No one knows better than Ackroyd the palimpsest that is London, and no one is able to demonstrate it as he does. The city - that ancient, "vast ocean where survival is not certain" - is the centrepiece for almost all his written work: novels, biographies and, in 2000, his best-selling London the Biography.

What marked that volume was the vivid, visual quality of his language, but nevertheless he has matched that with this companion volume.

Far better than any tour bus that could traverse London's contemporary topography, Ackroyd's is a multi-dimensional voyage through time, culture, demolition and creation. He continues to delight in layerings and continuities, and the book, which contains more than 200 images, accentuates this.

With an immediacy that text can never match, it juxtaposes the riots, markets, theatres of drama and violence, generations of the poor, immigrants, and, ubiquitously, London's crowds.

"The crowd is London's true family" and the streets filled always "with teeming and struggling life". This is surely the coffee-table book of the year.

Publisher: Chatto & Windus

Price: $85