Author: Terry Deary
Illustrator: Martin Brown
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Children’s Books, Humour
First Published: 2005
Year of Publication of this Edition: 2012
Publisher: Scholastic Non-Fiction
Collection: Horrible Histories Gruesome Guides
Rating: 4/5 stars
The first time I’ve begun reading a few pages from Horrible Histories Gruesome Guides: London was some years ago before visiting Britain’s capital. However, when I came back, other books caught my attention, so I left it unfinished for a while. In March I finally picked it up again feeling determined to finish it.
In the introduction, Terry Deary puts side by side two testimonials of two priests regarding the London of 1190, which are complete opposites. What does that tell us about history? It is never accurate because everyone sees the world through one’s perspective. In order to understand how people really lived in London throughout the centuries, “this book will only tell you the horrible bits of London’s history –about the bad, not the brave, the horrible, not the happy, the dreadful, disgusting and dirty, not the dear, drippy and delightful.” (Loc. 40-41)
And this book was gruesome indeed with a timeline that stretches from Ancient times to the Victorian era. You will read about legends linked to London and its history, interesting facts about The Tower of London, how horrible people treated animals for their entertainment in the Middle Ages and not only then, criminals and executions, ten dangerous and dirty jobs in London, stories about abused children and forced labour, some bits of information about some iconic buildings in London London’s underground and so on. Every time period has something interesting or disgusting to reveal. Besides the funny illustrations made by Martin Brown, there’s also a map of historical London at the end of the book.
Though the Horrible Histories books are usually very whimsical and you learn new thing while having fun, taking tests and laughing out loud at the jokes the author cracks, this time I think that the gruesomeness surpassed the humour because the animal beatings and fights, the stories about criminals and executions and those about child abuse, filth and disease made my stomach turn. However, I understand the purpose of this book. Usually, we learn at school about the bright side of history and about the brave or brilliant people who changed the world; but there’s also a darker or filthier side of history that is more appealing to us because it revolves around the ordinary people – the sick, the orphan the illiterate and the poor.
What do you think about this book? Have you read it? Leave your answers below.