Peter Ackroyd    



Peter Ackroyd is a maniacally busy writer, turning out stunningly brilliant books of both fiction and nonfiction one after the other, each drawing on a fantastic reservoir of interesting facts and learned opinions. Until now this swirl of brilliant work -- award-winning biographies of Dickens, Blake, Thomas More, and T.S. Eliot and beloved novels that range from historical to speculative fiction -- has only had an unofficial focus: the constant, vivid background of the city of London.

But now Ackroyd has hit his subject straight on with his monumental -- 801 pages -- London: The Biography. It's a "biography" because to Ackroyd London is living, breathing, stinking being, an entity that cannot begin to be understood through a litany of events, a "history." But that established, London is hardly a standard birth-to-death account of the Honorable Sir London. It's a book divided into 31 sections and 79 chapters, each one approaching the city from a completely different angle than the last, and burrowing in with different techniques and attitudes -- none of them afraid to be as down-and-dirty or grand-and-high-falutin' as they need to be to make their point.

It is very obviously a masterwork, and with its girth it's easy to think you're supposed to just sit and look on in awe. But once you've started reading, you're soon, like Ackroyd himself, still awestruck but also enthralled and upset and charmed and indignant and eager to push your way into each and every dark corner Ackroyd points out to you.

In this issue of Bold Type there are a few different selections from London: The Biography which give a very small sense of the flavor of the book, as well as a conversation with Mr. Ackroyd about the scope and ambition of his project and how he pulled it off.

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  Photo credit: Roderick Field

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