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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.

 

Guidebooks

 

Let's Go London I'm a budget traveler, that's all there is to it. London, therefore, represents certain difficulties for me. When even the cheapest hotels are over a hundred dollars a night and breakfast at a restaurant rings up at more than ten dollars, I need a book like Let's Go to help me with tips and tricks to make this city even marginally affordable. Well-known as student guides, the Let's Go books are great for those of us whose school days are well behind them, too. They'll teach you how to get the right tube pass, how to use buses to get around, which curry house is both delicious and a bargain, which museums are free and when to get reduced rates at the ones that aren't. Even the ratings that are supposed to attract students can be useful in reverse. If they give a hostel a bad "party" score, I know it's someplace I might like to stay. Buy it here.

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.

 

History

 

London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd Novelist, critic and award-winning biographer Ackroyd is definitely the man to write this book. He has spent his career writing about the inhabitants of this city (biographies of Shakespeare and Dickens, the novel Chatterton) but it seems that the city itself is the true love of his life. London has been around a long time and any book that attempts to tell the whole story must be a long one.  At more than 800 pages in paperback, this is no lightweight. Fortunately, Ackroyd is a wonderful writer who makes the most of the drama of a city that has known fire and finance, glorious kings and infamous villains. 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

 

Literature

London by Edward Rutherfurd It's not quite as good as his first book, Sarum, but it's still pretty fun especially if you like really long historical novels. He copies his style directly from Michener, starting with the geological formation of the ground around the Thames and then setting loosely connected stories in dramatic moments of the city's history. It's a good way to get your history lesson if you can't stand the thought of reading nonfiction. 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.

 

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornsby You may be familiar with the film adaptation that moves the action of this book to the baseball world of Boston, but Hornsby's original subject is his love affair with Arsenal, one of the London-based, perennial power-houses of English football. It's a great introduction to the mass hysteria that the love of soccer brings to Great Britain. 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.

The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer How many authors can say that they inspired an entire genre? Georgette Heyer invented the Regency romance. Yes, I know some people credit Jane Austen but it's not true. Heyer was the original and the best. Many of her books take place in the country or in Bath but The Grand Sophy is my favorite set in the Metropolis itself. Buy it here.