The London Dream: Migration and the Mythology of the City by Chris McMillan

The London Dream is a look at the mythology around London as a city and the dreams of success that people have for living there. McMillan looks at a range of jobs and dreams and the ways in which myths have been structured to bring people to London, to contribute to its economy and to its ‘cool’ status, and how these use certain versions of capitalism and precarious work. Various Londoners have been interviewed and their experiences sit alongside the analysis of the image of ‘cool capitalism’ and how the labour of precariously employed and badly paid people keeps the cool, creative image of London going.

This is an engrossing book, not because the symbiotic relationship between the ‘cool’ image of London, which comes with dreams of making it big, and the underpaid, not-officially-employed labour that is needed to make London this way is a revelation, but because McMillan lays out these ideas in a clear, interesting way and combines them with the real stories of people who believe London is their place to be, but have also had to deal with many of its downsides. What feels particularly important is the fact the book covers both the dreams of aspiring creative types trying to break into industries due to the opportunities in London and the dreams of people looking to do often service industry jobs to support themselves and their families, and both groups have ‘migrated’ to London in some way from somewhere else, on the hope of work and experiences. The history of London in these areas is charted at relevant points, but the book feels very focused on the present, a kind of warning about the labour and personal realities of the dream of the big city.

As someone who did move to London for a couple of years and found some of the content very relatable (I worked alongside aspiring and out-of-work actors in hospitality), The London Dream was particularly satisfying, as a kind of proof that the image of London isn’t all it is cracked up to be. The book’s specific focus on particular areas of labour, notably the gig economy and the creative industries, means that it leaves you wanting more of a look at other broader and more specific issues, to tear down the ‘London dream’ and leave behind a reality where things could be better for thousands of people living in the city.