Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £25, 454pp. £22.50 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

The Stones of London: A History in Twelve Buildings, By Leo Hollis

London's history has been told by countless authors. Its biography has been written and rewritten. Its criminal underbelly has been scoured, its subterranean landscape crawled through and its transport systems charted. Its mad have been placed on the couch, its poor pored over and its rich laid bare. So, even for a history fan with a taste for the place, it takes a clever theme or a neat gimmick to make yet another account of the capital's past seem appealing. Leo Hollis's is to explore London's history through 12 buildings.

Mercifully, there's no hand-wringing from the author about how he went about choosing these structures. They are not necessarily the "finest or most famous of each era" but places, he explains, that "reveal an essential narrative of the city". Pleasingly for the history buff who likes to visit places they read about, "each of the buildings, places and remnants in this book can still be found today in various states". These are the Temple of Mithras, Westminster Abbey, The Royal Exchange, Greenwich, 19 Princelet Street, Home House, Regent Street, The Houses of Parliament, Victoria Embankment, Wembley Stadium, Keeling House and 30 St Mary Axe. It's a mixture of grand architectural projects, feats of engineering, reworkings of old quarters and domestic and suburban dwellings.

The chapters run chronologically, and although there is a great deal said about the architecture of the chosen 12, The Stones of London is more than simply a dissection of each blueprint. Each chapter is a separate tale of a part of the city and the social, financial, religious and legal forces that formed it. And while the shortlist used as wayposts through the past inevitably means missing many of London's landmarks, many famous places crop up in entries nominally about others.

So in recounting John Nash's inspired but slapdash approach to urban planning as he created Regent Street, we learn about how the Prince Regent splashed his cash and why Buckingham Palace was something of a damp and dreary also-ran as royal addresses go. In outlining the huge changes that Joseph Bazalgette's Victoria Embankment brought, the stories of the urban poor and modern medicine, cutting-edge technology, political corruption and the birth of London Underground also bubble to the surface.

In Hollis's previous book, The Phoenix, he used the lives of five men (Sir Christopher Wren; the gardener-diarist, John Evelyn; the scientist, Robert Hooke; the philosopher, John Locke and the builder, Nicholas Barbon) as the prism through which to view the birth of London after the fire of 1666. Wren and Barbon (one of the city's first property speculators) appear again here. They join a cast of Roman soldiers and 18th-century silk weavers, egotistical engineers and sugar-plantation heiresses, post-war planners and society architects.

While Hollis is excellent on history, I found that his final chapter on modern and future London veered off into a mishmash of social-networking speak, architectural jargon and an all-too-brisk summing up of the whole book. The only other disappointment was the rather mean selection of pictures. While there are eight glossy pages in the centre of the book and the odd engraving throughout, I could have happily looked at 10 times that number of images in a bid to imagine the buildings detailed so lovingly. These complaints aside, this is an imaginative book that finds a convincing new way to tell the story of one of the most written-about cities in the world.

Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat