Chances are you remember Boris Johnson from the days leading
up to, and during, the London Olympics.
He was the wild-haired, slightly mad-looking bloke who
famously described the beach volleyball players as
"glistening like sea otters". Oh, and his day job is mayor of
London. Yes, that guy.
Johnson is London's flag-waver of flag-wavers, spokesman No 1
for "the city that made the world", and this collection of
individual portraits is his attempt to shed some light on why
the place has been so influential.
His scene-setting chapter points out the many people,
products and ideas that were produced by, invented in and
developed in the great city.
What follows is a chronological series of bios of the great
and the good, and some analysis of why they mattered.
It is, technically, old ground being covered again but
Johnson has a lovely touch and, for most readers, each story
will have plenty of fresh elements.
Tales of well-known figures (Shakespeare, Florence
Nightingale, Winston Churchill) blend with yarns of more
obscure lives (inventor Robert Hooke, artist J.M.W. Turner,
journalist W.T. Stead), and there are also mini-chapters
focusing on everything from flush toilets to ping pong.
It's a breezy read but that doesn't mean it lacks substance.
Johnson, while a genuine entertainer, also aches with love
for London and ensures the reader gets a thorough education
in some of her greatest figures.
But, Keith Richards as the final subject? Really?
• Hayden Meikle is the ODT