maandag 25 november 2013

The Natural History of London


R.S.R Fitter's 'London's Natural History' (1945) is what we would now call an environmental history of Greater London. It is strangely antiquated, refreshingly modern, stunningly original, and, at times, bloggerishly quirky. All at the same time.

When Fitter cites Piltdown man it is a thing of the past but when he writes about houses as a new form of habitat that by necessity have to be pioneered by plants and animals seeking living space and using adaptation to make it theirs, he opens my eyes to the evolutionary cunningness of the ants, slugs and silverfish crawling in my living room. 

There is plenty of raw material (plant and bird lists) for Fitter to use and as a writer of guidebooks he loves that stuff. There are also many good maps and that is one reason why this book lives: it is a source of raw data that is still of interest to birdwatchers and phyto-psychogeographers. This book was written during WWII and the most original chapters are those in which Fitter documents the results of the Blitz as a great opportunity for nature to return to the surface in some of the oldest continuesly built-over parts of the City. It strikes me as both eccentric and typical of the stoic attitude that famously is said to have come over the citizens of London in response to German attacks. Bombs or not live must go on and that included scouting bombcraters for unusual flowers. 

Nice book.

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