Fascinating History of an Iconic London Building – Tower by Nigel Jones

Posted by Justine Solomons on 17 September 2012, in Recommendations

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Review by Tracey Sinclair

Biographer and historian Nigel Jones has written on a range of diverse topics, but this impressive tome must surely represent his finest work. Meticulously researched and fluidly written, Tower takes us through the history of what may well be England’s most famous building – the Tower of London.

Fortress, prison and even, for much of its duration, exotic menagerie, the Tower of London has a history as rich and fascinating as it is bloody, and Jones does well to wrangle all the diverse strands of its story into a compelling book. Though his decision to divide his text by topic rather than strictly chronologically makes it initially slightly confusing (early chapters deal with the Mint and the Zoo from their establishment to their departure from the Tower's environs), as the book progresses it falls into a loose chronological structure that takes you fairly linearly through the Tower’s colourful past. Bits of this will be very familiar – the execution of Anne Bolyen and the murder of the young princes are tales known to any schoolchild – but much of it is a revelation (for instance, the fact that both Rudolph Hess and the Kray twins were incarcerated in its walls will be a surprise to most people).

Jones has a conversational, readable style that is opinionated enough to never be dry but not so coloured by his own views that it feels biased, and he wears the weight of his research lightly. Don’t let the hefty size put you off, because for such a chunky book, this is a very easy and enjoyable read, and a must for anyone interested in English history and how this one formidable building helped shape it.

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