Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Hamlyn / Date: April 2012
The lists covers people, buildings, boroughs, art, transport, tourism, commerce, sport, and more and include some bizarre facts for you to impress your friends with. It's not a read to have you rolling on the floor laughing but it might make you giggle at times and certainly nod and say "really?" a lot. The fact about which tube station name doesn't contain any letters from the word 'mackerel' is the kind of thing I'm referring to so it's worth reading the notes under the lists too.
This seems more of a Londoners book that one for tourists as it has lists about MPs' expenses claims and local government and things only long-term Londoners will care about. But there are also surprises for all such as which attractions are more popular than the Taj Mahal, Statue of Liberty and Sydney Opera House.
I started to question the stats when I saw the 'Top 10 Best-Attended Exhibitions at the British Museum' didn't include any after 2001, but I would suspect the 2007/8 First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army exhibition would have had high visitor numbers (I saw the exhibition three times!) and also the recent Grayson Perry exhibition (Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman) was extremely popular. But as no source is included for the data it is difficult to check.
Not all of the lists are a 'Top 10' and some are more a 'Chosen 10' such as the rudest street names in London and origins of tube station names. And the 'Top 10 Oldest Underground Lines' wasn't hard to achieve as there are only 11 lines!
Speaking of transport, there is an interesting list of items lost on London transport and information on why London taxis are mostly black, but the 'Top 10 components of a taxi fare' seemed hard to prove, even though a source is quoted, and many black cab drivers I asked were unsure of its validity. When sources are included, the accompanying notes hold more gems and it was impressive to read that Londoners take double the number of bus journeys compared to Parisians and treble that of a New Yorker.
I've mentioned my biggest bugbear with this book: sources are not always included and, without being able to check, I always start to question 'facts' as there are many well-known 'facts' quoted about London that were never facts at all. (The Bumper Book of London found a fair few of them.)
Sometimes the numbers used to create the Top 10 do not explain what they are: single figures, a percentage, millions, etc, so I simply couldn't understand the list – and this would nearly always be a list without a source included.
The notes made reading the book worthwhile again when I discovered that London consistently wins in the category of culture against New York meaning London has larger visitor numbers to museums, libraries, theaters, music performances, etc.
To keep the stats interesting, the author has tried to clarify the findings so expect to see lots of asterisks justifying the numbers excluding parts of data. But some of the sources are interesting in themselves such as the Victorian reports.
The book includes quite a random collection of ideas from which London hotel had the first lifts, was lit by electricity and had en-suite bathrooms in all the guest rooms, to the most energy-inefficient buildings. Number two on the list is the most surprising: The Department for Energy and Climate Change!
Scattered throughout the book are watermark sketches to illustrate and add to the lists' theme but generally the book is quite formulaic with a Top 10 list on each page.
Sometimes I felt the notes at the end of the list could have been better used such as in the 'Top 10 Crimes in London' where the number one spot is "other theft" with an asterisk to explain that excludes theft from/of motor vehicles, etc but no explanation what 'other theft' does actually include.
In the restaurant lists, again, I found the notes most fascinating as eating in restaurants is considered the most popular tourist activity (that makes sense as they can't go home for dinner, can they?) but London also has the greatest variety of cuisines with Michelin stars covering British, Chinese, French, Indian, Italian and Japanese restaurants.
There are moments in the book, even when the source is quoted, that the figures seem rather unbelievable such as the 'Top 10 Most Common Types of Marriage in London' which has no Sikh, Hindu or Muslim weddings listed which seems odd to me as I see these weddings most weekends in London.
I think "amaze" and "astound" may be too strong a choice of words to describe 'Top 10 of London' but intrigue is fitting. It's more of a mature reader's compendium and it would be a fun book to keep on the shelf and refer to from time to time.
If you like London books with interesting facts, you may well also enjoy Tube London by Rebecca Sams.