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February 2018

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The Little Book of the London Underground by David Long

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Three Stars

Best for: People who enjoy trivia, transportation, and / or London

In a nutshell: Author Professor David Long provides a sweeping overview of the London Underground, including fun facts, trivia, and more in-depth stories about the people behind it.

Worth quoting:
“Holden was a Quaker … he too declined a knighthood, maintaining that because successful architecture was the result of good teamwork it would be inappropriate for him to profit from the work of others.”

Why I chose it:
I went to the Museum of London last week, as part of my attempt to get to all the free museums before I get a job. I made the mistake (given the size of my to-be-read pile) of going into the gift shop, and ended up leaving with FOUR London-specific books, including two about the Tube. This is the first of those.

Review:
This is not a chronological narrative of the London Underground, so if that’s what you’re looking for, keep looking. Instead, it’s a fun collection of facts, figures, and stories that might make me somewhat obnoxious when I’m traveling on the Tube and find cause to share a fact with my traveling companion.

Prof. Long does offer some things you’d expect, like a time line of the the Tube, a description of each Underground line, and some interesting stories about the people who helped get the different lines from imagination to reality. But he also includes topics like the different maps that have been used (and ways the maps have been revised in clever ways, including one where each line is a genre of music, and each station is a person or band in that genre, with intersections of lines including people who cross genres), how the Tube was used during war, different trains and Tube technologies, as well as how the Tube has featured in pop culture.

There was one area that I found a bit ignorant: in the discussion of the use of escalators vs. lifts (elevators), Prof. Long uses the phrase “…relatively few stations have resisted the temptation to switch from [escalators] to [elevators].” But there’s no mention of how inaccessible this makes the Tube. He’s interested in the technology aspect, but it strikes me as a missed opportunity to treat it solely as a tech issue and ignore the very real impact it has when there is no step-free access.

Otherwise, it’s an entertaining book that has given me some ideas of things to look out for, such as the art at my nearest Tube station, or disused stations I can spot in the tunnels. And hopefully it’ll help bump up my pub quiz scores.

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