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Thames

Cover of Thames

Thames

The Biography
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In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river's endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the Thames and such historical figures as Julius Caesar and Henry VIII, and offers memorable portraits of the ordinary men and women who depend upon the river for their livelihoods. The Thames as a source of artistic inspiration comes brilliantly to life as Ackroyd invokes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Turner, Shelley, and other writers, poets, and painters who have been enchanted by its many moods and colors.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

In this perfect companion to London: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd once again delves into the hidden byways of history, describing the river's endless allure in a journey overflowing with characters, incidents, and wry observations. Thames: The Biography meanders gloriously, rather like the river itself. In short, lively chapters Ackroyd writes about connections between the Thames and such historical figures as Julius Caesar and Henry VIII, and offers memorable portraits of the ordinary men and women who depend upon the river for their livelihoods. The Thames as a source of artistic inspiration comes brilliantly to life as Ackroyd invokes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Turner, Shelley, and other writers, poets, and painters who have been enchanted by its many moods and colors.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter I The River as Fact

    It has a length of 215 miles, and is navigable for 191 miles. It is the longest river in England but not in Britain, where the Severn is longer by approximately 5 miles. Nevertheless it must be the shortest river in the world to acquire such a famous history. The Amazon and the Mississippi cover almost 4,000 miles, and the Yangtze almost 3,500 miles; but none of them has arrested the attention of the world in the manner of the Thames.

    It runs along the borders of nine English counties, thus reaffirming its identity as a boundary and as a defence. It divides Wiltshire from Gloucestershire, and Oxfordshire from Berkshire; as it pursues its way it divides Surrey from Middlesex (or Greater London as it is inelegantly known) and Kent from Essex. It is also a border of Buckinghamshire. It guarded these once tribal lands in the distant past, and will preserve them into the imaginable future.

    There are 134 bridges along the length of the Thames, and forty-four locks above Teddington. There are approximately twenty major tributaries still flowing into the main river, while others such as the Fleet have now disappeared under the ground. Its "basin," the area from which it derives its water from rain and other natural forces, covers an area of some 5,264 square miles. And then there are the springs, many of them in the woods or close to the streams beside the Thames. There is one in the wood below Sinodun Hills in Oxfordshire, for example, which has been described as an "everlasting spring" always fresh and always renewed.

    The average flow of the river at Teddington, chosen because it marks the place where the tidal and non-tidal waters touch, has been calculated at 1,145 millions of gallons (5,205 millions of litres) each day or approximately 2,000 cubic feet (56.6 cubic metres) per second. The current moves at a velocity between 1Ú2 and 23Ú4 miles per hour. The main thrust of the river flow is known to hydrologists as the "thalweg"; it does not move in a straight and forward line but, mingling with the inner flow and the variegated flow of the surface and bottom waters, takes the form of a spiral or helix. More than 95 per cent of the river's energy is lost in turbulence and friction.

    The direction of the flow of the Thames is therefore quixotic. It might be assumed that it would move eastwards, but it defies any simple prediction. It flows north-west above Henley and at Teddington, west above Abingdon, south from Cookham and north above Marlow and Kingston. This has to do with the variegated curves of the river. It does not meander like the Euphrates, where according to Herodotus the voyager came upon the same village three times on three separate days, but it is circuitous. It specialises in loops. It will take the riparian traveller two or three times as long to cover the same distance as a companion on the high road. So the Thames teaches you to take time, and to view the world from a different vantage.

    The average "fall" or decline of the river from its beginning to its end is approximately 17 to 21 inches (432 to 533 mm) per mile. It follows gravity, and seeks out perpetually the simplest way to the sea. It falls some 600 feet (183 m) from source to sea, with a relatively precipitous decline of 300 feet (91.5 m) in the first 9 miles; it falls 100 (30.4 m) more in the next 11 miles, with a lower average for the rest of its course. Yet averages may not be so important. They mask the changeability and idiosyncrasy of the Thames. The mean width of the river is given as 1,000 feet (305 m), and a mean depth of 30 feet (9 m); but the width varies from 1 or 2 feet (0.3 to 0.6 m) at Trewsbury to 51Ú2 miles at the...
About the Author-
  • PETER ACKROYD is the author of London: The Biography, Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination, and Shakespeare: The Biography; acclaimed biographies of T.S. Eliot, Dickens, Blake, and Sir Thomas More; thirteen novels; and the series Ackroyd's Brief Lives. He has won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography, the Royal Society of Literature's William Heinemann Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Guardian Fiction Prize, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the South Bank Award for Literature. He lives in London.

Reviews-
  • The Times "Thames smells authentically of the water, of an author who has walked the towpath and knows not only the impressive statistics...but also the Turner water-colours of the Thames itself.... It is not just the subject that sets this book apart but also the compelling new perspectives that [Ackroyd] brings."
  • The Observer "The pages glint with scintillating nuggets recovered from the river.... You might well think that the garlanded biographer of Dickens and Turner was born to write this extraordinary book."
  • Daily Telegraph "Mesmerising. . . As soon as you open this account of the Thames, you will want to immerse yourself in it. . . . No one is better than Ackroyd at evoking the texture and atmosphere of the distant past."
  • The Guardian "An unmissable performance."
  • The Spectator "[A book of] substance and unflaggingly interesting detail. . . a very enjoyable and highly idiosyncratic account of the subject."
  • Financial Times Magazine "Wonderful.... Peter Ackroyd's writing is such a pleasure that Thames can be read all at once, with increasing delight, and afterwards dipped into, like stretches of the great waterway it charts and celebrates."
  • Times Literary Supplement "a rich offering by a masterly writer..."
  • The Independent "[Ackroyd] presents his material as a cornucopia of treats and insights delivered from all directions."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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