I finally reached the last page of Pete's new book about London's south bank's George Inn this afternoon. I originally thought I would rip right through it in one sitting but backed off when I realized how much I was enjoying the ride. You can go elsewhere and find out what the book is about but, without showing my hand as to how this review will turn out, if you don't run out and get this book now you are nuts. If you live in some backwater like North America, order it from the British Amazon site like I did. Like now. Are you back? You bought it, right?
OK, enough of that. I have dipped my toe into the realm of original beer research to appreciate how little I know and have achieved as well as how much Pete has accomplished with this book. He takes an important but by no means unique place of hospitality that has operated since at least the Middle Ages and traces its life from then to now. A social history of one building. But in doing so he frames the times through which it and its occupants lived. One thing I would recommend if you do not have a basic understanding of English history is to find a popular recitation like the fairly recent DVD or book versions of The Story of England. It is useful to know who Simon de Montfort was and maybe why Englishmen became more mobile in the 1400s bolstering things like inns... like the George.
I don't know really what to say other than get a bunch of copies and give them away for Christmas. The tone is a little less of a romp than Pete's last book, 2009's Hops and Glory that I reviewed over four posts. But, on the other hand, it is less speculative, more authoritative. Not that it is dry. Pete takes you with humour and citation through the social changes of the worlds most influential city as might be viewed from the galleries and the court yard of this one structure. He describes the shifts in law, politics and technology that altered how the George served its clients from pack horse drivers to wagoneers to railwaymen to the faceless suits of today. Not only Shakespeare's local, Pete ties it and its surroundings to events from Chaucer to Dickens, from the 1400s to the present day. And then back to himself.
Which is something of the implicit point if not the theme. At all points in its life, the George Inn served people. Individuals. And most went away with what they needed - a place to gather, to eat and drink, to sleep, to store their goods, to work, to be alone with a good book and a pint. Quibble? A second edition could have the same text and about 375 illustrations. Not that the writing lacks anything but the illustrations left me wanting more. Did I mention you should buy this book? You should.