Before I even saw it, I knew this would be my kind of book.
And it is. It’s full of maps and plans and stories of life through time in a selection of world cities. As well as that, the locations have been chosen to give a sweeping overview of world history. And all of this is illustrated.
In reading terms it’s a complex book, each double page spread packing in a lot of information in different forms. Readers will need good literacy and concentration levels to navigate through the detail in word and picture. But the challenge of achieving that will bring its own rewards. As witnessed by my own reaction to it, younger readers might also need to take care that more senior family members don’t steal it away from them!
The first city in the book is Jericho where Joshua fought a battle and ‘the walls came tumbling down’ as the song has it. So I knew it was a walled city and, from my Sunday School days, I knew that it was situated below sea level. (Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan has a man going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and I remember being told how far down!) But that was the sum total of my knowledge of this ancient city. Reading about it here, then, was a journey of discovery for me.
St Petersburg was for me a fairytale place. Its pre-revolutionary days featured in a lot of the fiction I read growing up and it felt like an entirely separate city to the Leningrad of my youth and early adulthood. It always seemed to be winter – icy, sparkling and beautiful – in the books I read. They were full of jewels and ballet and horse-drawn sleighs. So modern St Petersburg came as a bit of a shock to me when I visited in the summer ten years ago! Here, the authors navigate through the city’s history.
Of all the cities featured, only some of which I’ve visited, my favourite is Berlin. From a young age I was fascinated by its divided nature and haunted by images of its early twentieth century days gone, so it seemed, forever. I aspired to visit, inspired by tales told by my German teacher who had gone there as a student. And then, unbelievably, as I was finishing my post-grad studies the Berlin Wall was torn down. Although I never visited the divided city, I did go soon after reunification when it was still very easy to see where the wall had been. I spent that first visit constantly checking which part of the city I was in! Of course for today’s young readers all of this is history and it’s cleverly brought to life here.
There are plenty (well 22 to be exact!) other cities to explore in the book as well as an overview of modern cities and cities of the future. Go from Memphis to Tokyo, Baghdad to Sydney and stop off in Benin or Amsterdam on the way. Whichever of these 25 cities you choose to visit you’ll be fascinated, intrigued, appalled and delighted.