Robert Reid is the U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. In a column written exclusively for BookPage, he highlights terrific travel books, both old and new. This month, the former London resident selects some of the best guides to the storied British capital, in honor of its second time hosting the Olympic Games.
Every time I go to London, where I was lucky enough to live a decade ago, I return home energized by its deep history and newly motivated to explore my own home. And to read.
All eyes are on London this summer for the Olympic Games, which begin July 27, so it’s high time to learn more about the host. The best starting place is Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography, which treats the city as a person, unlocking insights like alleys that have never known quiet, and church bells built to out-clang their neighbors. Or zero in on pre-Olympic East London with another excellent Ackroyd book, Thames: The Biography.
If you’ve been watching the BBC’s “Sherlock” on PBS (and you should), you’ll want to pick up the entertaining collection of 18 well-known authors giving their own take on London’s most famous detective in A Study in Sherlock. Not every story is set in London: Tom Perry’s story puts Sherlock and Dr. Watson in Buffalo, New York, with the London duo trying to save President McKinley from an anarchist’s fatal bullet.
Sherlock isn’t the only one getting a modern makeover—next up: English cuisine. Fergus Henderson’s The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating—a lively foodie read with an intro by Anthony Bourdain—helped kick-start the whole nose-to-tail eating phenomenon with a book that the New York Times calls the Ulysses of the Slow Food movement. And if you go to London, you can sample some of the best English cuisine not far from the Olympic sites at Henderson’s St. John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields.
For a deeper dive into the British psyche, try Bill Bryson’s hilarious Notes from a Small Island, an account of the Iowa expat’s farewell to his long-time adopted English home and culture. Bryson often goes off-track to remote, hard-to-reach corners, requiring good shoes and a sense of humor.
And if you have kids to entertain, Lonely Planet’s new Not for Parents travel series is a fantastic help. The best of the bunch is Not for Parents: London, illuminating everything from jellied eels and Austin Powers’ hangouts to the place where you can see Harry Potter’s Platform 9 ¾ in real life.
Robert Reid lives in New York City, but is still uncertain whether he prefers his one-time home of London.