Reviews for Thames : The Biography

Booklist Reviews 2008 September #2
The Thames River is a relatively short stream (215 miles); nevertheless, it is packed with powerful history. (It has been called liquid history because within itself it dissolves and carries all epochs and generations.) Ackroyd is a distinguished writer of both fiction and nonfiction. The Thames and he make a good pair, as demonstrated in what Ackroyd calls a biography of the river. In coverage that is not scholarly but not casual, either definitely for the dedicated reader the author views the river from every angle imaginable: geologically, geographically, economically, politically, and, most interestingly, psychologically (to Ackroyd, the Thames is a metaphor for the country through which it runs and has done more to establish the idea of Englishness than any other national feature). But the river as a subject for artists and writers is a topic that does not go neglected. From ancient times to the present day, the author charts the history of human habitation and usage of this vastly significant river. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 August #2
Meandering journey along the rivers Thames with the eloquent and prolific Ackroyd (Newton, 2008, etc.).The book is not (1) a river guidebook; (2) a John McPhee-like first-person journey featuring interviews with colorful river folk; (3) a conventional history of the Thames from Big Bang to 2008. It is a cultural history divided into many parts and chapters that wanders around, loops back on itself, floods, trickles, rushes and slows just like, well, a river. The author quickly dispenses with statistics in the first chapter, where we learn the length of the Thames, the number of its bridges (134), its varying speeds and depths. He then introduces us to the idea, developed throughout the narrative, that a river is a work of art. Ackroyd considers the metaphorical power of rivers--what they have represented to us, to artists--then returns to the Thames's geological history, noting that it was once part of a mega-river that comprised, among others, the Rhine. He teaches us about the Thames's tributaries, including the buried Fleet, covered over in the 18th century but still flowing below the streets of London. We learn about the Thames's long religious history, its shrines and saints; we see the river as a place of royal power. Ackroyd writes so well that we find ourselves enjoying even the platitude that water makes life possible. He teaches us about the bridges and boats, docks and dockworkers, criminals and crimefighters, embankments and floods (the worst, in 1953, killed more than 300). We learn about the birds on the river, the animals nearby, the fish that mostly died, then returned, the pleasure gardens and executions, the filth, the music and the art.Riverine structure, lovely and liquid language. Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 July #1

Because he has 30 books and numerous awards under his belt, it's difficult to imagine Ackroyd (London: The Biography ) writing a truly bad book, but this one comes perilously close. It's best to dip into at bedtime: every page contains intriguing information about the Thames, those who live near it, and the activities surrounding it. But the book is overwritten--bloated and flabby, with too little spine. The first parts are highly impressionistic: Ackroyd treats the "sacral" Thames as though it were purposive, but his argument doesn't convince, and the reasoning throughout the entire narrative is questionable. Ackroyd fails to provide a clear historical narrative or topographical sequence. Instead, he has organized the book around a series of loosely connected topics, and the jumping around is confusing. Long lists--people, places, products, even colors, sounds, and smells--don't help. (In four pages, he describes 35 separate springs and wells!) If you don't possess a priori familiarity with the towns, springs, and so forth abutting the Thames, you will gain little from reading these lists. Ackroyd's observations on the connection between art and the Thames--an area where he should shine--are overly enthusiastic. Nonetheless, as many Ackroyd fans may still want to read this puffy book, it is recommended for large public collections--but with reservations.--David Keymer, Modesto, CA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 August #1

For a river with such a famous history, England's Thames measures only 215 miles. Acclaimed novelist and biographer Ackroyd (Hawksmoor ; Shakespeare ) invites readers on an eclectic, sprawling and delightful cruise of this important waterway. "The Thames has been a highway, a frontier and an attack route; it has been a playground and a sewer, a source of water and a source of power," writes Ackroyd. Historians believe the river may have been important for transport and commerce as early as the Neolithic Age. The ancient Egyptian goddess Isis has a long association with the Thames, which was used for baptisms, both pagan and Christian, during the Roman Empire. The British tribes tried to use the Thames as a defense against Julius Caesar's invasion, and the Normans built the Tower of London and Windsor Castle on the Thames as symbols of military preeminence. The royal waterway carried Anne Boleyn to both her coronation and her beheading, and famously served as inspiration for paintings by Turner and Monet and for Handel's Water Music , commissioned to associate the German-born George I with a potent source of English power. Elegant and erudite, Ackroyd's gathering of rich treats does the famed tributary proud. Illus., maps. (Nov. 4)

[Page 51]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.