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Thames: The Biography    by Peter Ackroyd order for
by Peter Ackroyd
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

Now available in a trade paperback edition, this fascinating volume looks at the history of England's most famous river from prehistoric times up to the present.

Although the Thames may not be the longest of rivers (only 191 of its 215 miles are navigable), the role it has played in history is unequaled. One can't discuss the Thames without looking at the lives of the famous and not so famous people who have lived along its banks and the events that played out in close proximity to its wandering course.

The parade of individuals Ackroyd assembles ranges from Julius Caesar and King Henry VIII to Chaucer, Shakespeare and members of the current royal family. Obviously, the important role the Thames played in trade, the arts, and even politics is also addressed as the river's story unfolds.

The Thames begins its circuitous journey to the sea deep in rural Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Berkshire. The closer it meanders to London, the more historical the river becomes. 'Its history is, of course, that of England or, rather, of the Britons and the Romans, the Saxons and the Danes and the Normans and the other migrating groups who decided to settle somewhere along its banks,' writes Ackroyd. 'Art and civilization have flourished alongside it ... The destiny of England is intimately linked with the destiny of the river.'

Like the river itself, Ackroyd's flowing narrative is in no hurry to get to its destination. Nearly 500 pages in length, this biography captures all the nuances of its subject from geology and topography to social history, art and music. Some readers might prefer the author decrease the verbiage and take a more direct route but, as with any river journey, getting there is half the fun; so sit back, relax and enjoy the leisurely trip.

From beginning to end, Thames is a marvelous and, ultimately, very satisfying and informative read. Richly illustrated with maps, photos and paintings, this is a book any history buff would be delighted to submerge himself/herself in.

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