René Schilling
Bookwalks - Buchführung - Litteratours

 

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London, England     

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We begin our walk at King's Cross station (not the most unlikely place to arrive in London). Cross Euston Road and turn right and follow it in westward direction. To your left is the neo-gothic red-brick St. Pancras Station and next to it (separated by Midland road) there is another red-brick but very modern building: the British Library. Arguably one of the largest libraries in the world. Across Euston road, on your side of the street, there is a small remaindering bookshop. It is worth having a look, although it would be a surprise if they had any maths books....

From there take a walk down Euston Road, approximately 800m. Somewhere on your right you see the modernistic building of Euston Station (a bit off the main road with buses going into it) and two corners further down Euston Road meets Gower Street. Turn left into it; on your way you pass buildings of the UCL (University College London) and about 300m into the street on your left there is 

Waterstone's (82 Gower Street, corner Torrington Place, years ago this used to be Dillon's). It is a landmark red-brick neo-gothic eerie-looking building. They have a medium-sized math selection in the basement (go down the main stairs and keep half-left. Maths has its own little aisle) which has a reasonable selection of text-books for the use of UCL students (let me remark that this is a shadow of the old Dillon's Maths-Phys collection of 6 years ago...). The Dover collection is separately shelved. Unfortunately they keep changing its place and the booksellers at the help-desk do not always know its current location. The last time I found them in the basement, to the right of the central staircase, but the selection was not really good.

Note that this shop has an antiquarian, second-hand and remainder department in the first or second floor. No sciences apart from popular science, alas, but worth a brief look since their history and foreign-language collection is not too bad. And for lovers of Greek and Roman prose, visit the foreign language department in the top floor where they house a very good selection of Loeb's in the very far end of it.

When leaving Waterstone's, turn into Torrington Place (this is actually a street) westward, pass Byng Place and Gordon Square (to your left) and  Woborn Square (opposite, to your right) until you see Bedford Street (all in all 300m). Turn right into Bedford Street until you hit Russel Square in front of you. Head left, to the Russell Square Tube station whose access is somewhat hidden in a building, in Bernard Street. From there you can see Brunswick centre---a dull 60s (200m long, 40m wide) concrete building, two rows of shops, flats and a cinema separated by some lengthy rectangular courtyard. The entrance to the courtyard is (diagonally, slightly to the right) opposite the tube station. Inside, 70m north and to your left under the arcades is 

Skoob bookS. The only second-hand bookseller in London I know with a decent (relative to London) selection of Maths/Science/Technology books. The main stock is in the backroom: head through the rows of bookshelves to the hole in the wall in the far left corner of the shop leading to the backroom. There turn right and then into the first bay to your left; there is the math section. Quality and pricing of the books is somewhat mysterious, ranging from too expensive to too cheap---although the first category has the lion's share. You come across all types of conditions: from new books to usual wear-and-tear and outright yukkie, smelly stuff. You will also find an overall strange collection much of which does belong to the rubbish dump. Nevertheless, from time to time there is some good book (I recently got Billingsley's Ergodic Theory for 8 quid). Better books at higher prices are in the frontroom, behind the counter. It is what they call the internet stock (on my occasional visits I do not see much changes and I strongly doubt if there are sales at all). Again, some books are ridiculously priced, some are reasonable. Quality is, however, always good. Finally, there are the new-arrivals shelves (they are in front of the checkout) where sometimes the odd math book turns up. A good thing are the discount vouchers. Once you've bought a book, you'll get a voucher that allows 20% off in the next cash-only transaction.

Further in the back of the Brunswick centre there is, on your right, a supermarket. A good place to grab some food and drink.

Go back to Russell square and cross the fenced square diagonally. You end up at Montague Street which runs along the British Museum. Follow Montague Street until down to Great Russell Street. Pretty much in front of you, maybe slightly to your right, and across the street are 

Quinto (63 Great Russell St.) and Francis Edwards (same address) This is quite a big and tidy bookshop (I think owned by the Hay-on-Wye Cinema bookshop) with a huge selection of second-hand and remainder stock. Prices are o.k. and so is the quality of books. The science seciton is in the basement but, unfortunately, they have not many maths books. Also in the cellar is Francis Edwards an antiquarian and rare-book books dealer. At some point they bought maths and science books from New College, Oxford and among them a lot of G.H. Hardy's own books bequeathed to the College (strange, to give away and rip apart the collection of one of the most famous British mathematicians!). You may be able to find some of them at Edwards, the last time I was there I still saw some bound volumes of the "Borel monographs". In general, however, there are not many maths books and most of them are at the upper end of (or beyond) any reasonable price range. Quality, though, is very good indeed. Quinto and Edwards have more shops in London, but we'll come to them later on.

Around the British museum there are quite a few bookshops. Most of them deal in literature and antique books and have rip-off, pharmacy like prices. There is a leaflet "Antiquarian & Secondhand Booksellers near the British Museum" which you can get online at www.jarndyce.co.uk or in any of the shops (e.g. in Skoob, see above).

Moving on, turn left on Great Russell Street, pass the British Museum and go three blocks until you reach Bloomsbury Street. Turn left and on

12, Bloomsbury Street there is Unsworths. You find there new, remaindered and second-hand scholarly (mostly art-ish) books and a small selection of literature at reasonable prices. Not much science, though, but a very good selection of normally priced Loeb's Classics.

Follow Bloomsbury Street some more meters until you hit New Oxford Street. Make a right there and move towards Centre Point (the ugly high-rise building in front of you). Turn left at the Centre Point (or, better, try to surround it from the back) to get into Charing Cross Road. This is the Mecca for new scholarly books. About 100m down south on your right there is

Foyles (113-119 Charing Cross). Easy to recognize, it has huge flags sticking out of its facade. Foyles once boasted to be the largest bookshop in the world. It certainly was the least organized but its maths room (second floor, to the street a rather large square room exclusively for maths) was ...  famous. There were some reasons for this: first, there was the keeper of the books, an elderly (Hungarian-born?) lady who knew exactly where everything was and what she would have in store (no need for a computer!) but who gave everyone the impression that she'd rather not sell the books. Second, there was the order(ing) of the books, that is, they were ordered according to publisher and kept in about one-metre-high bookshelves in the middle of the room (o.k., some publishers like Academic Press, Dover and Springer got the shelves along the walls) with new books on the top, but for the rest you had to kneel and it was pretty hard to go through systematically. Thirdly, well, third was the huge choice of books you had and, amazingly, since the bookshop was somehow antique you could often get older books (they did not sell and there was no modern stock-checking system) and quite often even at the old prices. 
Almost all of this is gone now. Modernization has held sway. The separate room is no more and maths is on the first floor (up the central staircase, left), the keeper of the books is retiered (she is probably well in her 70s now) and replaced by two young (2 times 35 = 70?) "boys" ("my boys" as she put it when she was visiting the new department and I happened to crash in---the boys were not all too happy about her visit)  who do rely on computers. The books are now semi-ordered (?) by subject and partly by publisher (you still have a Dover section and there is still a yellow wall for Springer books) making things impossible to find and they do have a stock-taking system. So it seems, since all the older stock is gone now and, alledgedly, has been thrown away (so I was told)! Pity that the range of books is much smaller now but still impressive.

Almost directly opposite (across Charing-X-road) there is Borders (122 Charing Cross). Avoid this branch (there is a better one later on our walk)  but continue on that side of the street until you come to 100 Charing Cross Rd. where there is

Blackwell's (100, Charing Cross). Go to the back of the shop and you find a medium-size rather nice maths collection. They do have some AMS books---way too expensive, of course, become an AMS member and buy them online at www.ams.org/bookstore---but it is a good opportunity to have a look at the books anyway. Watch out when there is a sale, often you find drastically reduced items. For this you have to scout around in the shop...

Further down (south) on Charing-X-Road there are a few more second-hand bookshops, mostly in the area between Shaftesbury Ave and Cranbourn St/Leicester Square. The more interesting ones are on the left side of the street. Do not expect too much science, but you find some maths/science books there, too. At the corner of Newport Street there is a small separate of Francis Edwards (13 Great Newport St) with a tiny science corner (I found in 1998 four 1930s Grundlehren Volumes there and they are still there) and round the corner and adjacent to this shop (in 48 Charing Cross) is a larger shop which seems to be taken over by Quinto/Hay-Cinema.

That's about it.... There are a few more interesting shops across London. One of them is the Oxford Street Borders (203-207 Oxford St., from where you are now, it is a short walk: up Charing-X to where the Centre-Point is, left into Oxford Street and then a walk of about 900m. There you find a 3-story Borders with a maths section that moved from a good one on the first floor to a poor one on the thrid floor. Hardly worth the trouble if it stays in the pity condition I found it in the last time round). 

Then there is the huge 5-or-6-story Waterstone's in an old warehouse between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street (go down Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, Waterstone's is opposite the Piccadilly Meridien) but I do not like this shop. It has a lot standard fare but is, overall, too sterile. Maths and Sciences are disappointing (however, the section on graphical arts and typography is marvellous).

And, slightly further away, in Imperial College there is the Imperial College bookshop. Go there by tube to South Kensington --- Circle, District and  Piccadilly lines go there). From there you take the underground passage to Imperial College, go into the main road, right to the end where the library building is. The bookshop is within the library building at groundfloor level. The shop has been taken over by Waterstone's (I believe) and has now only standard fare for students. Not bad, but also not really exciting and worth the trouble to get there.

Other useful links: London Bookshops by talkingcities.co.uk