London of Yesteryear Revealed
By Jerry White
Harvard University Press, $39.95, 682 pages
The title of Jerry White’s A Great and Monstrous Thing could refer not only to London in the 18th century, the focus of this monograph, but to the book itself. At a whopping 682 pages, this is a serious undertaking that will be enjoyed over a long period of time by professional and amateur historians alike. White himself is obviously a serious and well-informed scholar, and the Harvard University Press doesn’t lack academic bona fides. Despite these serious academic credentials, White has managed to create a readable and even, at times, highly entertaining look into London’s life and influence in the 18th century. The book is broken into chapters based on the life of a single individual, and from that individual fans out to look at the city as a whole. For instance, the chapter on Eliza Haywood’s London starts by examining Haywood’s career, and then fans out to look at writing and printing in the city as a whole. White covers nearly every conceivable aspect of life in London from the buildings, to the professions, to the immigrants and the culture. The book is substantial, and most readers will find it is more information than they originally sought, however, the comparisons are so compelling that it’s hard to put down.
Reviewed by Katie Richards