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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  4,772 ratings  ·  218 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
Paperback, 528 pages
Published November 11th 2003 by Vintage (first published November 14th 2002)
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Average rating 3.77  · 
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 ·  4,772 ratings  ·  218 reviews

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Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Whilst I cannot help but admire the amount of work that this book consists of, I can't really say I enjoyed it. I am sure historians who are interested in naval details would appreciate it, but for me it was rather too detailed. One admires Pepys, he certainly was a "warts and all" character, but his opinion of the majority of women is hard to read in this day and age. I am sure he was typical of many men at that time, but I found his sexual predatory nature rather distressing at some points. I ...more
Dana Stabenow
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
A bit of serendipity brought this book into my hands. While visiting my daughter in Oceanside, California over the holidays, she took me to see the public library there, where they have a small ongoing book sale. This book, with a picture of a perplexed-looking Pepys on the cover, jumped out at me. A mere $2. was the price of admission to this richly detailed recreation of seventeenth-century England. This is not a book to hurry through. Rather, I took my time, savoring the fascinating details a ...more
Jun 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: gr-review, on-hold
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
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderful, chatty, informational and adoring look at Pepys life during intense times. Pepys' rise up and through Cromwell, Restoration, James and William shows an indefatigable intellect doing what he does.

just delightful. Gives hope that we can survive our own times.
Oct 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.

William Ramsay
Nov 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Always Pink
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: oh-so-british
Tomalin clearly loves her subject. She must have digested a whole shipload of material to be able to fill in all the gaps the great diarist left in his own erudite description of his life. A must read for anyone embarking on the long journey of Pepys' diary and for all us others who do not feel quite up to the task, but want to know what all the fuss is about.
Tomalin gives a clearsighted account of the man's character, his career and political shenanigans and she does not shy away from his less
Peter Tillman
This was a start-and-stop reading experience for me. I’ve had it out twice from the library. It’s due back tomorrow, so I'm calling it done at about halfway in. It’s an interesting but frustrating biography. For as far as I read, I’m giving it 2.5 stars, rounded up: an interesting failure. What’s needed. I think, is a short bio of Pepys, like the old Penguin Lives series, and a short history of the Britain of that era. Here’s a start:

Chapter One was absol
May 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinary book, am almost perfect melding of author and subject. Claire Tomalin’s admiration for Pepys is based on his genius as a diarist and she feels his "secret masterpiece" (he wrote many of the pages in shorthand of his own making)—puts him on the level of Milton, Bunyan, Dickens and Proust. While she makes a point that the years not described in the diary haven’t been adequately covered (everything but 1660 to 1669) it is clearly her intention to direct readers to “The Diar ...more
Anastasia Hobbet
Apr 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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
As is always the case with audio books, one's enjoyment and appreciation of a book is increased or diminished by the quality of the reading. Jill Balcon did a stellar job of reading this biography. One really felt like one was listening to Claire Tomalin, the biographer, talking and telling a story. Her intonation (with the occasional chuckle) and pacing were perfect. No mispronounced words and perfectly understandable enunciation. This is a model on how it should be done.

The book itself is hig
Jul 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
The Purple Dog, Colchester
Posted in Sudbury

Family tree

Alas no footnotes, however there are copious notes at the back.
Ghost of the Library
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Samuel Pepys wasn't a stranger to me but i have to say that Claire Tomalin did a very very good job in bringing him to life for the modern reader.
Review to follow
Todd Stockslager
Apr 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Review Title: Cult of personality

Pepys's diary is one of the strangest, most wonderful (in the literal sense, full of wonder), and most important historical artifacts ever left as the legacy of any writer--who wasn't even recognized as a writer in his lifetime. Tomalin must surely be the best literary biographer working today, as she joined this biography with her equally excellent capture of the real Charles Dickens a few years later.

One might first think it either dangerous or presumptuous to
Nov 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Claire Tomalin's biography of Samuel Pepys covers his life before, during, and after the years when he kept his famous journals, so her book gives us invaluable context for understanding Pepys's idiosyncratic, fly-on-the-wall view of the transition to and through Cromwell to Charles II, James II, and William, Prince of Orange, James II's successor to the English throne.

Pepys rose from being the son of a tailor and a housekeeper to become the key administrator of the English fleet, an advisor to
Sarah Wagner
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I've read enough fiction and nonfiction about Restoration England to know who Samuel Pepys was, but this biography provided a fuller account of his life and his famous diary than the glimpses I'd had previously. Analysis and overviews of the diary Pepys kept from 1660 to 1669 account for nearly a third of this book, dividing his life into periods before, during, and after he kept the diary so well known today. I found the later period of Pepys' life fascinating, as I hadn't known he was a loyal ...more
Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
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
Courtney Johnston
Jan 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography

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

Jan 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Samuel Pepys who is revealed in his diary is as interesting a personality to us as he was to himself. Thanks to Claire Tomalin's marvellously detailed presentation we have context and explanation.

We get to know the diarist, his wife, his servants, his friends, his scientific and musical interests, his triumphs, his humiliations. And, of course, there's Pepys the sex pest.

We see Samuel Pepys as a witness of public events during a chaotic century for his country - the teenage Londoner and Cro
Nicki Markus
Sep 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non-fiction
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 worthw ...more
Mar 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Epic biography and journey through history that took me months to finish because I wanted to read it so thoroughly. I read a few books in between and I had to take a couple of breaks from it.

Every child in England knows who Samuel Pepys was, particularly when we learn about the Great Fire of London. I didn't know much about Samuel Pepys himself. He lived during so much change. What amazing insight into this man and the diary he kept. Parts of this book were a hard slog. I particularly enjoyed t
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Claire Tomalin wrote a truly fascinating biography of Samuel Pepys.
The chapter about his diary is of course the most interesting, but the research the author did to describe the life under the reign of Oliver Cromwell, then Charles II, James II and William&Mary is really amazing (the smell, the danger, the treason, the great fire of London, the Plague, the execution of Charles I and so on)

Samuel Pepys is a very lively character in this biography.
I've already read his diary, but I'm now eager to
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
So interesting to move from fiction circa Henry VIII (Wolf Hall) to this. I very much enjoyed it and clearly the author had a wonderful time putting his life and writing and perspective in a larger frame. She covers the history he lived through as well as the unique role his Diary plays as part of historical writing and History with a big H.
Jul 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pepys was a pretty unsavory character by 21st century sensibilities, but Tomalin cuts him a lot of slack and so is able to present his genuine accomplishments and his impressive life in way that allows us to appreciate rather than simply deplore him. Good for her. She does view the Diary as more of monumental literary accomplishment than I think I do however.
Carol Dobson
Jan 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Samuel Pepys started keeping a diary on January 1 1660. He wrote six volumes and when he became old he decided not to destroy them, luckily for future readers and historians as he presents an invaluable account of his era, encompassing such horrific events as the Plague and the Great Fire of London, as well as detailed descriptions of everyday life. Claire Tomalin looks at how Pepys was formed and developed and how he began to write his diary. She researches much material from beyond Pepys's act ...more
Bill Tress
Dec 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I got a lot of enjoyment on many levels from this book. The first was the Author, wow! To have those skills! The second was the sketch of the character Samuel Pepys, a third was the historical content. A fourth was the glimpse at the politics of the sixteenth century and how it mirrors our current political climate.
Claire Tomalin is an award-winning journalist, who has written extensively on English biography and history. She is the daughter of an English composer and a French academic and these
Greg Thorpe
Jan 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Deep down I know I won't commit to the full Pepys diaries (though I do love him on Twitter...) so Tomalin's brilliant, rigorous, poetic biography has amply scratched my itch to know more about this ordinary/extraordinary Londoner. The chapters are organised thematically rather than temporally, but are more or less chronological within that, and it's a great tactic other biographers might take note of. It also means impatient readers can skip straight to the plague, the fire, the war etc – but do ...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'.


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“Pepys was a good scholar, able to read Latin for pleasure all his life; and that very skill may have helped to leave his English free and uncluttered for the Diary, the language of life as opposed to the elaborately constructed formulations of the classroom and study.” 0 likes
“If we beat the king ninety and nine times, yet he is king still and so will his posterity be after him; but if the king beat us once, we shall all be hanged, and our posterity made slaves.” 0 likes
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