If you click on one of the "buy it here" buttons below, you'll find yourself at the Indie Bound website, where you'll be able to order the book from the independent bookstore of your choice. If you click on a "look for it here" button you'll go to Abebooks, a site where un-chained used bookstores post their inventories. In either case, buying a book from one of these sites is casting a vote for small businesses everywhere.
Michelin Red Guide to London If you have money and you're willing to spend it on hotels and food, this is THE book. Now that London is home to so many of the best restaurants in Europe, you need someone like Michelin to tell you which bistro to choose. The hotel listings are well out of my price range but they are the best source for those of you who can actually contemplate $300 a night. Updated annually, they have the most current information and most recent reviews of any guide. Since this is a red guide, you need to be able to interpret Michelin's symbol language that is intended to make the information universally intelligible but all the incidental comments are in English. Buy it here.
Time Out London Walks (Volumes 1 and 2) These books are absolutely brilliant, as the locals would say. Each volume has dozens of beautifully written essays by London writers (we're talking names like Margaret Drabble here) that double as guides to some walkable aspect of London history, literature or pop culture. Each essay comes with a map and recommendations from the editors for places to eat or shop along the route. As you can probably tell from my journals, I love city walking and these books are a great way to make my walks even more enjoyable. Buy Volume One here and/or Buy Volume Two here.
The London Mapguide by Michael Middleditch My perfect map. I wish they made one for every city but they only do four. Organized like a mini-Thomas Guide, each page gives you a section of the city in full-color, easy-to-read, well-annotated detail. It's small enough to slip in a (large) pocket but big enough that those of us who have reached a certain age don't have to squint to read it. It includes an Underground map and several pages of listings about where to find the big tourist attractions. I know Londoners swear by the A to Z maps but I find this one easier to use and easier to carry with me. And trust me, in London you totally are going to need a map any time you step out the door. Buy it here.
Traveller's History of London by Richard Tames Generally this series focuses on a whole country but so much has happened in London that they feel the city deserved a book of its own. In three hundred pages they manage to get all the way from prehistory to the modern and do it with a light tone and a dry British wit. Buy it here
Wow, how to choose among all the great books set in London? Here are just a few ideas...
A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle The first of the Sherlock Holmes books, in which Watson and Holmes rent rooms in Baker Street and solve a locked room puzzle. If you're bringing kids to London, I recommend you read these together before arriving. Buy it here.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens He's not an easy read but you certainly should have a little Dickens under your belt before you visit London. Buy it here.
The Histories and Poems of William Shakespeare This volume collects all ten of the history plays (John, two Richards and all the Henrys) so you get history and literature in one compact volume. And the sonnets, as well. Read at least the Richards before you go visit the Tower. Buy it here.
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff In the slower, more polite days before the internet, Hanff spent twenty years exchanging charming letters with the staff at this London bookstore. This book and a visit to the shops in Charing Cross are absolute musts for us literary types. Buy it here.