Charles Dickens lived in the perfect time to be Charles Dickens. To do research for his novels, which almost always focused on disparities of class and money, all he had to do was walk through his city. Victorian London was remarkable for its dramatic peaks and valleys of economic disparity—some of the richest people in the world lived just a few blocks from the poorest. And Dickens was known for being a flaneur; he clocked around 20 miles a day, walking from Tavistock House to the poorest parts of the city and back, taking mental notes all along the way.

Today, Dickens would resemble someone like James Scudamore. Scudamore is a London novelist who was raised all around the world—his childhood was spent in Brazil and Japan, among other places—and whose firsthand observations of massive differences in class reflect the global inequities that Dickens found in his own town. His latest novel, Heliopolis, is an update of Great Expectations...

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