Oral History Masterpieces: Londoners, New Yorkers

London and New York are undoubtedly two of the greatest cities in the world, cities that hundreds of thousands of people aspire to visit, see and experience. Some want to live and work there, some love those cities and, we’re sure, many also have an intense disliking for them. But love them or hate, London and New York aren’t cities that you can easily ignore. Many books have been written on the two cities but we think the two most interesting, remarkable and eminently readable of these have been written by Craig Taylor, who’s currently based in New York. For his books, both of which are oral histories of sorts, Taylor went out and spoke to a most diverse, wide range of regular people – immigrants, taxi drivers, commercial pilots, engineers, driving instructors, plumbers, traders, counsellors, students, photographers, commuters, cleaners… the list is pretty much endless – and he has used their stories to illustrate London and New York, the way these cities are, the life they offer, what they have to give, and what they take away from those who choose to live there. It’s a fascinating method, one that Taylor has used to great effect. If you have ever been even remotely interested in London and New York, and the lives of those who live there, you owe it to yourself to read these two books.

Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now – as Told by Those Who Love it, Hate it, Live it, Left it and Long for it, by Craig Taylor

Londoners is a fresh and compulsively readable view of one of the world’s most fascinating cities – a vibrant narrative portrait of the London of our own time, featuring unforgettable stories told by the real people who make the city hum. Acclaimed writer and editor Craig Taylor has spent years traversing every corner of the city, getting to know the most interesting Londoners, including the voice of the London Underground, a West End rickshaw driver, an East End nightclub doorperson, a mounted soldier of the Queen’s Life Guard at Buckingham Palace, and a couple who fell in love at the Tower of London and now live there. With candour and humour, this diverse cast – rich and poor, old and young, native and immigrant, men and women (and even a Sarah who used to be a George) – shares indelible tales that capture the city as never before,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Together, these voices paint a vivid, epic, and wholly original portrait of twenty-first-century London in all its breadth, from Notting Hill to Brixton, from Piccadilly Circus to Canary Wharf, from an airliner flying into London Heathrow Airport to Big Ben and Tower Bridge, and down to the deepest tunnels of the London Underground. Londoners is the autobiography of one of the world’s greatest cities,’ it adds.

‘Taylor is, like many of the best writers about London, an outsider, having grown up in a small seaside village in western Canada before moving to the UK in the year 2000. What makes Londoners as valuable as any sociological treatise is Taylor’s appreciation of the ways in which his subjects are themselves surveying, analysing and theorising the turbulent city in which they live. Taylor’s confidants prove that the city inspires its inhabitants to coin neologisms, torque meanings and create striking turns of phrase. On occasions Londoners attains a level of eloquence as beautiful and blue as anything to be found in the works of Jean Rhys or Samuel Selvon,’ says The Guardian. ‘Londoners [is] a rich and exuberant kaleidoscopic portrait of a great, messy, noisy, daunting, inspiring, maddening, enthralling, constantly shifting Rorschach test of a place. Though countless excellent books have been written on the city, this is the one that best captures what it’s like to live in London right now, through the words of the people themselves,’ adds The New York Times.

Londoners is available on Amazon

New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time, by Craig Taylor

‘In the first twenty years of the twenty-first century, New York City has been convulsed by terrorist attack, blackout, hurricane, recession, social injustice, and pandemic. New Yorkers weaves the voices of some of the city’s best talkers into an indelible portrait of New York in our time, and a powerful hymn to the vitality and resilience of its people. Best-selling author Craig Taylor has been hailed as ‘a peerless journalist and a beautiful craftsman,’ acclaimed for the way he ‘fuses the mundane truth of conversation with the higher truth of art.’ In the wake of his celebrated book Londoners, Taylor moved to New York and spent years meeting regularly with hundreds of New Yorkers as diverse as the city itself. New Yorkers features 75 of the most remarkable of them, their fascinating true tales arranged in thematic sections that follow Taylor’s growing engagement with the city,’ says the publisher’s note. ‘Vibrant and bursting with life, New Yorkers explores the nonstop hustle to make it; the pressures on new immigrants, people of colour, and the poor; the constant battle between loving the city and wanting to leave it; and the question of who gets to be considered a New Yorker. It captures the strength of an irrepressible city that, no matter what it goes through, dares call itself the greatest in the world,’ it adds.

‘An ambitious and entertaining attempt to channel the city’s collective voice, New Yorkers is a collection of interviews – oral histories somewhat in the mode of what Svetlana Alexievich (Belarusian Nobel prize laureate) calls ‘documentary literature.’ Taylor introduces us to people who provide services to the wealthy [and] characters with colourful, quintessentially Gotham jobs. Much of the pleasure of New Yorkers comes from a kind of sly parataxis, the rhetorical trope in which elements are placed side by side, without being overtly connected together,’ says The Guardian. ‘The joys and agonies of New York City – what Taylor unabashedly calls ‘the greatest ongoing flicker of human life I’ve ever encountered’ – are the subject of a teeming oral history. The kaleidoscopic portrait captures the city’s thrilling lexical diversity, as well as moments of grace, compassion, cruelty, and racism,’ says The New Yorker.

New Yorkers is available on Amazon

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