London: A Short History of the Greatest City in the Western World by Robert Bucholz. Teaching Company course defending a rather unlikely proposition.
However he makes a reasonable job of it. I think if you look at any individual measure London certainly isn't the greatest: less historically significant than Rome or Constantinople, less artistically significant that Florence or Paris, less economically significant than New York. However if you add everything up and squint, a kind of magic-eye view of his case emerges, Rome, Athens, Constantinople: strong starters but haven't done much for us lately. Florence and Paris: pretty small, economic backwaters. New York: hasn't yet hung around long enough to plop out much history yet. London combines political, cultural and economic importance with a stubborn refusal to die and stay dead.
So, it may possibly be true, though I might have a bit of a vested interest. Also note the subtle "Western" qualification which carefully rules Beijing and Tokyo out of the competition.
Bucholz also makes an interesting case that London's tradition of protest and freedom have been an important driver of developments in political freedom. Before the Reform Bill London was one of the more democratic areas of the UK, with freemen having the vote for un-Rotten MPs; and there were Aldermen and a Common Council representing the City. Bucholz thinks that by a mixture of protest, riot and votes Londoners were influential in securing rights and democracy. Though also he says:
It seems that whenever the best values of Western civilization--freedom, equality, individuality--come under attack, their enemies strike at the place where so many of those values took so many giant steps: London.The course is mainly a general, chronological, history of the city. At regular intervals he takes us on various theoretical walks through the city describing how its structure has changed.
Overall, a good course, enthusiastic and informative.
What I'm Reading
The Storm: The World Economic Crisis and What it Means by Vince Cable. Short book by a British financier turned politician.
Does a good job of clearly explaining the causes of the crisis. He's good at explaining what's known and what's unknown, the disagreements over which of the causes were most important, and the pros and cons of various solutions.
It's written at a general level and needs no particular knowledge of finance or economics. However, he doesn't explain the basics here. Probably a good decision as it would take too long to explain it, but it does mean you have to take his word on some things.
Certainly a much better guide than Robert Peston's hasty rewrite of Who Runs Britain.
However, it suffers from the same problem as any paper book: events rapidly make things outdated. He talks about Quantitative Easing only as a theoretical proposition, closes some stable doors on bank bailouts, and is unaware of the startlingly sudden return to profitability and giant bonuses that's made moral hazard a much more immediate issue.
Makes a good introduction to the subject: fair and doesn't grind axes. If you've been following the crisis closely there won't be much that's new to you though.
What I'm Watching
Saw Avatar 3D. Pretty much what you'd expect. Superb 3D effects, especially the ferns in the forest, and good battle scenes especially with floor-rumbling Dolby sound.
Actual movie: fairly poor. Ludicrously clichéd plot where everything is obvious in advance, which would be tolerable a 90 minutes but gets wearing when it's stretched out to two and half hours. Could at least have done with a subplot or three. The villains are cartoonishly evil. There's also quite a lot of schmaltz.
Overall though, worth seeing if you're a 3D fan. Seemed surprisingly popular: cinema was much fuller than usual for that time.
Finished work for the year now. Going to spend the holidays with the folks, leaving Monday, back early January.
Video. 70 minute ultra-nerdish analysis of The Phantom Menace. I know that sounds like a description of Hell, but it's actually funny and informative. If you want a taster try these 5 minutes. (Via). Sound only: Hibernian Rhapsody. Enhance! montage.
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