In total Johnson has chosen 19 people, places and inventions that he feels define the United Kingdom's capital city. There are obvious choices such as Hadrian and William the Conqueror in the military category, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Samuel Johnson in the literary field and Churchill and Wilkes representing the nation's greatest statesmen, although he does come up with some controversial choices as well as some whose names may have previously been unknown to you. Beatles fans may object to the inclusion of Keith Richards on the grounds that the Rolling Stones invented rock/pop while some, although probably few, would argue that J.M.W. Turner was not the father of Impressionism. Amongst those you may never have heard of are Robert Hooke (those who paid attention in physics class may remember Hooke's Law), a man of seemingly endless interests and talents whose inventions helped to shape London following the Great Fire or London, and W.T. Stead, whose late 19th century Pall Mall Gazette laid the foundations for modern day tabloid journalism.
Punctuating the mini-chapters on Johnson's heroes are double-page features on inventions that were conceived by Londoners. These include: the flush toilet, which was first envisaged of by Sir John Harington for the Virgin Queen at the end of the 16th century; the suit, the bicycle (included largely because it was one of Johnson's ancestors who improved upon a German invention to give us something resembling to what we pedal today), ping pong (whose entry recalls, you'll remember, Johnson's rousing speech at the Olympic handover ceremony in Beijing in 2008), London's sewage system and its inventor Joseph Bazalgette, the Tube and the Routemaster Bus. There are also a couple of monuments which have made the cut in the form of London Bridge and The Midland Grand Hotel.
You may have to read Johnson's Life of London with a dictionary by your side given the mayor's penchant for obscure vocabulary, however he backs up his choices with such gusto that it is hard to disagree with him at any point. Even if you feel you know the people he has chosen inside out, we'll bet that you'll learn something from this astute and sharp work from another famous wordsmith named Johnson.
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