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John Aubrey: My Own Life Hardcover – 12 Mar 2015

4.4 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Chatto & Windus (12 Mar. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0701179074
  • ISBN-13: 978-0701179076
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 4.8 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 14,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ruth Scurr is an historian, biographer and literary critic. She teaches history and politics at Cambridge University, where she is a Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville & Caius College. Her first book, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize in 2006 and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times in 2009. She reviews regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal. She was a Booker Judge in 2007, a Samuel Johnson Prize Judge in 2014 and is a member of the Folio Prize Academy.

Product Description

Review

"My Own Life is light, ingenious, inspiring, a book to reread and cherish. The vigour and spirit on every page would delight John Aubrey, that most individual of thinkers and writers, who has found a biographer of originality and wit. It is reverent, charming, poignant: it is made of the same ingredients as its subject." (Hilary Mantel)

"Anyone who has not read Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey can have a splendid time reading it this summer. Scurr has invented an autobiography the great biographer never wrote, using his notes, letters, observations – and the result is gripping" (AS Byatt Guardian)

"Another writer of brief lives, Lytton Strachey, feared that in our modern civilization John Aubrey would 'never come into existence again'. But that is exactly what he does in Ruth Scurr's absorbing and imaginative biography. In these pages his purchase on posterity returns with all his ingenious visions and impulses. Scurr is no less a pioneer biographer than Aubrey himself." (Michael Holroyd)

"An audacious and successful attempt to write a biography in the subject’s own words. Scurr has ingeniously edited Aubrey’s swift, vivid prose into a coherent account of the life lived by one of the most interesting (and interested – in everything) writers of our most exciting century, the seventeenth. Irresistible" (Philip Pullman Guardian)

"In a year that has seen the publication of Ruth Scurr's John Aubrey: My Own Life, it's hard not to wonder...why everyone else bothers. Oh, you think, it's because they started writing their books when the earth was still flat... Scurr's book alters our perception of the territory. You would be sceptical if you weren't awestruck: Aubrey's voice is exceptional, and Scurr's fragmentary form is perfectly suited to her subject's magpie preoccupations." (Gaby Wood Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year)

"This year saw one of the most audacious biographies I can remember reading: Ruth Scurr's John Aubrey: My Own Life... What we are presented with is a wonderful artificial composite: a fascinating patchwork made up of extracts from Aubrey's notebooks, journals and letters, chronologically rearranged with consummate editorial and novelistic artfulness by Scurr. The result is haunting, memorable and, in the field of non-fiction, unprecedented." (William Boyd TLS, Books of the Year)

"Writing a biography of a biographer that doubles as an experimental analysis of biography itself is a formidable and astonishing achievement. That it is also profoundly affecting is what makes John Aubrey: My Own Life a triumph" (Stuart Kelly The Times Literary Supplement)

"To me this book is a delight and…it is the one that I would take with me to a desert island" (David Aaronovitch The Times)

"For me, the academic historian, Scurr’s experimental “act of scholarly imagination” has already modified significantly my own historical understanding" (Lisa Jardine Financial Times)

"[A] moving and delicate book" (Frances Wilson New Statesman)

"Scurr’s judgment and scholarship in constructing Aubrey’s own account of events are so flawless that she allows us almost to forget that she is there" (Alexandra Harris Guardian)

"The marriage of [Aubrey’s] words and Scurr’s is so smoothly achieved that I have no idea where one leaves off and the other intervenes" (Allan Massie Scotsman)

"Scurr’s imaginative feat of retrieval has produced a perfect book for dipping into when you want a taste of what it was like to be alive in the 17th century" (John Carey Sunday Times)

"It is a testament to [Scurr’s] skill that you quickly stop thinking about technique and instead slip happily into the company of the character she has created. The wealth of research and the seams between imagination and reality disappear from view. This is truly selfless biography" (Daisy Hay, 5 stars Daily Telegraph)

"A delightful read about the ebb and flow of thoughts in one extraordinary man’s mind" (Claire Harman Evening Standard)

Book Description

Genre-busting diary-biography of perfect seventeenth-century gentleman John Aubrey. Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The antiquarian John Aubrey (1626-1697) wrote a lot but published little (in fact only a book of 'Miscellanies' was printed towards the very end of his life). However, he was a curious man who was continually writing on an immense variety of subjects. Aubrey's particular interest was Britain's past, its artefacts (both physical and oral) that were in danger of being lost. So Aubrey sought to record the ancient stones and stories, especially those of his home county Wiltshire, before they disappeared for good.

Scurr has selected extracts from Aubrey's scattered manuscripts and arranged them chronologically, so that the end result reads like his diary, from birth to death. The result is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it immensely. Aubrey speaks to you through the centuries giving his account of events both momentous (the Fire of London, the Civil War, the Restoration) and small ("I met Mr Hooke [the physicist] this evening at Cardinal's Tavern in Lombard Street. We drank until past midnight and Mr Hooke vomited up wine").

It's hard to believe that these are Aubrey's own words, but each entry is meticulously sourced with Scurr's interventions restricted to modernizing the words and spelling and adding words of her own 'to explain events or interactions that would otherwise be obscure and to frame or offset the charm of Aubrey's own turns of phrase'. Where I have compared Scurr's version with the original, Aubrey's words have been reproduced remarkably faithfully.

I would recommend this book to any reader, encouraging them to plunge straight into Aubrey's world. I'll finish, however, with a few of my favourite extracts which I hope will whet the appetite:

"To my great joy, I have been admitted, formally, to the Royal Society.
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This is an excellent effort to put John Aubrey's writings and observations on to a timeline of history. In other words, it translates the abundant notes for prose works and his one published book into an imagined diary. In the process, we are conscious of the echoes of the actual diarists Pepys and Evelyn. I found it very readable and highly enjoyable.
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I'm quite familiar with Aubrey's work. This meta-biography, assembled in the style of its subject, is a prodigious work of genius. However I can see that for anyone unfamiliar with Aubrey this may not be the way in.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book. It is the autobiography that Aubrey would have written he had managed to find the time to do it. The author has obviously immersed herself in his life and works over many years, and has caught his style and tone perfectly. It gives an insider's view of one of the most eventful eras in English history - the civil war, the restoration, the founding of the Royal Society, the expansion of the early colonies, the beginnings of modern science, of archeology, of geology - but as the background to a full and fascinating life, allowing us a fully rounded picture of a wonderful humane man of his time, but with many lessons for today.
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Were it possible I would have awarded a sixth star. A sympathetic and well paced account of Aubrey's life in his own words well edited and amplified. Good to see posterity affording him the attention he lacked in his lifetime.
A joy and delight to read. Ruth Scurr is becoming one of our finest authors.
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Ms Scurr sets out to achieve two things in this wonderful book, and succeeds with both. She firstly describes, through the medium of scraps from a fictional diary, the long life of a polymath on the boundary between the old world of superstition and the new world of science and the scientific method. She secondly, and more intimately, chronicles the distractions and set backs of a man who just wants to get on with his investigations and enquiries. The reader keenly senses Aubrey’s frustrations as illness, litigation, postal delays, academic squabbles and political upheavals hinder and often defeat his nobler aims of archaeology, botany and the broad pursuit of knowledge. The book reeks of the seventeenth century and is a considerable work of scholarship.
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Wonderful depiction of 17th century England through the eyes and words of a witty, humane and slightly Potterish diarist, polymath and close observer of his fellow well-connected friends.
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Utterly entrancing! In the past, Aubrey has sometimes been often been presented as a provincial gossip but this superbly edited book shows him to be a vivid social observer.
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