iPad iBook Review: London - A City Through Time Review
Reviewed by Guy Dayen
London has always been one of the great metropolises of the world; its history is a long and storied one. It is such a long history, in fact, that it can be daunting to try to make sense of so much material and so many facts. But fear not! The new iPad book, London - A City Through Time, is a wonderful and easy way to explore the story of that illustrious city.
I've always been interested in history, and I'm an anglophile to boot, so I was very excited when I learned of the release of this app. Even better, the Olympics are being held in London this year, so what better time to get back into English History and delve into the incredible saga of this greatest of Albion's cities? In very many ways, the story of London is the story of England itself. To understand London's development into the city it is today is to gain great insight into the evolution of English ideas and ideals, into the establishment of English culture as one of the most fruitful societies on Earth. As the eyes of the world turn towards London in the next few days of Olympic fever, you will find this new book a wonderful method to gain new or renewed insight into the British way of life.
London - A City Through Time is a pleasure to navigate. It is intuitive and extremely well organized. It affords many ways in which to approach London's history. The starting point for your exploration is the Home Screen. From this "base of operations", you can choose to browse through an interactive timeline, explore London's history by choosing among hundreds of points on a map, read articles about life in London, listen to three audio tours (provided in cooperation with the Institute of Tourist Guiding, producers of the Blue Badge Tourist Guides), learn about the history above your head as you ride along on the tube (London's version of the subway) and read about notable Londoners throughout the ages. People looking for specific subject information can browse the contents of the book by subject, and those readers interested in a multimedia experience can go to the audio visual history section. Finally, there is a section called "My London", in which famous Londoners, such as Michael Palin, Renee Zellweger and Jeffrey Archer, describe their favorite London spots. Readers who wish to contribute their own favorites can share their own special finds right through the app.
All of these options are found at the bottom of the Home Screen, in a scrolling task bar. Most of the screen is given over to a slide show that affords glimpses of London history through gorgeous illustrations and photographs; it's a tantalizing way to draw the reader into the content of London - A City Through Time. The photos are quite striking, and invariably, I find myself intrigued and I wind up clicking on each picture to get more information. The Timeline button is also animated, and tidbits of history are presented in quick succession. Again, it's just enough to wet your appetite and make you want to discover more.
Each reader will have his or her preferred method of going through the book, and mine is to use the Timeline view. Here you will find four linked scrolling bars, providing quick and easy navigation of London's history. Each bar has a different heading: the first is "Period", which divides London's history in large sections of time, beginning with prehistory and Roman times and ending in the London of the twenty-first century. One really nice surprise here is that every time you tap a period, you will hear representative music specific to the period. I think this is a lovely touch, and it shows the care and attention to detail that was lavished on London - A City Through Time.
The second heading is "Who's in charge". It's a terrific way to refresh your knowledge of English sovereigns, and lets the reader know what happened when each new monarch was in power. There is also information about the early rulers of London; the Romans, the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings.
The third heading is "Year". Important years are highlighted, and little icons let the reader know instantly what major event might have transpired in any given year.
The fourth heading is "Events for the Year". Short blurbs give quick overviews of the important happenings in each highlighted year. Links to articles and other materials such as pictures, audio or video are provided should the reader wish to find out more details. It's a great way to get a quick summary and plunge right into the heart of English history "as it happens".
There is a last section at the foot of the page entitled "Read About...", where the reader can find more general materials about each era of London's long history. There is also a link to the London map, showing locations specific to the era in question.
One thing I really liked is how easy it is to get back to your starting point. Every time the reader leaves the Timeline for an article or an audiovisual experience, he or she just has to close the article to come right back to the Timeline.
I can't stress enough how impressed I was with this book. The presentation is topnotch, the information is interesting, the writing is excellent, and the audiovisual materials are beautiful. I still have a lot to explore in this wonderful book, and it will be a companion as I sit through the Olympics. Who knows? I might impress a few people with the anecdotes I could relate as we watch the coverage of the various events! But seriously, anyone who wants to find out more about London, or anyone who has any interest in history in general and English history in particular will love London - A City Through Time. It's one of the very best interactive books I've ever seen for the iPad, and believe me, I've seen many. I wouldn't hesitate to call it a masterpiece, and I can only hope that one day, there will be an edition written for another city close to my heart, Paris. It would be a fantastic companion piece.