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on 2 September 2017
fantastic book, clears many things after reading Pepy's diary. Worth of the price.
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on 7 March 2017
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on 10 June 2017
Great condition
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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2003
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.
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on 11 February 2003
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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on 13 October 2016
This is a brilliant biography of a man best known today for his diary with its frank coverage of his times and of his private life. But he was also a brilliant and hard-working naval administrator who rose from modest beginnings to senior office and managed to negotiate his way through the ticklish politics of much of the second half of the 17th century. Claire Tomalin brings out his weaknesses as well as his strengths - his lechery, his vindictiveness against those whom he believed to have slighted him or done him disservice. The biography is scholarly, but flows with the ease of a novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 December 2014
This is one of few books where I would endorse a cover quote. This really is a fabulously entertaining read. If there is perhaps a smidgen too much "he may have...", and similar authorly colouring of the subject, the author still does a fine job of bringing to life both the subject & his times. As for two bookmarks, with more than 70 pages of notes, much of which is not merely references, this is one of those volumes that you really do need two for - one for where you are, one for where the appropriate notes are! It's organised in three sections; before the diary, the diary years (which actually only covers some 9 years), and afterwards.

It's not too surprising that the diary years form almost half the book; around 180 pages, as compared with about 90 for each of the others. The first & last parts are arranged in roughly chronological order, whilst the middle is organised by topics such as The King, Work, etc, and goes from the beginning to the end of the diary in each chapter, more or less. This is a slight weakness, as the same quotes get re-used rather a lot (for instance, Pepys low opinion of Charles II, especially of his oratorical ability).

But that is a minor quibble. I used to work for the publisher so I picked up my (older) copy of this for practically nothing. Despite a fairly avid interest in history, the period from the Restoration through to the mid-19thC is one I'm not especially keen on. I might otherwise have passed this by & I'm jolly glad I didn't. It really is a very, very good read!
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VINE VOICEon 23 February 2004
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.
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VINE VOICEon 21 January 2003
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.
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on 18 September 2017
As someone who knew little about Pepys other than being a diarist and famous for burying his cheese during the Great Fire of London; I found this biographical look at the man both informative and very entertaining. It gives a marvellous insight into a man in an age where attitudes and fortunes differ from our modern age.
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