Saturday 2 September 2017

Book Review: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin

Title: Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
Author: Claire Tomalin
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: 2003 (2002)
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback

Genre: Non-Fiction/History
Source: Bought Copy (Used Book Sale)

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For a decade, beginning in 1660, an ambitious young London civil servant kept an astonishingly candid account of his life during one of the most defining periods in British history. In Samuel Pepys, Claire Tomalin offers us a fully realized and richly nuanced portrait of this man, whose inadvertent masterpiece would establish him as the greatest diarist in the English language.

Against the backdrop of plague, civil war, and regicide, with John Milton composing diplomatic correspondence for Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren drawing up plans to rebuild London, and Isaac Newton advancing the empirical study of the world around us, Tomalin weaves a breathtaking account of a figure who has passed on to us much of what we know about seventeenth-century London. We witness Pepys’s early life and education, see him advising King Charles II before running to watch the great fire consume London, learn about the great events of the day as well as the most intimate personal details that Pepys encrypted in the Diary, follow him through his later years as a powerful naval administrator, and come to appreciate how Pepys’s singular literary enterprise would in many ways prefigure our modern selves. With exquisite insight and compassion, Samuel Pepys captures the uniquely fascinating figure whose legacy lives on more than three hundred years after his death. (Goodreads Synopsis)

On the whole, Samuel Pepys is an excellent biography. I enjoyed Tomalin's prose, which offered plenty of facts and details without dissolving into boring recitation. There was occasionally a bit of back and forth on dates, which doesn't appeal to me in biographies, but mostly it was a good lineal telling of Pepys' life. I've only ever read snippets from the Diary; however, reading this biography has inspired me to grab a copy of it in the future and look at it in greater detail. This is a worthwhile read both for Pepys fans and for those interested in either 17th century politics or the history of the navy.

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