70 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haven’t read it? You’re missing on mighty merriment!
Blurbs on the back of the book are there to sell the product. Often they are exaggerated. With Tomalin, readers will find a rare and welcome exception: they are accurate. The book is divided into three parts: pre-Diary, Diary and post-diary periods of Pepys’s life. In the first and the third parts, the narrative is more or less chronological, tracing the life of the...
Published on 8 Dec. 2003 by Masatake Wasa
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK, but much better is available - read Arthur Bryant!
This biography is shiny and new, but it is sour and grudging in its approach to a very great man. It is written by a professional biographer with only a passing, pecuniary interest in Pepys himself. I recommend you pass it by, and instead buy the three volumes of Arthur Bryant's earlier, much better, much more detailed, much more authoritative, and vastly more...
Published on 30 Nov. 2011 by JerryW
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70 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haven’t read it? You’re missing on mighty merriment!,
This review is from: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self (Audio Cassette)
Blurbs on the back of the book are there to sell the product. Often they are exaggerated. With Tomalin, readers will find a rare and welcome exception: they are accurate. The book is divided into three parts: pre-Diary, Diary and post-diary periods of Pepys’s life. In the first and the third parts, the narrative is more or less chronological, tracing the life of the great Diarist. The second is more thematic, necessarily so given the (daunting) wealth of information through Pepys’s own words and amount of different things (drinking and dining, chasing women, reforming the Navy, the Great Fire, the plague). What emerges is not a staid chronological sequence of his life, but his whole personality that is so full of life. Tomalin’s great achievement is to combine the irresistible character of Pepys with portraits of other people – family, friends and foes – whose presence enriches the book enormously. By reading this book, readers enjoy not only an excellent biography of Samuel Pepys but a great panoramic view of politics – from the Commonwealth period through the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution – and how Londoners lived in the second half of the seventeenth century. It is a thoroughly informative book and moreover enormously fun to read.
72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a fascinating look at the first "modern" man,
This book is beautifully written, an excellent example of biographical history, and with quite a character as the subject! I could almost feel myself following Pepys through the London of the late 17th century, as the frankness and detached nature of his diary, beautifully intertwined with the happenings of the time by Clare Tomalin, made the timespan between his period and ours appear far shorter than 300-plus years.
The combined effect of Pepys' musings and (wheeler-)dealings, and Tomalin's seamless contextualisation, brings Pepys' life and times alive. I cringed with pain as his bladder stone was removed in a barbaric operation, I could almost feel his avarice as he began to rake in kickbacks from the naval contracts he was authorised to approve, and I'm sure anyone would understand his near-euphorical egotism as plague spared him while all around old friends dropped like flies.
Aside from the gripping story of his life, Tomalin also makes valid and interesting arguments to explain the extraordinary events of the period in which Pepys lived (specifically the decline of the Republic and the restoration of the monarchy), and describes how the uniqueness of the diary allows us to identify with Pepys in a way that we could never have identified with anyone before him; firstly because his writing style was revolutionary, giving us a window onto his life with detachment and honesty, and secondly because during the period in which he lived, changes came into being which sowed the seeds for modern Britain and modern society as a whole.
I thoroughly recommend the book, which would also make an excellent gift.
61 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Biography as it should be,
Having read Pepys' diaries several years ago, without prior knowledge about the man or the context of his life, I found the going quite hard, but still intriguing. I wish I had had this biography to hand at that time as it fills in that context superbly. A majority of the book is given over to the diary years, as one would expect given the wealth of information from Pepys, but it also fills in the blanks for rest of his life, allowing a better understanding of the man, his humble roots, and the influence he came to have on the shaping the modern British Navy, advising and rubbing shoulders with Kings and their noblemen at an interesting time politically in the British Isles. There's much in here that I didn't know, with many historical references, but still reads extremely well. Claire Tomalin also has much empathy with the women in Pepys' life, of whom he himself wrote little, and seems to have researched these characters extensively, and their stories are illuminating about women of that time and status.
One doesn't need to have read the diaries to enjoy this biography, and indeed I would recommend reading this before tackling Pepys himself. A book that's both entertaining and educating. Worthy of the accolades and awards that it has attracted. Having read this, I'll be reading the diaries once again with much more knowledge and understanding.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Diarist Analysed,
We are accustomed to Claire Tomalin's astute and civilised mixture of involvement with her subject and detached awareness of his/her failings. So it is with Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self. Pepys' intellectual curiosity, energy, personal courage and frankness about his own actions make him a more than appealing central character, but his career-minded defection from Commonwealth to Monarchy and venal pursuit of bribes and debts are among many failings to escape the whitewash brush. The sub-title betrays Tomalin's fascination with her subject which she conveys admirably to the reader. Pepys was engrossed with himself, more out of curiosity than arrogance, and as such his diary is far more than a record of events (though such set-pieces as the Fire are given full value in this biography). By putting self rather than events at the centre, Claire Tomalin is able to give coherence to what could be an unbalanced book. A good half of it is devoted to 10 years of Pepys' life, the 10 years of the Diary, about which we know almost everything, as distinct from the 20-odd years before and 30-odd years after where documentation is much sparser. Fortunately Pepys was close to the centre of power for much of his life (whether in person or by proxy) and the political and military events are skilfully used to give substance to some of the lean years in terms of biographical information. Wisely Tomalin divides the 'Diary' section by theme, although preserving an approximate chronological sequence, and the whole, potentially complicated account is a model of clarity.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Truly Fascinating Man,
This is another fascinating historical biography that reads more like a novel than a stuffy factual book. Virtually everyone knows the name of Samuel Pepys. Ah yes, he's the man who wrote the diary. This is of course true, but do they actually know anything about the man behind the name of Samuel Pepys. What for instance were his feelings on the politicians of the day. What were his own ambitions and aspirations.
Pepys was a naval administrator and friend and confidant of some of the most famous and powerful people in London . Sex, the plague, music, marital conflict, naval life, public executions and incarcerations in the Tower of London. These are just some of the colourful events in the life of a man famous for his writing of a diary.
The book contains a wealth of interesting material about the life of a man who's name goes before him. Everyone knows his name, but few know of the life of the man himself.
49 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and penetrating biography,
Any biographer attempting to chronicle Pepys' life is instantly forced to deal with the tumultuous decade of the 1660s which Pepys described so wonderfully in his own diary. We feel we know Pepys - his interests, his passions, his vices - and the biographer must work around that framework. And yet the diary covers only a small part of a long, active life - the Pepys of 1669 is a long way from the Pepys of 1703; his greatest days still lay ahead, and his past is something he only alluded to occasionally.
Tomalin has managed to expand the Pepys we think we know - she makes the many facets of this complex man shine. Administrator, schemer, lover, hypochondriac, aesthete, musician, scholar, man-about-town. The often contradictory aspects of his character are brilliantly explained; the gap between the public face and private passions and beliefs.
This is essentially the story of one of the first "self made men" in the modern world - Pepys rises from relatively humble country stock to the fringes of power during and after the Restoration. Tomalin makes the political and historical background clear, explains Pepys' involvement with the key players and brings a lot of new light onto his brief imprisonment in the Tower and his return to public eminence. This is a readable, witty and compassionate biography of a complex and driven man - a wonderfully entertaining and insightful book.
Everyone who has ever enjoyed reading Pepys' diary should read this.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK, but much better is available - read Arthur Bryant!,
This biography is shiny and new, but it is sour and grudging in its approach to a very great man. It is written by a professional biographer with only a passing, pecuniary interest in Pepys himself. I recommend you pass it by, and instead buy the three volumes of Arthur Bryant's earlier, much better, much more detailed, much more authoritative, and vastly more entertaining version. He reveals the real Sam Pepys, in a surprisingly readable and entertaining way. You can buy them here, in hardback, for very little more than the cost of postage.
Pepys' diary is so revealing, so entertaining, and so insightful that only the very best biographers can cope with the huge task of getting the man down on paper. Tomalin doesn't. But Bryants biography, plus the Latham and Matthews edition of the Diary (which Tomalin also sneers at) equals a lifetime of enjoyment..
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book did make me mightly merry.,
I am not a big reader of books about history - I have a terrible memory and quickly forget dates and the names of Kings. Also, whilst I had heard of Samuel Pepys, I had no real idea of who he was nor any great desire to learn more about him. However, after reading Jim Naughtie's "The Rivals", a very good biography about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, I had decided that I should read more political biographies. And I chose Claire Tomalin's book on the back of a good review.
Well, I was very fortunate to have chanced upon the book. Ms Tomalin not only described Samuel Pepys, an extraordinary man from an extraordinary time, but brought him and his world to life.
Pepys was an upwardly mobile civil servant at the time of the English Civil War and the Restoration. He was corrupt, using his position as a Naval Administrator to make his fortune. He was also a serial womaniser, sometimes pressuring wives of trademen that required his favour to enter affairs with him. However, in spite of his obvious faults, he also was one of this country' best diarists, who illuminated a time crucial to the development of much of Western liberal democracy. He also reformed the Royal Navy, creating a professional body based on merit and not patronage.
Ms Tomalin wonderfully explains Pepys life. Never glossing over his darker side, she obviously loves the character, repeatedly calling him Sam. The book, arranged in themes and not chronologically, not only uses Pepys own Diary, but also other historical research, to lay out Pepy's whole life and time. And even with all this research, with copious notes for the more academically minded, the book reads easily - even for novices such as me. If my history lessons were this interesting, I may have remembered more.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every aspiring biographer should read this book!,
Writing the biography of a man who life is already so well documented in his diaries is a tall order. Claire Tomalin scores a resounding victory with 'The Unequalled Self'. Pepys comes to life in these pages, as do the streets he inhabits. Even if you are not interested in the man himself, this book is a wonderful evocation of 17th century London. Thoroughly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tomalin - the McDonald's Literary Biography Franchise,
Claire Tomalin has created a reputation as literary biographer over the last few decades and chalked up the lives of Shelley, Mary Wollstencraft, Kathleen Mansfield, Jane Austen, Dickens, Hardy and a few others.
I've read several of her books but have been unimpressed, with the exception of her biography of Hardy, and this was also the case with this book.
Once again, she chooses a big name that will appeal to the middle-brow and academic audience, there is plenty of factual information available and a good story to be told but she just does not convey one iota of the personality.
Pepys should be a dream subject as he wrote so much about his personal life but Tomalin is reduced to summarizing extracts of his diary and making unconvincing surmises as to why he behaved in a certain way, e.g. how he reacted when he learned that his patron, Lord Sandwich, had tried to seduce his wife. At other times, she milks a topic to death, e.g. his jealousy over his wife's dancing teacher.
The best parts of this book are the descriptions of the historical background when Pepys and many other crawlers who had served Cromwell and did nothing when Charles I was executed had to become Royalists almost overnight at the time of the Restoration.
There is too also much padding, with diversions into events that did not directly involve Pepys or descriptions of individuals who are not relevant to the story.
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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin