Migrant City is a big-hearted book, brilliantly researched and accessibly written. It does not tell the whole story of migration to London because it ignores perhaps the most important migration of all – of those provincial Britons who have reinvigorated the capital for generations without number. But Panayi has given us the history of how London has pretty much always been open to the world. Long may it remain so.
Panayi’s chief fault, though, is an almost deadening academic style, and an aversion to anecdote that feels almost criminal. His book may have an academic focus, but the vibrancy of London’s migrant history surely deserves a richer retelling than it receives in this admirably thorough but exhaustingly written study.
For anyone interested in the evolution of the capital this is an interesting and rewarding book. You can be familiar with the facts of everyday life in a cosmopolitan, multicultural city but still be surprised and enriched by Panayi’s scholarly analysis. I cannot pretend it’s a light read; published by Yale University Press, it’s as academic as that implies. The pages do not skip by. But their content, slowly digested, is absorbing.
Panikos Panayi, a leading authority on the history of migration, exalts London as the “capital of everything”, both good and bad. Migrant City: A New History of London, his latest book, is a hosanna to the mixed-race metropolis and its age-old tradition of sheltering refugees and political casualties from abroad. A tremendous achievement, it is brimful of curious facts regarding mosques, synagogues, churches, hotels, stalls, food and music. Just outside the capital, Woking mosque, completed in 1889, was one of the first to be built in western Europe.