London’s Soho district underwent a spectacular transformation between the late Victorian era and the end of the Second World War: its old buildings and dark streets infamous for sex, crime, political disloyalty, and ethnic diversity became a center of culinary and cultural tourism servicing patrons of nearby shops and theaters. Indulgences for the privileged and the upwardly mobile edged a dangerous, transgressive space imagined to be "outside" the nation.
Treating Soho as exceptional, but also representative of London's urban transformation, Judith Walkowitz shows how the area's foreignness and porousness were key to the explosion of culture and development of modernity in the first half of the twentieth century. She draws on a vast and unusual range of sources to stitch together a rich patchwork quilt of vivid stories and unforgettable characters, revealing how Soho became a showcase for a new cosmopolitan identity.
“Walkowitz chronicles convincingly, disinterring obscure newspaper stories, skilfully using police reports, and amassing excellent material…Nights Out is the result of skilful, persevering research and conscientious thought: it marshals much recondite material to make a rewarding book. Walkowitz writes well…[a] lively, affable, thought- provoking book.”—Richard Davenport-Hines, Times Literary Supplement
“Exemplary. . . . A new and invigorating history of this ‘potent incubator of metropolitan change’ and its multiple meanings for the metropolis in the first half of the twentieth century. . . . A tour de force of meticulous and industrious research that provides us with what will surely be the last word on many aspects of Soho life in the first half of the twentieth century. . . . Splendid.”—Jerry White, History Workshop Journal
“[Walkowitz] draws from a prodigious amount of research and employs various methodologies that permit her to address Soho’s uniqueness. This study is thick description at its best, a careful unpacking of the minutiae of quotidian life.”—Chris Waters, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
“An ambitious and highly readable account, which bridges and expands numerous historiographies, from the burgeoning scholarship on commercial leisure, to histories of British multiculturalism, to ongoing debates about the British experience of the Second World War. . . . A fascinating glimpse into a specific urban space, advancing our understanding of how cosmopolitanism was understood and practiced, while also helping to articulate a range of exciting new questions for historians.”—Allison Abra, Canadian Journal of History
“A spirited story.”—Katharine Whittemore, The Boston Globe
“One of the many virtues of this book . . . is [Walkowitz’s] insistence that historical study of Britain’s domestic contexts as much as its imperial ones yields valuable insight into the complex processes creating and shaping modernity. . . . Compelling reading. . . . [The book] tells us much about the historical development of Soho.”—Laura E. Nym Mayhall, American Historical Review (featured review)
"A scrupulous and intelligent survey of a mythologised area where those qualities are rarely found. A real contribution to the history of place."—Iain Sinclair