Wednesday 1 June 2011

City of Sin: London and It's Vices by Catharine Arnold (Non-Fiction)

City of Sin is an examination of the oldest business in the world: prostitution.  From brothels to Roman bath houses to modern day sex scandals and rent boys, Arnold tells the history of London through the eyes of it's sex workers. And it's a history of 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' with the same characters coming up in different guises throughout history; high class call girls, desperate working-class prostitutes, madams and aristocratic clients.

The book's main strength is that Arnold is a very good writer and each chapter is evocative of the time period it centers on.  Arnold is especially good when describing the murky, sinister London of Jack the Ripper and Sweeney Todd, I almost felt as though I had been transported back in time.  More importantly for a book like this, she doesn't judge or defend the people she is writing about - she just relates facts and experiences in an interesting way without being sensationalist.  As I originally come from the East End of London myself, I particularly enjoyed the parts about the docks and sailors and working class families of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Another thing I enjoyed was the wide scope of the book - from Ancient Roman through to modern times and not just about prostitution in the traditional sense.  There were also interesting sections on homosexuality, organised crime and writers such as Oscar Wilde. 

My only criticism of the book is that I felt it was very obviously written by someone who had studied English Literature rather than history.  Whilst I like English Lit and did enjoy some of the literary references and quotes, I felt like there were just too many and not enough actual history.  Occasionally I did turn a page and think "oh, not another poem!".

Verdict: Very interesting and thorough read.
Source: Library
Score: 4 out of 5


  1. cool! this looks really interesting to me. i just might buy this.

  2. @IngridLola
    It was really interesting :)
    It's part of a trilogy too, there's also Necropolis: London and It's Dead and Bedlam: London and It's Mad. I'm definitely going to read the other two at some point.

  3. Cool!! I checked for it on Amazon though and they didn't have it ... I'll check book depository.