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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Paperback – 3 Jul 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 92 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 499 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (3 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140282343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140282344
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Amazon Review

Claire Tomalin was born to write a biography of Samuel Pepys. Her previously acclaimed biographies of Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft have defined her as a scrupulous biographer who establishes a unique empathy with her subjects. In Pepys Tomalin has found her perfect subject, a man who is "both the most ordinary and the most extraordinary writer you will ever meet".

Pepys wrote his diary throughout the 1660s, "a period as intellectually thrilling as it was dangerous and bloody", and Tomalin's book vividly brings to life the tumultuous world of 17-century London, where Pepys grew up. Pepys' life spanned the execution of one king and the restoration of another, and Tomalin elegantly recreates both Pepys' public and private lives. From his early days in London and then Cambridge, Tomalin pieces together the crucial years when "the private Samuel Pepys began to develop and yearn". She chronicles his rise through the bureaucracy of the restored king, Charles II, to his position as energetic reformer of the navy and successful husband to his vivacious, mercurial wife Elizabeth. But the book also deals with Pepy's personal tragedies, his struggle to secure patronage as a commoner, his frank and hilarious extra-marital exploits, and the cataclysmic Fire of London in 1666.

This is a fine biography of an extraordinary man who "found the energy and commitment to create a new literary form" while also coming across as a generous, likeable, flawed human being. Tomalin's admiration for her subject is infectious, and will ensure that her biography becomes the standard reference for anyone interested in both Pepys's life and his art.--Jerry Brotton


The Pepys we know lived for only nine years and five months. Tomalin gives us the rest of the man, and also a startling new way to read him. Thomas Mallon, "The New Yorker " Tomalin not only brings him back to vibrant life, but makes a powerful case that he s more central, more relevant than we ever imagined . . . She has restored to us the whole Pepys. Charles McGrath, "New York Times Book Review," front cover Brilliantly believable . . . It takes an exceptional biographer to go so confidently beyond the apparent totality of daily experience presented in Pepys s "Diary ." . . Claire Tomalin s life [of Pepys] is a magnificent triumph. Her research has been not just scrupulously thorough but dazzlingly imaginative. Philip Hensher, "Atlantic Monthly " Tomalin s writing is as supple and lively as Pepys s own, and by fleshing out the backdrop to his "Diary "writings, she has created the perfect bookend to his own rollicking self-portrait . . . The best work on Pepys since Robert Louis Stevenson s classic essay, published in 1881. Michiko Kakutani, "New York Times " Our greatest diarist, analyzed by one of our greatest biographers. Tomalin s flawless research and trademark empathy with her subjects should make this portrait of one of the most fascinating characters of 17th-century England the best biography of the autumn. Caroline Gascoigne, "Sunday Times" (U.K.) Immaculately well done. She writes with such beautiful clarity, always empathetic . . . There is about this biography a wisdom, an unforced feeling that the biographer has a sense of the way life is . . . Like all great biographies, "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self "has a hint of the love letter about it. And it is a love that becomes contagious. Craig Brown, "The Mail on Sunday "(U.K.)"

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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