Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  965 ratings  ·  101 reviews
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 lang...more
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Published 2004 by Penguin Audiobooks (first published January 1st 2002)
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Willow
This book came up on my recommendation list, and I was like, wow, wait a second, I’ve already read this. Not to mention, I loved it. It’s one of my favorite biographies. So I thought I would write up a quick review on it.

What can I say, Pepys is fascinating, and if you are interested in 17th century England, I think reading about him is must. I tried to read Pepys' diary along with this, but it wasn’t easy. Pepys had a way of writing everything he was ashamed of in Spanish or French, which had m...more
James
Pepys was lucky: he was lucky that he kept a journal during a particularly volatile decade, and felt safe enough to be unusually frank and honest about himself. That said, he seemed to be a nasty, ambitious man (though possessing a zest for life), who could be disgustingly jealous, dishonest, and abusive. His continual adulterous behaviour is also quite unnerving, especially as he turns his vengeful jealousy against his innocent wife.

Nonetheless, this biography does a fairly good job of making...more
Dana Stabenow
Not to be confused with Samuel Johnson, who wrote the dictionary, which I always do. No, this book is a biography of Samuel Pepys, who wrote the Diary. An up-from-nothing country boy, Pepys' abilities and high-placed relatives put him at the center of English history for the last half of of the 1600's. He witnessed the execution of Charles I, rose high in Cromwell's administration, turned his coat when Charles II was restored to the throne and rose even higher, and then backed the wrong horse wh...more
Clif
Samuel Pepys is a delight to the historian not only because he wrote voluminously about his personal experience, but that he did so in a way that considers the impact of what he does on the lives of others. This biography is subtitled "the unequalled self" because of the way Pepys was fascinated with his own life, warts and all, conscious of the fact that it would be read by posterity.

A self-made man in the 1600's, Pepys exemplifies the new idea of the time of meritocracy; the placing of people...more
Dana Stabenow
Not to be confused with Samuel Johnson, who wrote the dictionary, which I always do. No, this book is a biography of Samuel Pepys, who wrote the Diary. An up-from-nothing country boy, Pepys' abilities and high-placed relatives put him at the center of English history for the last half of of the 1600's. He witnessed the execution of Charles I, rose high in Cromwell's administration, turned his coat when Charles II was restored to the throne and rose even higher, and then backed the wrong horse wh...more
Courtney Johnston

There are these books that are referred to all the time in the web community; The Cluetrain Manifesto, The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of Crowds etc. I've read very few of them, but because they're name-checked so often in blog posts and presentations, I feel like I've sucked up their key points through a process of literary osmosis.


Samuel Pepys was like this too. Of course I knew who Pepys was. Only I didn't know he was such an important figure in the administration of the Navy. Or a not-very-dev

...more
Louise
Pepys made his way in "interesting" times. As teenager he skipped school to see King Charles I beheaded and as a young man he learned the ropes of government work under Cromwell. He prospered as an official of the Royal Navy under Charles II and James II. Through much of this career, unbeknownst to family, friends and colleagues, he kept a diary which provides a description of his times, but also, a portrait of himself with candor and self-awareness lacking in other diaries of the period.

Besides...more
William Ramsay
This is an excellent biography of a very interesting man. Pepys - pronounced 'Peeps' - is remembered in history as the perhaps greatest diarist who ever lived. He kept a secret diary in shorthand and in it recorded all that he saw, felt, and did for ten years from his mid twenties to his mid thirties. He was the son of a modest tailor, but is brilliance was obvious from a young age and he he was helped to an education and a career by a rich cousin. He lived from the time of Oliver Cromwell to to...more
Anastasia Hobbet
My first Claire Tomalin was her fine biography of Mary Wollstenecraft a decade ago, a book so successful at revivifying this overlooked woman that I've been thinking sadly ever since of this passionate, tragic, remarkable life. And now, after reading Tomalin's bio of Pepys, I'm ready to read Wollstencraft again (after I finish Tomalin's new Dickens bio, that is)--because Tomalin is a master. I want to live again in Wollstonecraft's world, and Tomalin makes the magic happen.

She does the same for...more
Tom Johnson
Claire Tomalin accomplished a great task - I felt as though I also accomplished a great task - in as much as I finally finished reading her nifty summation of Samuel's life. As for my awarding Claire "n" number of stars, that is a bit presumptuous - hers was a monumental task, mine not so much. I'll remember Samuel was 5'1" (not unusual for the times – many a babe was taken from their mom and given to a wet nurse - what madness - even I know the importance of colostrum for a new born calf (ok, a...more
Catherine
I have just finished this incredible book. Its one I have always wanted to read. The book tells the story of Samuel Pepys who is famous for writing a detailed diary of his life and the events that surrounded him during the 1660s. He came from humbles beginnings to being the secretary of the admiralty. He had a fascinating personal life and witnessed some of the most significant events of his time. I have read an abridged version of Pepys’ diary and wanted to know more about Pepys’ later life.

To...more
J.
This is a very extensive and solid biography on Samuel Pepys the 17th century diarist and civil servant. The book is divided into three parts: childhood pre-diary, the diary years and then the post diary years. Pepy’s account is remarkable not least because keeping a diary was unusual practice at the time but because of the prominent figures who he crossed paths with. The diary spans a very eventful period, the restoration of Charles II, the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London. The diary...more
Angela
I loved this book and found it totally absorbing. It is a biography focused on Samuel Pepys' diary, but reads more like a novel. It's not dry history, but rather the story of an amazing life of ambition, networking, corruption, resourcefulness, stoicism, courage and kindness. In short, it reflects aspects of all of us - the best and the worst. I am so pleased to know the remarkable Mr Pepys better. Before I read this book, I'd only read excerpts from his diary relating to the Great Fire of Londo...more
Aura
Aug 23, 2007 Aura rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is fantastic - I knew nothing of Pepys but his name and that he was a diarist, and had never had a particular interest in finding out more about him, but the book was a gift and I felt compelled to give it a go. I'm so glad I did. I'm a slow reader and this is a long book, but it was well worth the time, and surprisingly engrossing for a scholarly historical biography - I couldn't put it down. Tomalin's research is meticulous, and the story she has woven out of the life of this delight...more
Katie
I have long loved Pepys and his self-centered ways. Many an afternoon and night, I have spent listening to Kenneth Branagh read an abridgment of his famous diary. So this summer I decided it was time to find out more about the man.

Tomlinson does a brilliant job writing about Pepys and his time. She makes many smart insights about Pepys and life in general. And even though Pepys was quite a rogue at times, I still liked, loved the man. His perspective on life and his willingness to write so openl...more
Rowan
Now, many of you, my learned friends, would not look twice at this biography. But not only is it riveting, it teaches you loads about a crucial stage in British history and shows that the intrigues we see in politics today were nothing compared to the manoeuvring that went on in the century of revolution and religious conflict. Very well written prose and strangely addictive - I read it in a massive hardback but found it so absorbing that I lugged the volume round the Lyon underground system wit...more
Shelley
Delightfully readable bio of Pepys, warts and all (and oh, there are warts...). I love to hate Pepys for the way he treated the women around him and for his naked self-interest -- at the same time he was a brilliant organizer and bureaucrat and the founder of the modern navy. Claire Tomalin does a lovely job of tying up the good and the bad into a sympathetic portrait of a very remarkable man.
Mark
Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read since it was first released in November of 2002. At the time I had only glancing awareness of Pepys and his celebrated diary (an awareness probably gleaned for 34 Charing Cross Road), and between then and now, I read the Modern Library selection from his diary.

Tomalin's book was highly praised, for good reason: it is an extremely fair, engagingly written biography of an interesting man. Notably, she quotes extremel...more
Sharif
Wake up every day and thank whatever God you worship that you don't have to undergo surgery for gall stones in the 1660's. (Samuel Pepys' diaries discussed in their historical context.) This man's diary, which he wrote in a secret code, is a startling--and completely unflattering--look into his every waking thought.
pam
I loved all the anecdotes about 17th century politics, life under the Puritans (which didn't keep Pepys from chasing everything in a skirt he could lay his hands on...). An excellent read.
Paula Maguire
I picked this up in a second hand shop after reading a good review and it didn't disappoint. I didn't know much about Pepys before I began reading apart from him writing an account of the Great Fire of London. But he was far more interesting than that. Firstly he lived through the civil war, the restoration and the reign of William of Orange, and managed to keep his head. It was fascinating to read about what London was like in those days, the daily riots, suspicion of the enemy within (Catholic...more
Mark
Claire Tomalin's Samuel Pepys has been sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read since it was first released in November of 2002. At the time I had only glancing awareness of Pepys and his celebrated diary (an awareness probably gleaned for 34 Charing Cross Road), and between then and now, I read the Modern Library selection from his diary.

Tomalin's book was highly praised, for good reason: it is an extremely fair, engagingly written biography of an interesting man. Notably, she quotes extremel...more
Nigel
Some biographies have really grabbed me (eg Roy Jenkins on Churchill, Leo McKinstrey on Geoffrey Boycott, Melvyn Bragg on Richard Burton) and I find I am really drawn into them. Seeing the awards this book had won and who had written it, I expected similar things again. It didn't quite happen though. I did enjoy it but it wasn't a book I couldn't put down.
The aspect of the book I enjoyed most was its historical context. Pepys lived through a tumultuous time in England's history: Cromwell's prote...more
Ria
A brilliant read whether you have read the diaries or not and a good introduction to him and the topics discussed.
I have read the diaries but actually also a learned a lot from this book too which the diary did not cover, just extra background info and things that have been dug up in later years.
Apart from a detailed background of Pepys, the diary, his life, his romances and work this book also covers the years after the diary finished which to me was fascinating for an author to bother to enla...more
Paul Smith
A biography of a diarist sounds like a strangely redundant thing to write. Tomalin, with the same brisk style evident in her Dickens biography is fond of Pepys and rightly so: he is an engaging character, constantly re-aligning himself with prevailing political opinion (not an easy thing to do in the mid seventeenth century), stoically remaining married, and worrying about his minor affairs, unrequieted loves, and sundry medical ailments. He is, in short, like the rest of us - what shines throug...more
Monthly Book Group
The person who proposed the book thought it was absolutely remarkable, and very difficult to put down. It painted a fascinating picture of Pepys, of the historical times and politics, and of London. It was an impressive piece of research to fill in the gaps and put the diaries in context. It was written in an appropriate language to convey the impression of Pepys the man. She conveyed remarkable insights into Pepys’ colourful life, his strengths and weaknesses, and his energy and ability. It was...more
Reds_reads
This biography of Pepys draws on more than just the diary, it covers his whole life and provides a lot of information about the historical events at the time. I didn't find it a particularly easy read - there is a lot of facts to digest as the cast of characters is large and the political situation was turbulent throughout Pepys' life.

I was impressed at how the author struck a balance between all the elements in Pepys life, detailing his private life and his career whilst providing sufficient d...more
Tweedledum
Pepys, what is there to be said that Claire Tomalin and countless others before her have not said? I have fallen in love with Pepys diary ( the diary let it be emphasised NOT the man ) at the ripe old age of 56!

Pepys himself......... Certainly the diary reveals a character who is somewhat less attractive...... But then he sought to be completely honest in the diary. Perhaps in doing so he succeeded in leaving for all time a self portrait whose honesty few of us would want to emulate. Clearly ma...more
M. Milner
Lately, I’ve been fascinated by Samuel Pepys, mostly thanks to a twitter account that’s tweeting his diary line by line. The diary itself is a hell of a beast: it runs for several volumes, was written in shorthand and wasn’t published in full until the mid 1970s.

Thing is, it’s a daunting read. You can get public domain editions for cheap for the Kindle, but they’re old and likely bowdlerized. There’s a few print editions, but they’re edited down: Penguin’s edition runs over 1,000 pages and only...more
JFN
Put together an amazingly gifted biographer, Claire Tomalin, and an amazingly gifted diarist, Samuel Pepys, and you can't go wrong. I loved every minute of reading this book and was sad when I came to the last page.

This is the second biography by Tomalin I've read, my first being her study of Jane Austen. Tomalin's love and regard for her subjects shines on every page and is infectious. Pepys' singular formula of humanness -- flaws and exceptional qualities, alike -- are all drawn out clearly i...more
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Born Claire Delavenay in London, she was educated at Newnham College, Cambridge.

She became literary editor of the 'New Statesman' and also the 'Sunday Times'. She has written several noted biographies and her work has been recognised with the award of the 1990 James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the 1991 Hawthornden Prize for 'The Invisible Woman The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens'.

In...more
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