Streetlife: The Untold History of Europe’s Twentieth Century by Leif Jerram - review by Donald Sassoon

Donald Sassoon

Tales of the City

Streetlife: The Untold History of Europe’s Twentieth Century


Oxford University Press 477pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young academic in possession of a PhD must be in want of a journal where at least a chapter might be published. But the object investigated is usually so obscure that a bit of sexing up is perfectly understandable. Hence opening lines such as: ‘Curiously enough no one has so far examined the role played by the partially disabled Mr L John Silver in the bureaucratic reorganisation of the Royal Navy in the first half of the eighteenth century – a role which was of some significance to both treasure seekers and rum distillers.’ And it just so happens that a cache of Mr Silver’s letters, previously overlooked by historians, has been recently found in the archives. The rest, literally, is history. 

Others, already safely ensconced in academia, adopt a different strategy. Like the author of Streetlife, they take a big subject, such as European cities in the twentieth century, and proceed to make audacious claims in the form of subtitles such as ‘The Untold History of Europe’s Twentieth Century’.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter