About Jerry White

Jerry White is an award-winning historian of London. His latest book, The Battle of London, 1939-1945, a social history of London in the Second World War, was published by Random House (the Bodley Head) on 4 November 2021.

Jerry worked in local government, mainly in London, from 1967 to 2009. During that time he was Chief Executive of the London Borough of Hackney (1989-1995) and was one of the three Local Government Ombudsmen for England (1995-2009), with responsibility for South London among other areas.

Jerry is Emeritus Professor of Modern London History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Latest Publication

The Battle of London, 1939-1945

Published by The Bodley Head 4th November 2021

The Battle of London

The immense drama of London in the Second World War gets a significant re-telling in this new book by award-winning historian Jerry White. It puts at the centre of the narrative the citizens of London’s local civil defence forces, largely written out of subsequent histories of the ‘myth of the Blitz’. These men and women were London’s backbone during the greatest sustained bombardment experienced by any city in history. But this is no simple history of popular heroics. It offers a refreshingly ‘warts-and-all’ chronicle that reveals the underside of civic solidarity in the spiteful hostilities of class and race, and in the rejection of dominant values by black-market traders and petty thieves. And it gives for the first time a long view of the effect of the war on the history of London, especially in government policy to push people and industry out of the city once hostilities ceased.

This is a riveting social history of these tempestuous six years, drawn afresh from diaries written by Londoners at the time, from official records and local newspapers, all vividly recording London at war. At the end of it all, the Battle of London was won not on the playing fields of Eton but in the playgrounds of a thousand council elementary schools across the capital.


“Jerry White is one of London’s best historians…and in this enveloping book he tries to scrape away the myths that have obscured our view of the Second World War and reintroduce us to what life in the city between 1939 and 1945 was actually like” - Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times

“As a history of the capital in wartime, it is probably unsurpassable…From the Myra Hess lunchtime concerts at the National Gallery, to the extraordinary resilience and bravery of Londoners…all can be found in this book” - Anne de Courcy, Sunday Telegraph

“The Battle of London 1939-45…benefits hugely from a vast and well-chosen range of quotes and anecdotes, conjuring the atmosphere of a city under siege with vivid force. What’s most striking in this raw and comprehensive portrait of a city on fire is just how enchanting and appealing it is: you actually start wishing you had been alive to witness it” - Sebastian Milbank, Tablet

“[An] impressive history of the capital at war…White, an accomplished chronicler of London’s history, tells it with brio and a confident mastery of the sources. He has a good nose for a piquant anecdote and clear-eyed awareness of the failings as well as the fearlessness of Londoners” - Alan Allport, Literary Review

“Jerry White has a unique relation to London and Londoners. More than a historian, he is the city’s witness, champion and town-crier…White does not rehearse the cliché of the Blitz spirit. Instead, by giving narrative commentary to the bit players in the drama…he presents a more complex, bleak and confused tale” - Frances Wilson, Oldie

“Endlessly fascinating…White is such a brilliant historian: he casts his net way beyond the usual territories. His books are consequently peppered with colourful vignettes drawn from all sort of unconventional sources, high and low” - Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

“The definitive and most readable account of the city during the conflict. The Battle of London 1939-45 is the most meticulously researched social history of wartime London that one could ever hope to find…the detail is woven together in such a way, and so colourfully, that it frequently pulls the reader up short with the realisation that the author did not actually experience himself all that he writes about…Almost every page contains a riveting and truly astonishing revelation about that fascinating period in the city’s history” - History of War

“White’s account is a vivid and highly accessible insight into how ordinary life both turned upside-down and continued in a ‘new normal’ during a once-in-a-generation emergency that we can now all relate to” - Harry Verity, Who Do You Think You Are?

“Both the terror and the calmness in Jerry White’s exemplary social history of London during the war years…[an] illuminating…tour de force” - Colin Shindler, Jewish Chronicle

Jerry White’s Books

Mansions of Misery: A Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors' Prison by Jerry White.

Mansions of Misery: A Biography of the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison

“This colourful, exuberant, brilliantly detailed account by Jerry White is the latest in a long list of irreplaceable books about London, all written as if the author were personally remembering what he describes rather than excavating it.” - Simon Callow, Guardian, Book of the Week

“…a scrupulous piece of scholarship, which makes imaginative and brilliantly illuminating use of its archival sources, not only in order to reconstruct the everyday lives of ordinary and not so ordinary debtors incarcerated in the Marshalsea, but in order to provide a vivid sense of ‘what it meant to be a Londoner between 1700 and 1842’” - Matthew Beaumont, Times Literary Supplement

Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War by Jerry White.

Zeppelin Nights:
London in the First World War

Spear’s Social History of the Year 2014
Guardian Best Book of the Year 2014

Zeppelin Nights is social history at its best…White creates a vivid picture of a city changed for ever by war” - The Times

“Jerry White’s name on a title page is a guarantee of a lively, compassionate book full of striking incidents and memorable images…This is a fast-paced social history that never stumbles…A well-orchestrated polyphony of voices that brings history alive” - Guardian

London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing by Jerry White.

London in the Eighteenth Century: A Great and Monstrous Thing

“A dazzling and dramatic narrative…a must for anyone seriously interested in London’s history” - Evening Standard

“White brings a diligence and contagious zest that may serve to discourage anyone from ever tackling the subject again” - Sunday Times

London: The Story of a Great City by Jerry White.

London: The Story of a Great City
Published in Conjuction with the Museum of London (Treasures & Experiences)

“The new history of the capital” - Time Out

“White’s narrative is lively and engaging, and the facsimiles are well produced.…it’s also great fun” - Sunday Telegraph

London in the Twentieth Century by Jerry White.

London in the Twentieth Century
A City and Its People

Winner of the Wolfson History Prize 2001

“A brilliant, acclaimed book which examines one of the world’s greatest cities during one of the most tumultuous centuries”

London in the Nineteenth Century by Jerry White.

London in the Nineteenth Century

“From a prize winning historian, a fresh and energetic look at a century of frenzied growth” - Sunday Times

“Both exhaustive and detailed: both scholarly…and human…irresistible” - BBC History Magazine

Campbell Bunk: The Worst Street in North London Between the Wars by Jerry White.

Campbell Bunk: The Worst Street in North London Between the Wars

“It deserves to become a classic” - Emrys Jones, Planning Perspectives

“a most subtle and powerful evocation of life and labour” - Guardian

Rothschild Buildings: Life in an East-End Tenement Block, 1887-1920 by Jerry White.

Rothschild Buildings:
Life in an East-End Tenement Block, 1887-1920

“Jerry White has written a moving and richly detailed history of those times and those people.” - Bernard Kops, Guardian