too long. And honestly, it jumped around a liiiiiittle too much for my liking. But it was very readable, an Trigger warnings: suicide (there's a whole chapter devoted to death and the Thames, a lot of which focuses on suicides) 3.5 stars. This is a very comprehensive look at the Thames - its history, its geography, its flora and fauna, the way it has influenced artists and writers, the way that it's shaped life in the UK over the centuries. Some chapters are incredibly short. Others were a little too long. And honestly, it jumped around a liiiiiittle too much for my liking. But it was very readable, and full of interesting facts. Plus, that dust jacket is super freaking cool.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brynn

    When Ackroyd tackles people, his biographies are utterly engrossing. Wider topics (river, cities) tend to exacerbate his tendency to meander with little thought to relevance or coherence. This book also suffers from his tendency to elevate anything British beyond all reason.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    A majestic work, brilliantly researched, succinctly chronicled and superbly written, 'Thames: Sacred River' enhances Peter Ackroyd's glowing reputation as an excellent writer of historical works. Only 215 miles in length, the Thames has as much history about it as almost any river in the world and the author takes us back to neolithic times and then meanders through time with great detail through to the modern day Canary Wharf and industrial landscapes around the mouth of the river. History, legen A majestic work, brilliantly researched, succinctly chronicled and superbly written, 'Thames: Sacred River' enhances Peter Ackroyd's glowing reputation as an excellent writer of historical works. Only 215 miles in length, the Thames has as much history about it as almost any river in the world and the author takes us back to neolithic times and then meanders through time with great detail through to the modern day Canary Wharf and industrial landscapes around the mouth of the river. History, legend, literature, art, trade, pleasure, bridges, flora and fauna are all covered in detail and each section is told in such a way that the reader's attention is avidly held. Henry VIII features constantly, Shelley, Dickens, Turner and many other arty and literary figures feature prominently, the bridges are described in detail as are all the Churches, Abbeys and Monastaries that abound along the banks of the river. Indeed, very little, if anything, is missed. And finally the book finishes with the topography of the river, each town and village along the way getting a mention together with historic associations, such as Cookham where Stanley Spencer spent much time and wrote lengthily about the Thames. It is such a good book that when finished, one tends to think of starting it all over again and reliving the millions of years and enjoying again the associations with the many people that have featured in the glorious tale. ... but there again there are many other books awaiting reading! Perhaps at some later date.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kent Hayden

    More than you'd ever need to know about the gods and fairies and folklore surrounding the Thames. I usually enjoy Ackroyd (His 'London' is great!) but this I couldn't get into. More than you'd ever need to know about the gods and fairies and folklore surrounding the Thames. I usually enjoy Ackroyd (His 'London' is great!) but this I couldn't get into.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Monty Milne

    I enjoyed this very much indeed although it does flow on and meander a bit. The narrative looks quite linear at first glance: the chapters follow the river, illustrated by maps, from source to sea. But there is much that is discursive and episodic, moving between different timeframes and multiple perspectives. If you like this kind of thing then you will enjoy this, as I did. But if you want a narrative that keeps to the point and doesn't keep getting diverted into side channels or changing pace I enjoyed this very much indeed although it does flow on and meander a bit. The narrative looks quite linear at first glance: the chapters follow the river, illustrated by maps, from source to sea. But there is much that is discursive and episodic, moving between different timeframes and multiple perspectives. If you like this kind of thing then you will enjoy this, as I did. But if you want a narrative that keeps to the point and doesn't keep getting diverted into side channels or changing pace, then you could find it irritating.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Pete daPixie

    Peter Ackroyd's 'Thames-Sacred River' published 2007, is a companion volume to his very much celebrated 'London:The Biography' from 2000. More than just a good read, Ackroyd has produced a wonderful and evocative masterpiece for 'Old Father Thames'. The writing is poetic, scholarly, fact packed and flows as gracefully as the river itself. Typical of this authors work, here is a fully comprehensive biography of this 215 mile long river from Thames Head to the sea. It's history is excavated from Pa Peter Ackroyd's 'Thames-Sacred River' published 2007, is a companion volume to his very much celebrated 'London:The Biography' from 2000. More than just a good read, Ackroyd has produced a wonderful and evocative masterpiece for 'Old Father Thames'. The writing is poetic, scholarly, fact packed and flows as gracefully as the river itself. Typical of this authors work, here is a fully comprehensive biography of this 215 mile long river from Thames Head to the sea. It's history is excavated from Pangaea all the way to the London Olympic Games of 2012. The human river dwellers from the last ice age to Canary Wharf. The spirits of this meandering flow from Celtic river gods to Richard the Lionheart's crocodile. All the flora and fauna from the most ancient yew to the swan with two nicks. The river inspired artists from Turner's watercolour to Monet's impressionism. Writers from Tacitus to Jerome K. Jerome. Poets from Spenser to Shelley. All the human habitation from Kemble to Canvey Island, with all the springs, creeks, weirs, wells, wharfs, canals, bridges, locks and docks in between. Read this book, and if there are not at least a thousand facts for you to learn, then I'll jump off Waterloo Bridge. Almost fifteen years ago, I set off from Lechlade and sailed on the Thames, up river, in search of the source. How nice to learn that another romantic, Percy Bysshe Shelley attempted the very same voyage almost two hundred years before. It seems we both failed at the same place.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Annso

    I truly love Ackroyd's style of writing. Having read London. A Biography. as well as London Under I had very high hopes for this book as well. While it did not truly disappoint me, it did also not thrill me. As the review by the Sunday Times rightfully says, the book is "meandering". Ackroyd has a couple of theses connected to mythology and psychology that seem important to him, but that in my eyes could be said about many of the world's great rivers, but that Ackroyd presents as if they were a I truly love Ackroyd's style of writing. Having read London. A Biography. as well as London Under I had very high hopes for this book as well. While it did not truly disappoint me, it did also not thrill me. As the review by the Sunday Times rightfully says, the book is "meandering". Ackroyd has a couple of theses connected to mythology and psychology that seem important to him, but that in my eyes could be said about many of the world's great rivers, but that Ackroyd presents as if they were a specific yet timeless truth about the Thames in particular. The book contains a lot of information, but is reader friendly. The meandering takes you along as if you were on a river cruise. However, it is advisable to know the geography and place names of the Thames a little or at least look at the maps at the beginning and the end of the book. Ackroyd covers a variety of topics and many of those in depth. I went to London having read the book halfway and I truly did see the Thames with different eyes. Thus, if you have a connection to London or any other place by the river, the book will give you a new outlook and is great to read. The final part of the book is an overview of all the towns from the source of the Thames to the sea. Ackroyd covers the etymology of the place names as well as important historical events and trivia. This last part has really made me put walking the Thames source to sea on my bucket list and I will definitely take a copy of that last part with me. Overall, Thames: Sacred River is great to read if you have a connection to the river, a bit of time, and if you do not need the historic facts rendered in absolute precision.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    Having been to London several times, this book is an excellent companion for those who have ventured across the pond and those who wish too. Ackroyd takes you a boat trip from source to sea and all parts in between. Historical and a bit modern, his 2007 biography is a must read. Helpful note: one may wish to buy a map of England and or London where the Thames is shown in detail. It’s a great aid in points of reference and adds to the enjoyment of the book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    After reading this book I will never look at or read any reference to the Thames the same again. History, literature, folklore, human drama, newspaper reports and mythology all swirl and eddy around this study of the great river of England. There is much covered in this book, too much perhaps in too little and too brief a manner. Ackroyd's knowledge is unquestioned. I learned much, but, on reflection, too little about any one specific point or issue. It seemed at times that facts, quotations, and After reading this book I will never look at or read any reference to the Thames the same again. History, literature, folklore, human drama, newspaper reports and mythology all swirl and eddy around this study of the great river of England. There is much covered in this book, too much perhaps in too little and too brief a manner. Ackroyd's knowledge is unquestioned. I learned much, but, on reflection, too little about any one specific point or issue. It seemed at times that facts, quotations, and anecdotes tumbled with hurried intensity but little depth. Still, Ackroyd's London is an excellent book in that it does cover so many facets of the storied history of the river. For anyone who wants any knowledge of the river the 15 Chapter headings with their attendant sub-headings will guide you and instruct you. I was fascinated by the scope of the river and how Ackroyd's was able to unfold so much information. The book is well represented with illustrations and pictures. You can feel the joy Ackroyd has as he presents this river to his readers. I highly recommend "London" to anyone and everyone. I also hope that with this book many people will be inspired to dig deeper into the many varied aspects of the information presented. There is so much to learn and Ackroyd is a fine writer.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    (Mostly) lovely read. Review to come shortly. ++++++++++++++++ My book blog -------> http://allthebookblognamesaretaken.bl... It is strange to be a little in love with a river? Maybe obsessed is a little more accurate, but there is something so lovely and melancholy and of course historic about this stretch of water, easily one of the most famous rivers in the world. Perhaps that is my bias, given my love of that little island where she flows. Ah well. If you read my review of 'Foundation' by the sa (Mostly) lovely read. Review to come shortly. ++++++++++++++++ My book blog -------> http://allthebookblognamesaretaken.bl... It is strange to be a little in love with a river? Maybe obsessed is a little more accurate, but there is something so lovely and melancholy and of course historic about this stretch of water, easily one of the most famous rivers in the world. Perhaps that is my bias, given my love of that little island where she flows. Ah well. If you read my review of 'Foundation' by the same author earlier in the week, you can imagine my trepidation with beginning this one. Foundation was so terrible, not at all what I have come to know and enjoy from Peter Ackroyd, so I was nervous that he would somehow have screwed this one up too - though how can you really screw up a biography of A RIVER? Luckily, he did not. It was everything I expected and thought it would be. Ackroyd offers up a whole slew of information, from the origin of the name 'Thames', through to where the Thames becomes the sea. I found many of the chapters highly informative, though naturally cared less for the information regarding the river in Victorian times and beyond. Not the river's fault of course, but I am just less interested in how the Victorians used the river, because from then on it is not really new information. But to learn about the Iron Age, Bronze Age, etc settlements? That is something else entirely and always among my favorite topics. My two favorite sections easily were 'Shadows and Depths' and 'The River of Death'. They were broken down further into sections, among the most interesting being 'Legends of the River'. Unfortunately it was just a few short pages and dealt with the paranormal element. Surely some of the more well-known stories could have been elaborated on, if Ackroyd could spend 80 pages talking about those who work on the river. Some of those chapters I skimmed, not going to lie. 'Offerings' was another chapter I found most interesting, as it dealt with the many hundreds of thousands of objects recovered from the Thames, constantly. From weapons and brooches to skulls, the Thames is a keeper of secrets that we will never be able to know. It really is fascinating it macabre sort of way the amount of skulls that have been discovered. Side note to Ackroyd - don't suppose things about Eleanor of Aquitaine. At one point he mentions a location where Henry II's mistress 'Fair Rosamund' lived until her death, stating, "...It was said that she was eventually poisoned by Henry's wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine." While a little revenge in the middle ages would not have been unheard of, let's be realistic. Henry had imprisoned Eleanor for fifteen years, seeing as how she kept inciting their sons into rebellion against him. She was powerful enough in her own right and had little need for Henry at that point in their lives. But, to end on a positive note, I loved the many maps included - especially in the additional material, 'An Alternative Topography, from Source to Sea' where Ackroyd takes the reader from the beginning of the Thames to the end, stopping at the various villages, castles, and cities along the way. There were many photographs as well to enhance the descriptions throughout and despite that massive amount of pollution, I still want to follow the river myself from start to finish. What a journey that would be.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Eskola

    Good in places, but unfocussed. Marred by Ackroyd's seemingly mystical ideas about the Thames, and how it has had some psychic influence over the people living nearby across the millennia. For Ackroyd it seems as though the Thames itself is some sort of deity, and this book is not so much a history of the human activity in and around the Thames as a history of the deity; people come second. Even when he's not going quite so far, he seems convinced that the Thames is unique and that even when it Good in places, but unfocussed. Marred by Ackroyd's seemingly mystical ideas about the Thames, and how it has had some psychic influence over the people living nearby across the millennia. For Ackroyd it seems as though the Thames itself is some sort of deity, and this book is not so much a history of the human activity in and around the Thames as a history of the deity; people come second. Even when he's not going quite so far, he seems convinced that the Thames is unique and that even when it shares superficial similarities with other rivers, the Thames is somehow special. Some examples: • One chapter talks about the discovery of mutilated pagan statues in the Thames, dated to the early Christian period. Ackroyd interprets this not as the destruction of pagan idols by recent converts to Christianity but as (subconscious?) worship of the Thames-deity by sacrificing the lesser gods to it. • “Swans exist in many other places, and can be found in locations as far apart as New Zealand and Kazakhstan, but their true territory might be that of the Thames.” What does this even mean? What special quality does the Thames have that elevates it above all the other places swans are found? (Englishness, I presume.) • A chapter on the pollution of the Thames, which makes the observation that different kinds of pollution have been given different names. Well, gosh, I wouldn't expect people to use different words for different things, what a shocking revelation. I really enjoyed his Foundation, and hoped that Thames would be more of the same. Now I'm just glad I read Foundation first, since if I'd read Thames first I may not have bothered to read his other works.

  16. 4 out of 5

    William

    It's hard not to respect this book. Peter Ackroyd has included an amazing amount of detail and political history is blended with cultural and anthropological references. But in general it's just too much information, with numerous very similar examples used to bolster each point made. Poetry is quoted on almost every page (or at least it feels that way after you finish the book, but none of it was moving, and the quotes are mostly snippets. They serve, perhaps, more to glorify the author than en It's hard not to respect this book. Peter Ackroyd has included an amazing amount of detail and political history is blended with cultural and anthropological references. But in general it's just too much information, with numerous very similar examples used to bolster each point made. Poetry is quoted on almost every page (or at least it feels that way after you finish the book, but none of it was moving, and the quotes are mostly snippets. They serve, perhaps, more to glorify the author than entertain the reader. I also lost patience with the effort to link the river with a kind of mystical or religious sense. I'm comfortable with a river having a major impact on commerce, politics, and perhaps even culture. But I am not convinced that the Thames possesses a distinctive individual character which has shaped the theology and emotions of the people who live near it. I don't read much non-fiction these days, so it's perhaps my shortcoming that I miss having at least some kind of story line. The 441-page book has 45 chapters, so most are pretty brief. There is a logical sequence no doubt in the author's mind, but it read to me like a fairly random parade of subjects. This book will be most entertaining for individuals who really know the geography of the Thames Valley. I know London well enough that the references to the various towns in that area were more interesting to me. But I got lost in the innumerable references to smaller places with which I was unfamiliar. There are a lot of maps (the best ones are hidden at the end, by the way) but I did not have the patience to check them on every page I read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Ackroyd's The Thames is a love poem to the river. Instead of a linear history, which undoubtably would've made the book dull, Ackroyd sections the chapters by theme; there is a chapter on the river and death, on fishing, on wildlife and so on. This structure makes the book far more easy and interesting to read. Ackroyd tells stories about the river, for instance a swimming race between a man and a dog; or about the wreck of the Princess Alice and the connection one of the survivors has to Jack t Ackroyd's The Thames is a love poem to the river. Instead of a linear history, which undoubtably would've made the book dull, Ackroyd sections the chapters by theme; there is a chapter on the river and death, on fishing, on wildlife and so on. This structure makes the book far more easy and interesting to read. Ackroyd tells stories about the river, for instance a swimming race between a man and a dog; or about the wreck of the Princess Alice and the connection one of the survivors has to Jack the Ripper. Combined with the stories are Ackroyd's own wonderful and at times poetic observations. He writes, "The birds of the sea do not sing. Many of the birds of the river do sing. It may be that they imitate the flowing sound of the river. Perhaps they are singing to the river. Perhaps gulls do not sing to the sea". It's the type of passage that you once realize contains a truth. A nice addition to the book is the alternate topography where Ackroyd takes the villages and places along the river's route and gives a brief description. In this section, we learn that Fair Rosamund (Henry II's mistress) died in Godstow and her coffin was later used to line a path. We learn about the sad, and yet amusing, fate of Thomas Day. If you like England, this book is well worth reading.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    This book is rambling and fragmented and sometimes repetitive (like when Ackroyd mentions the 5000-year-old yews at Southwark on one page … and then mentions them again on the next page, without a difference of context or the addition of any new information), but it’s full of interesting facts and historical tidbits and images. There are some great lists or list-like sections, too, which always make me happy: there’s a whole paragraph that lists the fourteen main tributaries of the Thames, follo This book is rambling and fragmented and sometimes repetitive (like when Ackroyd mentions the 5000-year-old yews at Southwark on one page … and then mentions them again on the next page, without a difference of context or the addition of any new information), but it’s full of interesting facts and historical tidbits and images. There are some great lists or list-like sections, too, which always make me happy: there’s a whole paragraph that lists the fourteen main tributaries of the Thames, followed by a number of smaller rivers and streams: it’s like a litany of water-names, an incantation. Also wonderful is the chapter on weather: the fogs and the rains and the floods and the frost fairs, when the whole river froze and winter markets were set up on the ice. When he’s not listing facts and dates, Ackroyd is good at evoking the sensory images of a place and time, whether the lushness of a tropical Thames landscape, in the time before the last ice age, or the cold and wind of a damp winter in more recent times, or the filth and stench of the polluted river in the nineteenth century and before, or the shifting colors of the water, or the smells of cinnamon and coffee and tar by the docks.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Beaudoin

    I think it is difficult to stand on the bank of the Thames and not feel what a presence it is. I have spent hours walking along it and sitting on its shore, and I am always struck by how much history has occurred within reach of those waters. Peter Ackroyd's The Thames: Sacred River does a terrific job capturing that immense history. Following the same format he used in his earlier biography of London, Ackroyd examines the Thames from all angles: geological, cultural, historical, and more. The re I think it is difficult to stand on the bank of the Thames and not feel what a presence it is. I have spent hours walking along it and sitting on its shore, and I am always struck by how much history has occurred within reach of those waters. Peter Ackroyd's The Thames: Sacred River does a terrific job capturing that immense history. Following the same format he used in his earlier biography of London, Ackroyd examines the Thames from all angles: geological, cultural, historical, and more. The result is a book crammed full of anecdotes, history, and trivia, and is a fascinating read. From the story behind "London bridge is falling down" to learning whose head was the first displayed beside the river in modern times (William Wallace) to discovering how a river that was so polluted it had to be avoided became the cleanest metropolitan river in the world, every page in this book has something to share. I have always been fascinated by the Thames, long before I first stood beside it, and I am sure that is part of why I loved this book. However, even if you've never breathed in the peculiar smelling river, I think this book would appeal to anyone who loves history and is interested in how nature and man interact.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    Certainly impressively researched and impeccably structured, Ackroyd's meandering meditation on the river that bisects lower England and the localities affected by its characteristics is nothing short of - the word so often used - magisterial. There will never be another book like this on the river Thames and the - birth to death, beginning to end structure -impact on its surrounding people and inhabitants. Ultimately, it was an informative and worthwhile read. But it often felt more like a chore Certainly impressively researched and impeccably structured, Ackroyd's meandering meditation on the river that bisects lower England and the localities affected by its characteristics is nothing short of - the word so often used - magisterial. There will never be another book like this on the river Thames and the - birth to death, beginning to end structure -impact on its surrounding people and inhabitants. Ultimately, it was an informative and worthwhile read. But it often felt more like a chore than a pleasure. Readers unfamiliar with Thames estuary place names will feel particularly drowned by the excess of detail. It's a good book, even an interesting and necessary one. Just not always as fun as a dip in the water.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I wanted to love this as I do the Thames itself, but Ackroyd jumps around and belabours his analogies to the point that it's hard to digest in more than bite sizes. Worth a look for those who love London and it's environs - and who have a connection with this artery of commerce, history and adventure that meanders through the heart of the metropolis - but be warned it will be a trip against the tide for the most part. I wanted to love this as I do the Thames itself, but Ackroyd jumps around and belabours his analogies to the point that it's hard to digest in more than bite sizes. Worth a look for those who love London and it's environs - and who have a connection with this artery of commerce, history and adventure that meanders through the heart of the metropolis - but be warned it will be a trip against the tide for the most part.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul moved to LibraryThing

    Author should be put in jail along with his book until he adds all the sources and citations. Until then copies of this book should be moved to the fiction section. Myths, speculation, facts, legends, hearsay, author's wild imaginings, drug induced hallucinations are all reported in the same way as if they had equal value. I've listened to drunks in pubs who sourced their material more transparently. Author should be put in jail along with his book until he adds all the sources and citations. Until then copies of this book should be moved to the fiction section. Myths, speculation, facts, legends, hearsay, author's wild imaginings, drug induced hallucinations are all reported in the same way as if they had equal value. I've listened to drunks in pubs who sourced their material more transparently.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eric_W

    I WP review at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/... I WP review at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/...

  24. 4 out of 5

    Erin Britton

    Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography was either loved for its stylistic verve and the great breadth of its subject matter or loathed its rambling narrative and selective history and Thames: Sacred River, really an excellent companion piece to Ackroyd's earlier work, could have been just as divisive. However, while Ackroyd's approach could sometimes be frustrating in London: The Biography, it is the perfect style for Thames: Sacred River as the meandering nature of the narrative echoes perfectly Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography was either loved for its stylistic verve and the great breadth of its subject matter or loathed its rambling narrative and selective history and Thames: Sacred River, really an excellent companion piece to Ackroyd's earlier work, could have been just as divisive. However, while Ackroyd's approach could sometimes be frustrating in London: The Biography, it is the perfect style for Thames: Sacred River as the meandering nature of the narrative echoes perfectly the flow of the Thames as it travels through England and history.It is clear that Peter Ackroyd loves the history of the Thames and all of the intrigues and occasions that this most famous of rivers has played a part in. This love of his subject and passion for recounting as much information as possible shines through throughout the whole of Thames: Sacred River, making the book a real pleasure to read. While the Thames remains firmly at the centre of Ackroyd's account, this book is really about so much more than just the river itself. Over the course of more than 40 chapters, Ackroyd considers topics as diverse as flora and fauna, paintings and photography, murderers and Salvationists, geology, literature, laws and myths, architecture, trade and weather.

  25. 4 out of 5

    D Cox

    Another lovely tour with the very capable Peter Ackroyd. Two niggles. 1) the church next to Wallingford bridge is St Peters. St Leonards is further down the river towards Winterbrook. 2) He talks about the West Berkshire Asylum. Nearly everyone in this area knows this as Fairmile. And local stories suggest that bodies were pushed from one side to the other over the Thames to try to escape responsibility. The bridge over the GWR next to Fairmile was known locally as Silly bridge and was the site o Another lovely tour with the very capable Peter Ackroyd. Two niggles. 1) the church next to Wallingford bridge is St Peters. St Leonards is further down the river towards Winterbrook. 2) He talks about the West Berkshire Asylum. Nearly everyone in this area knows this as Fairmile. And local stories suggest that bodies were pushed from one side to the other over the Thames to try to escape responsibility. The bridge over the GWR next to Fairmile was known locally as Silly bridge and was the site of many tragic suicides. Since he wrote this book, Didcot power station is no longer in operation;Kites have made it much further across Oxfordshire and the Millenium dome is now the O2. Things I wanted to know more about: Wallingford castle's proximity to the river and importance to William the Conquerer. There is also little mention of the amazing position of the church at Clifton Hamden. The book is very London centric in places and I guess we could filled hundreds of books about this stretch of the river alone. I really liked this book and it has certainly increased my interest in the river that I live so near to. I'll be reading more: especially about those places and events I would like to have seen more about. I reccomend this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Julieanne Thompson

    The author Peter Ackroyd was introduced to me by the Bowie Book Club, after reading Hawksmoor which was a stunner of a read I read another book of his...This book has some great writing but basically it's dry as a bone and since I almost always finish books I start it is agony getting through it. Its like reading the telephone book from beginning to end. I've learned a lot about the Thames river though. It is a meticulous, comprehensive, historical, thematic, poetic and well researched historica The author Peter Ackroyd was introduced to me by the Bowie Book Club, after reading Hawksmoor which was a stunner of a read I read another book of his...This book has some great writing but basically it's dry as a bone and since I almost always finish books I start it is agony getting through it. Its like reading the telephone book from beginning to end. I've learned a lot about the Thames river though. It is a meticulous, comprehensive, historical, thematic, poetic and well researched historical work. It does not fit into the textbook category however as sources are so diverse. Ackroyd acknowledges spiritual elements and always identifies and romanticizes human- environmental links. He overreaches for meaning at times but without the esoteric elements this book would have killed me. I read it for pure mental discipline reasons not for enjoyment

  27. 4 out of 5

    LisaMary

    Extraordinary. The way Ackroyd describes the old myths and stories that exists about the river Thames. His research starts with ancient history, the Norman's which settled and the banks of the river and finds its ending in 20th century London. He has a perfect way of putting things into the right place and to describe things with his words. Even if it is a scientific novel Peter Achroyd paints pictures with his words in this book. I can't forget the picture of the river Thames as a "Sacred River Extraordinary. The way Ackroyd describes the old myths and stories that exists about the river Thames. His research starts with ancient history, the Norman's which settled and the banks of the river and finds its ending in 20th century London. He has a perfect way of putting things into the right place and to describe things with his words. Even if it is a scientific novel Peter Achroyd paints pictures with his words in this book. I can't forget the picture of the river Thames as a "Sacred River", as Ackroyd describes it. The book title is perfectly chosen because the book deals with myths and stories that give the river human attributes and a soul. I used it as a source for some of many papers that I had to hand in and it was just so helpful.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Penny

    5 stars if you are interested specifically in England, English history, or rivers in general. I received this book accidentally. I had ordered several used books on Amazon Marketplace and this one arrived, so I thought they had sent me the wrong thing. But over the next few days I received all of the books I had ordered. The address did not match any one of the vendors, so I didn’t even know who to contact. It looked interesting and it was!! The author covers the river in every possible aspect – 5 stars if you are interested specifically in England, English history, or rivers in general. I received this book accidentally. I had ordered several used books on Amazon Marketplace and this one arrived, so I thought they had sent me the wrong thing. But over the next few days I received all of the books I had ordered. The address did not match any one of the vendors, so I didn’t even know who to contact. It looked interesting and it was!! The author covers the river in every possible aspect – poems about it, historical facts about it, the history of art, religion, music – every angle imaginable. I am glad I read it. I am editing this to add that there are numerous paintings and photographs because I love that in non-fiction books.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    This book was totally boring. I thought it was going to be a history book like others he has written. It wasn't. The first 8 chapters are to do with the geography of the Thames and on and on. By chapter 8 I was so fed up with reading the scientific background of the river I spent the rest of the time flipping through the pictures. I can't honestly say I read the whole thing. The best parts were the chapter on River of Death and the part at the end where he explains the origin of word places alon This book was totally boring. I thought it was going to be a history book like others he has written. It wasn't. The first 8 chapters are to do with the geography of the Thames and on and on. By chapter 8 I was so fed up with reading the scientific background of the river I spent the rest of the time flipping through the pictures. I can't honestly say I read the whole thing. The best parts were the chapter on River of Death and the part at the end where he explains the origin of word places along the river. If you are looking for an interesting book on the Thames this isn't it. Very disappointing.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tony Fitzpatrick

    Quite a lot of this was hard work. A long book detailing the influence of London's river on history, poetry, art, folklore, and all manner of perspectives. Ackroyd's writing is normally entertaining, witty and absorbing, however huge chunks of this didn't really hit the spot. Very comprehensive though, and frequently interesting, especially in the sections detailing Victorian attitudes to leisure on the river and the many challenges that brought in congestion and safety. The pieces on public hea Quite a lot of this was hard work. A long book detailing the influence of London's river on history, poetry, art, folklore, and all manner of perspectives. Ackroyd's writing is normally entertaining, witty and absorbing, however huge chunks of this didn't really hit the spot. Very comprehensive though, and frequently interesting, especially in the sections detailing Victorian attitudes to leisure on the river and the many challenges that brought in congestion and safety. The pieces on public health and reform were also good. In the 19th century the Thames was mostly an open sewer, and there were later heroic efforts to get it cleaned up in from pollution in the mid 20th century. Glad to have finally finished it though.

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