Explore London without ever leaving your home with the help of one of these books.
The beauty of reading is that it can take you anywhere in the world, on great adventures you’ve never even dreamed of before.
From The Globe and Westminster Abbey to cozy pubs and beautiful bookstores, London can be considered a history and book lover’s dream.
Besides this, the city has so much more to offer, and what better way to discover all these hidden delights than by reading about them?
These books about London will transport you to the city, teaching you about its rich and incredible history – packed with conflict and triumph.
With this in mind, below you will find the most heart-rendering and intriguing nonfiction books about London.
Each novel is unique, you’ll find plenty of murder, as well as history, containing literature, people, times of transformation, and immigration.
Likewise, there are plenty of amazing fiction books about London, too.
Here, you’ll find themes of friendship, love, prejudices, racism, and the power of community.
Let’s get started!
12 Books To Read About London Before Traveling
This book explores everything messy about people, relationships, and life – all in a good way, of course.
The story follows Queenie, a Jamaican-British Londerer, and a young, 20-something-year-old who has just separated (unwillingly) from her long-term, white, boyfriend, Tom.
While feeling discarded and lost, Queenie realizes she’s actually much better without him.
That said, after the breakup, she finds herself taking part in incredibly promiscuous and self-destructive behavior – pushing away those closest to her and trying to stay afloat at the same time.
Queenie paints a realistic picture of what it is like to deal with anxiety, and depression, and how they can take over your whole life.
It also explores generational trauma, too.
Moreover, the book examines how mental health struggles can be present within particular communities – where asking for and seeking help can be a sign of weakness.
Queenie is often compared to a Black Bridget Jones, however, if you’re looking for those lighthearted feelings, you won’t be able to find any here.
What you are presented with is a much darker book, exploring hard-hitting themes, where humor isn’t the main focal point.
- Engaging writing.
- Highlights important societal issues.
- Unlikeable characters.
When it comes to Jack the Ripper, there are more articles, books, and essays written about him than any other serial killer. Well… it feels like that, anyway.
Since the identity of the murderer is shrouded in mystery, as well as the extreme nature of his attacks, many amateurs and professionals, alike, have spent hours analyzing and discussing their theories and hypothesis about the case.
As such, it can be seen that, as a society, we spend more time obsessing over the identity of Jack than the actual victims themselves.
When it comes down to it, they matter a lot more about Jack and deserve to be remembered.
Hallie Rubenhold has written a compelling and well-researched novel that accounts for the lives of the five women tragically murdered by Jack the Ripper.
In her book, she explores each individual’s circumstances that led to them walking along the destitute streets of Whitechapel alone in 1888.
Attempting to right the wrongs that were inflicted by misogyny, which caused these five women’s stories to be sidelined and overlooked in society, The Five could be considered one of the most important books about the infamous Jack the Ripper.
- Interesting and well-researched.
- Some readers found the book to be repetitive.
Peter Ackroyd takes us on a journey through the evolution of London, from the late Jurassic Period, moving through the druids period, and leading up to the 21st century, the novel explores the expanse of London’s culture and history.
It is not something you’d expect when you first pick up the book, however, once finished you’ll feel like a true Londoner.
Filled with tons of local and literary quotations, London: The Biography could be considered a conversational series examining all the tiny aspects that come together to make London the capital city of the United Kingdom.
While this may sound boring, don’t worry, there is plenty of interesting information that will keep you hooked.
Instead of keeping everything in chronological order, the author decides to zoom in on one particular point in time to help keep things engaging and interesting, as opposed to a list of notable figures and events.
The author has also written various other books about London, including both nonfiction and fiction, covering subjects such as London’s queer history, various Charles Dickens books, and the Thames River.
- Not your conventional history.
- Some readers found it difficult to get into.
Set in 1992, Honour follows the story of Esma, a woman who is having mixed feelings about picking up her brother who is being released from a nearby prison.
From here, we’re transported back to 1945 in a small Kurdish village where two twin sisters are born, Jamila and Pembe – this is much to the dismay of their mother.
As the sisters grow up, they couldn’t be more complete opposites if they tried.
Once the girls reach adulthood, Pembe decides to leave her husband, Adem, to move to London.
On the other hand, Jamila takes it upon herself to stay in the village and look after her parents, all while becoming a midwife.
While both of the twins face their own challenges and trepidations in life, most of the focus is on Pembe and her new life in London.
After the divorce, Pembe’s husband leaves the household, forcing her son, Iskender, to become the ‘man of the house’ – throwing him into a responsibility that he doesn’t want and is not yet ready for.
Honour is a true representation of life, including everything from betrayal, family, forgiveness, and immigration.
It is also one of the true depictions of London, too, as we get to see the city through the lens of various characters and their relationship to the city.
- Portrayal of women’s role.
- A page-turner.
- Cultural incitement.
- Starts off slow.
This novel follows the story of Zara Kaleel, a brilliant London lawyer with a high-profile career – despite the expectations of those around her –, however, she decides to trade her lavish lifestyle to help those who need her expertise most – victims of sexual assault.
One such victim includes Jodie Wolfe, a young girl suffering from facial deformities, who has accused four teenage boys in her class from school.
However, Jodie’s accusations fall flat and no one believes her due to the boys coming from hard-working immigrant families and having corroborating stories and alibis.
That said, Zara believes Jodie. As such, she does everything in her power to bring the truth to light – even if it tears her community apart while doing so.
Like various other courtroom thrillers, this one is just as engrossing – you won’t be able to put it down!
Readers will have strong views on what really did happen, and whether or not all characters are telling the complete truth.
Regardless of your armchair detective skills, this novel will leave you sitting on the edge of your seat – keeping you guessing all the way to the end.
- Beautifully written.
- Tons of plot twists.
- Engrossing plot.
- Slow at times.
All it takes is one moment and your life can change forever. This is exactly what happened to Richard Mayhew.
One moment he was living his ordinary life as a businessman in London, the next, a woman fell at his feet, literally.
Noticing that the woman is injured, Richard makes the decision to assist her, however, what he didn’t know is that this would make him completely entangled in her world, as well as her destiny.
The woman is from London Below – a place that has never been seen by those living above, however, it has remained present for centuries, nonetheless.
That said, these two Londons couldn’t be more different – whereby the London Below is infinitely more dangerous to the world of business that Richard has grown accustomed to above.
All he needs to do is survive long enough to return home, easy, right?
In this novel, Neil Gaiman incorporates modern urban fantasy to create a book like no other, completely transforming everything you know about London and transforming it in ways no one would have imagined.
Here, Gaiman outlines some of the city’s key features that some people take for granted – including the names of the districts or even the public transportation system – to shed new light on the city that many people claim to know like the back of their hand
- Quirky and deep.
- Some readers found the writing to be ‘lazy’.
This is among the best books about London, however, don’t be surprised if you find many of these characters to be downright awful.
Here, we’re introduced to Will, a 36-year bachelor who lives the perfect bachelor lifestyle in London, however, his life can have absolutely no substance.
After a surprisingly good breakup with a single mother, Will decides that dating single mothers is the way to go.
Therefore, he makes up a child to join a single parents support group.
Through this group, Will is introduced to Marcus, a nerdy 12-year-old boy whose only friend is his somewhat weird hippie mother, Fiona.
However, when Marcus figures out that Will doesn’t actually have a child, he decides to blackmail Will into spending time together and teaching Marcus how to be cool.
As their friendship grows, the pair begin to transform in ways they never thought were possible or expected.
This novel is packed with British humor, 90s nostalgia, and a heartfelt plot you can help but feel immersed in.
- Smooth read.
- Great characters.
- Some readers found the plot to be thin.
Set in early 1950s London, This Lovely City follows the story of jazz clarinetist, Lawrie Mathews, who, by day, earns a living as a postman – walking the streets of Brixton –, however, by night, he is playing in Soho’s jazz clubs.
Lawrie was one, among many, individuals a part of the Windrush generation, having come over to London from Jamaica.
He has lived in London for a number of years and finds himself falling for the girl next door, Evie.
However, a tragedy strikes in Clapham Common in the form of a horrifying discovery, leading people to point prejudiced fingers at the members of the community who have just recently arrived.
Before long, the streets resemble only what can be described as a battleground with residents turning on residents and what becomes, essentially, a witch hunt.
As a result of hateful xenophobia, Lawrie and Evie have to find a way to stay safe in the city they have come to know as home.
Similar to various books that detail the struggles of the Windrush generation, This Lovely City outlines the shameful and poignant snapshots to paint British history – some of which remain today.
- Engaging story.
- Amazing characters.
- Predictable ending.
Barrington Jedidiah Walker has been living a secret double life, one of which has been going on for the past sixty years.
In both lives, he is mostly the same – a wisecracking, flamboyant Londener, who, despite being born in Antigua, is very much a part of the city, and, not to forget, has an impeccable sense of style.
However, in one life, his wife is deeply religious, Carmel. In the other, it is his childhood best friend and soulmate, Morris.
Known as Barry by his closest friends, he has been in the closet for decades.
However, Carmel knows that Barry has been cheating and their marriage is soon to hit a rock bottom.
This is a novel about love and a man’s struggle of being true to himself and his feelings.
At times, the novel is hilarious and life-affirming, at others it is painful and tragic.
Mr.Loverman is a great novel if you’re looking to explore the intricacies and complexities that come with the older Caribbean communities in London.
- Well-crafted characters.
- The ending is quickly wrapped up.
There is no other quintessential British meeting than this one right here: a young man meets a young woman inside a local London pub.
At first glance, the two have a lot in common; they are both Black British, scholarship students, and artists – a photographer and dancer, respectively.
Over time, what started as an initial attraction soon blooms into something more: love.
However, due to growing pressure and stresses of living under racial inequity in southeast London, tensions begin to rise – threatening their relationship.
In this small novel, there are various techniques used to prevent it from becoming predictable.
These involve perspective and writing style.
Firstly, the novel is told from a second point of view – providing the reader with a narrative that isn’t typically demonstrated.
Secondly, Caleb Azumah Nelson uses a range of measured and elegant writing techniques in his novel to weigh each sentence carefully, ensuring that the reader is completely emerged.
The result is a novel that is tender and intimate, and, at other times, incredibly emotional and intense.
Those looking for a novel that offers a strong emotional connection to London will take pleasure in this book.
- Excellent storytelling.
- Poetic writing.
- Black representation.
- Some readers found the second-person narrative offputting.
Typically, crime books about London are full of gritty and bland portraits of the inhabitants and the city, however, this isn’t the case with Cosplay Killer.
Dannel and his boyfriend, Osian, both work as first responders, a firefighter, and paramedics, respectively.
Another similarity they share is their love for true crime. As such, in their free time, they host a regular crime podcast show.
However, when Osian finds himself the number one suspect in a murder tragedy, the pair decide to take the case upon themselves and solve the mystery.
Even as the pair finds themselves to be in over their heads, you can’t help but root for Danny and Oz.
Another thing this book is good at addressing is burnout and trauma.
Moreover, this includes sensory overload, since Dannel is autistic – the same as the author, too.
The novel itself is a simple and fun murder mystery set in London. Moreover, Cosplay Killer is the first in the series, too!
- Fun mystery.
- Likable characters.
- Sometimes confusing.
Set in the 1890s, this queer coming-of-age romantic novel follows the story of 18-year-old Nan, a working-class girl living with her parents in Kent.
Before long, Nan becomes smitten with a performer at the local theater, “masher”, her name is Kitty Butler – this is where she dresses up as a man.
After praising Kitty’s performance, Nan decides to become her dresser. Their friendship quickly blossoms and the pair embark across London – seeking out fortune and adventure.
Kitty’s manager makes a suggestion that Nan should join her onstage by dressing up as a man, thus, a double act is born – more successful than anyone could’ve known.
Even though they are famous as men, and as women, they decide to take their platonic friendship into something new.
Here, Sarah Waters successfully incorporates themes of sexuality and identity all within the period setting.
- Interesting story.
- Political aspect.
Some readers thought the novel dragged a bit.
When it comes to reading the best books about London, there are a few things to consider before purchasing.
With this in mind, I have created a detailed buyer’s guide to help you make the decision.
Fiction Vs. Nonfiction
The first thing you’ll want to decide is whether you’re looking for something fiction or nonfiction.
While these two terms may seem similar, since, after all, they both have ‘fiction’ in them. Well, unfortunately, it is not that simple.
Fiction and nonfiction are the two main genres used to tell stories, and while they may share some similarities, they couldn’t be any more different.
These terms are used to classify books, television shows, and movies into genres that are ‘real’ and ‘not real’.
Therefore, anything that contains an element of make-believe is fiction, and anything that is considered to be 100% factual is nonfiction.
When it comes to books about London, there are various novels falling into both categories, therefore, first, you’ll want to decide what you’re looking for.
As noted, there are various different genres that books about London fall into, too – this can be seen in the books outlined above.
From romance and mystery to true crime and biography, there are a number of different genres when it comes to books based in London.
Therefore, the first step is to understand what genre you want to read and then go from there.
London is a massive city, as such, many different books are based in different parts of the city.
Depending on your requirements, you may want a book about London that covers a specific area. For instance, North, East, South, or West London.
This could be generalized even more closer by looking at specific London boroughs.
In fact, there are a total of 32 London boroughs and the City of London.
Some of the inner boroughs include Camden, Greenwich, Hackney, and Fulham. Whereas some of the outer boroughs include Merton, Barnet, and Harrow.
If you’re looking to learn more about a particular area in London then you may want to purchase one of these books that are set in that specific area.
For instance, Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson is set in southeast London. The novel follows two black characters who meet in a pub by happenstance.
Here, both characters struggle to feel a sense of belonging in a private school they attend and are looking to make their mark in the world.
If you have never been to London but have always dreamed of it, one of the best ways to explore the city is by opening up a book and going on an unexpected adventure.
With the help of this guide, you’re sure to go on many unforgettable adventures while learning everything London has to offer – across a range of different viewpoints.
Hopefully, this guide has provided you with some inspiration for your next book about London.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Library In London?
One of the most popular libraries in London is The British Library, among both students and tourists alike.