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A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs
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A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs

3.30  ·  Rating details ·  46 ratings  ·  11 reviews
At a time when journals are staking their territory on the blogosphere, this is a timely consideration of the diary's origins and its long history in literary, political, and scientific realms alike


Be they fearless, candid, naïve, or exhibitionistic, personal bloggers now occupy an extraordinary position—projecting their inner most lives to all those with an internet conn
Paperback, 112 pages
Published November 1st 2011 by Hesperus Press (first published December 1st 2010)
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Justin Evans
Aug 07, 2014 rated it liked it
As the title suggests, this is in fact a brief history of diaries; a very easy read if you have a couple of hours to kill, and would like to learn more about, well, diarists. There's not much more to say: Johnson gives us a couple of pages on the obvious (Pepys, Boswell), the well known (Darwin, Lewis & Clark, Thoreau), and selected authors (Burney, Mansfield, Woolf, Tolstoys). There were two surprises: first, the 'war diaries' section was given over primarily to women (Frank, Chestnut, Hillesum ...more
Aug 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: diaries, non-fiction
Loses a star for calling Frances Burney 'Fanny' - but overall good for an interesting, quick read. ...more
Jan 14, 2017 rated it liked it
While it seems misguided to quibble with the scope of a book that contains the word "Brief" in its title, I do think that there was a lot missed here that could have been covered. I would have been interested in more popular history, how diaries were used and manufactured and the vicissitudes of style, rather than profiles of famous diary-keepers. And my favorite diarist, Denton Welch, was absent, which was disappointing. But the book is not bad overall -- a fun overview. ...more
Jeremy Anderberg
Dec 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
I've long been an inconsistent journaler. I suppose it's the writer in me that feels a compulsion to put things down on paper. And as long as blogging has been around, I've been a part of it—from LiveJournal meanderings to my full-time job with Art of Manliness for the last 6+ years.

Turns out that keeping a journal (or diary—Johnson uses the terms interchangeably) is nearly as old as the practice of writing itself. In just over 100 pages, Johnson walks us through that history, highlighting famed
Feb 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As someone who's a huge fan of journaling & keeping a diary, I really got into this book so hence the high rating though I don't know if I'd recommend it generally. If you're fascinated by other people's diaries and the role they've played in history and lives, check out the book. If you're not so fascinated by that subject you're probably going to find this boring. I like the structure of the chapters progressing from the 18th century to the modern, showing how keeping a diary has evolved. My o ...more
Apr 15, 2015 rated it liked it
“Diaries. No genre is more misunderstood, more open to confusion and misinformation. That strange hybrid of recording and reflecting, confession and self-reflection, no genre is more forced to justify itself,” Alexandra Johnson writes in her 2011 book “A Brief History of Diaries: From Pepys to Blogs.”
Johnson, who taught writing at Harvard and Wellesley and now teaches at Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., attempts to explicate diaries in the 105-page paperback, part of the “A Brief History
May 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
The best thing about this book was learning about diarists that I hadn't heard of before, and it had some excellent quotes about diary keeping, which I enjoyed. The first chapter was my favorite, but as I read on, I grew more dissatisfied. It IS very short, and I was hoping for more women and other cultures. There's a nod to pillow books in the first chapter, but they are never mentioned again. I feel sure that there are more journals in other countries not represented: India? Brazil? South Afri ...more
Sarah Tipper
Sep 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
I bought this book because I love reading novels that are written in a diary format. I also loved reading extracts from the diaries of Samuel Pepys when I was at school. This book introduced me to historical diarists I’d never heard of and led to the purchase of two new books. The extracts from diaries chosen by the author were wonderful. As well as the obvious historical treasure contained in a diary, the psychological benefits of keeping a diary were discussed. I would love it if this author w ...more
Feb 08, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a really interesting read- it wasn't mindblowing in terms of other books I've read so that's why I've had to give it a 3/5 but it was a very good book on the subject of diaries and jornals throughout history- a must read for avid diary writers or literature fans who love reading about the history of writing. ...more
Emma Grove
Apr 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Interesting in that I learnt about diarists of whom I'd never heard - Etty Hillesum, Mary Chestnut and Iris Origo (all women, yay!) - but oddly dissatisfying for its brevity. It felt like the book only just scratched the surface. And the print in my edition was tiny! ...more
Peter O'Brien
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mta
A very brief introduction and history of the practice of diary keeping and that is precisely the point: keep it brief, consistent and get started as soon as you finish this book.
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