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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 lang 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.


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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 lang 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.

30 review for Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    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 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 had to keep reminding myself he was born nearly 400 years ago. All in all, a fascinating read, but certainly not an easy one.

  2. 5 out of 5

    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 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 when Charles II died and James II took only four years to whistle his throne down a religious wind of his own making. Pepys, the last man in the world to end his life as a Jacobite, does, out of loyalty and a stubborn determination to turn his coat no more. This is the best kind of biography, not only the life of the man himself but of the time and place as well. Tomalin wisely relegates the Diary to its own section, the years 1660-1669. In the prologue, she writes The shamelessness of his self-observation deserves to be called scientific. and then places his words alongside the narrative of those years. The Diary, with its tumbling stream of information, is a reminder that the moods and demands of daily life easily blot out politics. Lack of cash was a more pressing problem for Pepys than any possible change of regime... Tomalin isn't above inserting the occasionally acid and always enjoyable editorial comment, either. Almost the first advice Pepys got when his promotion was known was from a sea captain telling him how to fiddle his expenses by listing five or six non-existent servants when he went on board and claiming pay for them all. It made an interesting introduction to the workings of the navy. Tomalin shows a masterly hand at drawing comparisons between that time and this, as well. On Major Harrison being hanged, drawn and quartered for treason: Pepys, in one of his most famous formulations, wrote that Major-General Harrison looked "as cheerfully as any man could do in that condition."...Pepys did not devote the rest of his day to higher thoughts any more than one of us, turning from famine or child murder on television, remains sombre an hour later. Due to his high office and connections at court Pepys had a front row seat to all the goings-on, and as secretary to the British Navy a not inconsiderable hand in affairs himself. On every page you aren't bumping into royalty, you stub your toe on someone out of the Who's Who of British science and literature, John Milton, John Dryden, Andrew Marvell, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, Robert Hooke among many more. In the meantime, through Pepys' eyes we singe our eyebrows on the Great Fire of London and fear for our lives from the plague. It's a marvelous you-are-there visit. Highly readable, highly recommended.

  3. 5 out of 5

    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 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 me lost and frustrated, since those are the parts I wanted to read the most. There is an easy shortened condensed version of the diary, which I whipped right through, but I felt like I was missing so much. This biography filled in all the details nicely though, and gave me a lush and rich portrait of the man. Pepys lived in London during the great plague in 1665, followed by the Great fire in 1966. I can’t think of anything that gives a better portrait and insight into the 17th Century. I really enjoyed this fascinating book

  4. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    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 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 and the huge cast of characters, with Ms. Tomalin charting a lucid course through a century full of historical drama. I had heard of Pepys and his famous diary, but didn't know much about him or his era. Ms. Tomalin left nothing out. There are the cringe-inducing details of his surgery for kidney stones as well as accounts of his randy, roving hands. (No young serving girl was safe around him.) The century included the beheading of Charles I, Oliver Cromwell's Puritan rule, the plague, the great fire of London, the restoration of the Stuarts with Charles II, the relatively short rule of Jame II and his ouster by William of Orange. It is amazing that Pepys managed to weather so many changes and to prosper throughout. He is known for, other than his diary, his administration of the navy. He must have been a charming and clever man because he rose from a humble family (early on attaching himself to his mentor, the Earl of Sandwich), to consulting with Charles II. The author has included a number of black and white images of Pepys, his young wife, Elizabeth (who was a spirited match for him, despite his numerous infidelities), and many of the important political personages of the century. As George R.R. Martin said, "A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once." Through this book, I have walked the streets of seventeenth-century London and the essence of my visit is still lingering in my mind. **While reading this book, I happened upon this animation of London before the great fire. It will set the stage before you begin your own visit. http://www.openculture.com/2013/11/fl...

  5. 4 out of 5

    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 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 many contemporaries loved and respected him and I feel that Tomalin has done a fantastic job in helping us see Pepys not only in the historical context but through his contemporaries eyes. A much more rounded and sympathetic character emerges. Here was a man who fought against the die fate had cast against him undergoing hideously painful and frightening surgery in an age of zero anaesthetics to rid himself of constant excruciating pain. The diary , as Tomalin points out , really emerges as a celebration of the new freedom he acquired as a result of that courageous act. Anyone who has experienced an epiphany or turning point in their lives may recognise this. As Pepys burbles and babbles away we catch a glimpse of a man for whom life has become an adventure....he goes where the wind blows, where his whim takes him. To have commenced the diary in the eve of what was surely one of the most momentous years in English history is extra-ordinary in itself. But for this to have occurred when Pepys was a young man, not full of wise saws or the need to pontificate and state his opinion means that we are able to stand where he stood, to see what he saw, to wonder with him at the changes all around.

  6. 4 out of 5

    jrendocrine

    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. 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.

  7. 4 out of 5

    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 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 a span of 17th century British history, Pepys' life also spans the social structure of his time. While the son of a tailor and laundress, he had a connected uncle whose patronage was critical in his rise. It is not clear how this relative rose to such heights, but he gave Pepys a good education, an entry level position and connections. Pepys experienced the good life on his uncle's estate while living in its servants' quarters... a true upstairs/downstairs existence. A lover of the theater and song (and sex), Pepys, like his uncle, adapted to the puritanical Cromwell reign. His uncle,originally a Cromwell supporter, eventually switched allegiance and was instrumental in putting Charles II on the throne. Through Pepys, we see how changes in governance resulted in a not just a change who had what government job and what logos/standards appeared on the navy's boats, but also changes in homes- Pepys selected a house he liked and just moved in. Some Parliamentarians went off to the new world. Pepys watched as others met a bad fate in England or, like Pepys' uncle, deftly switched allegiance. His uncle's words: "Few could allow themselves sensitive feelings in the changeover" stayed with Pepys, who despite his low opinion of Charles II served him with hard work, dedication, and receipt of kickbacks. In his various capacities at the Navy, he filed reports, inspected boats, arranged for "victualization", testified, gave speeches and had stones thrown through his window by angry wives when sailors did not get paid. While Pepys was navigating the bureaucracy (and becoming wealthy), advocating for a more professional, science-reliant Navy, he was also managing a personal life, filled with ups and downs, many of his own making. It is hard to assess his character, certainly by today's standards. He seduced teenage girls, some in his employ, under the nose of his wife, but the King and others behaved in the same manner. Pepys can be infuriating with his carnal honesty (writing of breast fondling and his chances to snare one girl/woman or the next). He doesn't flinch from beating servants, male or female hired and/or kin. The book is mostly chronological with some groupings by topic. The first quarter, or so, covers the pre-diary years, and the paucity of sources shows. The post-diary years, have many sources and read like any biography. The diary years, the middle of the book, are the highlight. Their richness is the content, all supplied by Pepys who displays his personality, his energy, his many interests and his involvement in his era. The final pages on the discovery of the diary and its importance are excellent as they appear here or can be read as a freestanding essay. The B & W plates (especially the bust of Elizabeth and portraits of the Montagu's and their estate and Pepys' library), the List of Principal Figures, and the genealogy chart are helpful, but the book is not fully reader friendly. His busy life keeps the narrative moving, sometimes before you are ready to move along. One way to absorb that has been suggested to me by a Goodreads friend is to read the actual diary along with the text... a mighty project indeed!

  8. 4 out of 5

    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 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 the reign of William and Mary - roughly the second half of the 17th century. A well a being a great diarist he was also a brilliant administrator and is credited with helping at the birth of the modern British navy. However, it is diary that claims his place in history. He wrote it warts and all and was not the least bit sparing about his lusts and vices - he was perhaps the first person to do a creditable self analysis. That and the fact that saw Charles I executed and knew Issac Newton and Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle and Robert Hook along with a great many kings and princes makes his diary a valuable storehouse of history. He wrote about the great London fire and the plague years. He was interested in everything and everyone and stuffed it all in his great diary. Clair Tomalin does a great job of extracting his life from the diary as well as filling in the times before and after is was written. You see old Samuel as a real person who fought tooth and nail with the wife he loved dearly as he slyly fondled the maid who combed his hair in the morning. He was no saint but he was not a great sinner either. He was a man of his time and it was, indeed, a very turbulent and interesting time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Always Pink

    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 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 than spotless behaviour towards womankind. Needless to say that Tomalin does her subject justice – this is maybe the best of all the superb biographies she has written so far.

  10. 4 out of 5

    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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_... Chapter One was absol 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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_... Chapter One was absolutely hopeless, one strange name after another, no obvious reason to sort them out. So I skipped over to Chap. 6, where Pepys starts his famous Diary, in 1660. The diary itself is online, but in a bowdlerized edition (no sex). The first uncensored edition wasn’t published until 1970, and that’s an 11-volume set! So I skipped around quite a bit, to form an impression of Pepys and his time. By contemporary standards, he doesn’t fare well. He earned his fortune from graft (skimming and outright bribes). He was a habitual sexual predator, mostly on servant-girls, including his own. He married a 14 year-old girl! He had good qualities, too. There were moments, when the his humanity, and that of his family and fellows, came shining through. And this was 350 years ago: "the past was a different country." Graft and corruption appeared to have been endemic to the Royal Navy in the 1660s, to the extent that their sailors weren’t getting paid. Not a good idea, that. And the new King was apparently niggardly in supporting the Navy. Interesting times: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restora... I read the book because of Dana Stabenow's enthusiastic reco, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... .

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    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 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 Diary” in addition to adding to our knowledge of his non-diary life, 27 years before he started writing and 34 after the last page. She recounts his remarkable leap across the chasm of class; a tailor's son of a barely literate family rose, via grammar school, Cambridge scholarship, patronage, industry and talent, to positions of great influence in the tradition bound Royal Navy. His appetite for work and seemingly superhuman ability to work 16-hour days for months at a time created a sustained level of activity that allowed him to transform the administration of the navy. She knows well his the mixture of energy and corruptibility that would allow him accept a perk in one breath and push through disciplined reform in another. There is a superb explanation of beginnings and conduct of English Civil War--especially important for a person (like me) with no real grounding in English history. The ebb and flow of the Civil War, the very fluid political commitments of many of the main players and the sheer ability of the Stuarts to not only survive in exile but thrive meant that Pepys had to negotiate the dangerous political transitions of his century. Tomalin gives a swift, cogent account of the extraordinary moment in English public life when both puritans and republicans, sworn enemies of the Stuarts, went over to the king, and, suddenly, "Everybody had become a royalist". There are a few brilliant pieces in the book. The most notable is based on Pepys’s account of the Great Fire of London in 1666 but the most brilliant and appalling is the detailed account of the excruciating operation Pepys had, without anaesthetic, for the removal of a bladder stone. He was trussed up with linen strips to keep him from writhing too much while several stout surgeon’s assistants held him even move immobile. Concoctions of oil of earthworms, cinnamon and chicory used as a “soothing” agent and pain reliever made matters much worse. In addition to his career there were two great loves in Pepys’s life: his wife Elizabeth, the beautiful, penniless French girl whom Pepys married when she was nearly 14 and he 18 and London, the city that he knew so well from daily walking its streets, being rowed across the Thames, and constant visits to dockyards, sail makers other suppliers to the Fleet. Tomalin’s description of river life, the chaos of the streets during the Civil War and the restoration of the Stuarts, the sights, sounds and smells (lots of smells) come alive. His almost constant rows with Elizabeth, his fear that another man might win her away—an idea of the licentiousness of the era is in the almost formal but still sub-rosa proposition by the Earl of Sandwich, Pepys’s boss, to Elizabeth to become his mistress Samual Pepys had an amazingly full life, one he participated in fully. Claire Tomalin is the biographer that such a life deserves.

  12. 5 out of 5

    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 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 Samuel Pepys, reading his diaries, his papers and correspondence, and all the public documentation of his long and complicated life, with a keen, empathetic, but critical eye. This is no hagiography. Pepys leaps forth from the pages as a brilliant and brilliantly pragmatic man, willing and able to compartmentalize his life so that his loyalties and beliefs do not get in the way of his fortune. He lived through one of the most dangerous and unsettled times in English history, the Civil War (he supported Cromwell) and its long aftermath of royal restoration and religious conflict through to the Glorious Revolution, so he was not alone in changing his stripes. He was, however, almost singularly successful at doing so. Not without cost to him: it meant that he spent his entire professional career as a Navy administrator bound to Charles II and James II, when in his soul he was deeply republican. So sure is Tomalin's handling of her story that, toward the end of the book, I read more and more slowly, unwilling to watch Samuel Pepys die.

  13. 5 out of 5

    DivaDiane

    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 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 highly entertaining and fascinating, especially if you are interested in this period, as I am. The author fleshed out Pepys story with background on what was going on politically, as they affected his life profoundly. The 2nd half of the 17th century was full of turmoil and unrest and it gives insight to the twists and turns that Pepys' life took. I've read bits and pieces of his diary, but not nearly the whole thing. The period in which he wrote it was fairly short, just a few years in his 20s and 30s. But if he led a fairly ordinary life for a gentleman of middle standing in that era, it is all the more interesting to read about it. Tomalin has done a thorough job of researching his life beyond the diaries and does say that there are certain things that we just don't know. Some is conjecture, based on the nature of the man we got to know in his diaries, but she does say this. She clearly grew to love and respect this enigmatic man and brings us the details of his life with such enthusiasm, that it is a joy to listen to.

  14. 5 out of 5

    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 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 openly about his life is remarkable, particularly for his time since most diaries kept back then were hardly introspective and quite boring. Pepys is completely human, and you can't help but like (maybe even love) this penny-pinching, womanizing, music-making, temperamental, clear-sighted, passionate man.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    The Purple Dog, Colchester Posted in Sudbury Family tree Illustrations Maps Alas no footnotes, however there are copious notes at the back.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ghost of the Library

    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 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

  17. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    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 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 write the life of a man who has already written an intensely personal and professional autobiography in the form of the daily journal that has become the standard for diarists since. And while it is obviously the primary source for the period of the diary, that period only covers about 10 years in the midst of Pepys's 70. Who was the man before we meet him in his own words as a 27-year-old Naval Office clerk (early-mid career but clearly on the rise and with an eye for the next chance), and what became of him in the 35 years after the diary. Indeed, perhaps what we most want to know is why and how did he come to write such an amazing document, and why did he stop? Tomalin is smart enough to know the risks and strong enough to provide plausible answers to the questions. Pepys to start was the son of a tailor, a low-paid and lower-class craftsman in 1633 when his son Samuel was born who never really elevated himself or his family then or after. Ahh,, but his son Samuel did, first as a Cambridge graduate, then as that rising clerk through hard work and judicious selection of patrons and mentors, and finally as advisor to kings and recognized equal and friend of nobility. So Tomalin shows us his intelligence and deep drive to overcome a slow start (as, she reminds us, Dickens would later do). Why the diary, and why one so intensely personal and professional, mixed on the same page, with such transparent emotion? There are historical, philosophical, and theological reasons why the time and place was right for just such a written confessional of the self, as "the self" was just now for the first time in history a proper object of study in the modern sense. A like minded man a century earlier would have had no frame of reference to consider himself as a "self", unequalled or otherwise (see my recent review of George Makari's Soul Machine: The Invention of the Modern Mind for more). But why specifically was Pepys the man who now did examine the self? One possibility raised by Tomalin is that Pepys's survival of an often fatal operation to remove a large and very painful kidney stone left him with both gratitude for the reprieve from lifelong pain (an autopsy performed after he died confirmed evidence of the extent of the internal organ damage) and the feeling that his life had been spared for a greater purpose, which he could record in his journals started the year after the operation. And Tomalin points to his wife Elizabeth as perhaps the key motivator, even though Pepys never names her in the diary other than as "my wife." They were married without the approval of either set of parents and with no money and little prospects for the future at that point in his career--and Elizabeth came with no dowry, a fact Samuel would throw in her face during one of their frequently tempestuous arguments. With the violent arguments (he blackened her eye once, she pulled his nose and stormed out for periods of separation lasting for a few hours up to a period of several weeks once early on) came times of equally intense love and pleasure as we watch their relationship evolve through the diary years. In short, Tomalin writes, their's was a normal marriage between lovers and friends, and she points to the death of Elizabeth in 1669, the same year the diary was abandoned, as evidence that their partnership was a key driver for the diary. And the diary itself! Tomalin provides the fascinating insight that in December 1659 Pepys bought the first leather-bound 282-page unlined journal he would use to begin the diary (it would fill 6 similar volumes in a mix of shorthand, longhand, and French, Spanish, and Latin) in January, and he would spend time that month hand-lining the margins of every page with precisely measured and finely drawn lines still visible. This was not a throw away idea. And immediately from the first page it is a mix of the unfiltered personal, describing his good as and bad days with Elizabeth, his uncontrolled and sometimes consummated lusts for maids and neighbors, and his clear-eyed self-examination of the good and bad of his actions, and the professional, with frank and sometimes dangerous but usually accurate assessments of his peers and superiors, his day to day work at the Naval Office (including some things we would consider illegal or unethical), and the best and most detailed day-to-day history yet uncovered of the period of the diary. Tomalin points out that histories of the political and economic turmoil of the decade of the 1660s (covering the Great Fire, the Plague, the Dutch wars, and the turmoil between Cromwell and the Crown) are both more detailed and more interesting than histories of the decades before and after because of the detail and personality of the diary. So why did he stop? Pepys himself said he stopped because of failing eyesight that he worried would leave him blind, a fatal problem for a man who built his wealth on knowledge of the data and documentation of the Naval Office in an era with no safety net for disability and no safe treatment for his ailment. But Pepys recovered full sight after stopping the diary and never had serious eye problems again in his lifetime. Tomalin has already listed two more likely reasons: the death of Elizabeth, and the political danger of writing down private thoughts and opinions in a political climate where the definition of acceptable opinions changed almost daily, and being found or even suspected of unacceptable opinions could very easily lead to death. In the period after the diary, with the Crown restored, Parliament and King remained at odds, battling over foreign policy (Pepys was a frequent and very capable defender of Naval spending and practices in front of Parliament) and religion, with first Protestant and then Catholic theology ascendant and the question of which faith you professed in public or were accused of practicing in private a life or death matter. Pepys himself was twice jailed in the Tower, and fortunately bailed and cleared, at the same time that others he was imprisoned with were hung or beheaded. A written record of this time if exposed would likely have been fatal for Pepys. So while Pepys proved his adroit ability to navigate the dangerous waters of court and government, Tomalin is forced to document the rest of his life without the help of the diary. Her research is of course footnoted with an extensive bibliography, but lacks the personal touches the diary gave us for that too-brief period. Without the diary, Pepys feels like a childhood best friend that we still stay in touch with, through friends or Facebook, but without the direct personal relationship that once enriched us both. And in his lifetime he told only two people of his diary, afterwards worrying in writing that given the shifting political tides those disclosures might later prove fatal. Defending himself against corruption charges in front of Parliament years after the diary, he made an oblique reference to the diary by claiming to being able to document his actions and whereabouts on a daily basis during that period. Tomalin believes he knew it was a calculated risk to call Parliament's bluff, and on that occasion it was the right call; they never asked for his evidence. Tomalin has given us the full man, before, during, and after the diary, in three dimensions from both his internal perspective and those of his friends, family, and professional peers. He is a man of great strengths and equally great weaknesses. But he is a living man, not a mannequin, a hero, or a failure. Love him or hate him, we know him, and can sometimes chastise him, sometimes respect him, but always recognize him as one of us.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    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 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 kings, a wealthy mandarin, and twice a prisoner caught up in the struggle between royalists and parliamentarians and Protestants and Catholics. His journal ran only from 1660 to 1669. It covered that period of his life in all its dailiness, lechery, marital difficulty, rise to influence, and exceptional egotism, but along the way it homed in on the various struggles within England and between England and Holland (and France, to an extent). Tomalin considers it--the journal--a novelty in literature, perhaps the first dispassionate self-assessment in the modern era. Given that Pepys told graphic tales on himself as well as others (but he didn't publish any of it during his lifetime), this may be true. But again, it is an idiosyncratic work that makes it somewhat of an outlier in the English literary canon; in a sense, it's one of a kind: quotidian, funny, insightful, eloquent and wide-ranging. No aristocrat would have written as Pepys did perhaps because no aristocrat would have had to rise as far and fast in society as Pepys did. And no aristocrat would have worked as hard at his job--naval affairs--as Pepys did because aristocrats are born to something, while Pepys was born to nothing. The pleasure of Tomalin's book comes from both how well-informed and astute she is about Pepys' life and times but also from how forgiving she is, accepting Pepys as a product of his life and times, hard on women while cherishing, even worshipping them, good at adding to his fortune by taking continuous bribes, and gifted in making and sustaining friendships. If English history during the latter part of the 17th century interests you, this is a terrific book...and even if you don't care about the history, you'll enjoy the studies it offers in character, behavior, culture, and values.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Wagner

    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 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 Jacobite and largely sacrificed his career due to his personal loyalty to James II, and, of course, the story of how the famous diary came to be discovered, transcribed, and published is a tale all its own. This is an excellent read for those interested in the Restoration period and is a highly valuable biography for fleshing out the entirety of Samuel Pepys' life.

  20. 4 out of 5

    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 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 not by family ties but by proven ability. The son of a barely literate tailor, Samuel was driven by curiosity to educate himself and, with the help of loans, proceed right on up through Magdalene College at Cambridge and then up in the British Admiralty to assume responsibility for the finances of the fleet. Along the way he befriended many among the landed gentry and royalty through his gift for conversation and welcome companionship. And while his mind was occupied, so were his roving hands which he applied to women at every opportunity, despite being married, even taking advantage of a business relationship to gain the right to have sex with the wife of a provider of services to the navy. He managed to have his cake and eat it too for many years and we are taken along through his diary, a work that ended when his Admiralty responsibilities overwhelmed his time, and, the author surmises, thought twice about the compatibility of full revelation with his position. What times he lived in! He was present during the years Puritanism ruled England under Oliver Cromwell, witnessing the execution of Charles I. Then Cromwell died and Charles II took the throne in a remarkable reversal of public support for Puritanism. When James II succeeded Charles II, James' Catholicism threatened to retake the country against the will of the people, only to be saved by the non-violent arrival of William of Orange, recruited to take the throne from the James, who obligingly fled the country, to the delight of the populace in what is called the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Add in the plague, the great London fire of 1666 along with plenty of civil unrest and even a highway robbery and you have one great story as the background for Pepys life, far from boring in itself! Physically challenged by eye pain, the major hurdle he had to clear was a kidney stone for which he underwent surgery without anesthetic. The survival rate for the operation was not good and Pepys was ever grateful for the success. The great plague? No problem, he sailed right through it. Cautious with money, even when it started flowing in, he avoided the fate of so many who couldn't handle wealth. His relationship with his wife was tempestuous but loving, though of course he was satisfying his sexual desires freely and, with one exception, without detection. The Unequalled Self is a personal adventure story that Claire Tomalin uses to take the reader through a fascinating period of history. What good fortune that Pepys diary survived 350 years as he intended.

  21. 4 out of 5

    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 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-devout Anglican, whose formative years were spent in the welter of reforms under Cromwell. Or that he had two (maybe?) wives, and a wandering hand (amongst other things). Or all sorts of other stuff. I thought I knew Pepys through cultural osmosis, but I was wrong. About half of Tomalin's book is devoted to the rich years from 1660-1669 when Pepys was writing his diary (Tomalin does a particularly good job of explaining why the diary is such a unique document, although she seems to avoid quoting too copiously - I would have liked to see more of Pepys' own words). The opening and closing quarters are based on either less established material (extrapolations of what Pepy's early life may have been like, based on documents from the period) or the drier documents he left later in life, and the accounts of other Court and Parliament figures. Tomalin doesn't stick tightly to chronology, instead shaping chapters based on themes, and handles the 'we'll return to this later' and 'as we noted earlier' segues well. It's a gripping, elegantly written read. 'Samuel Pepys' totally fuelled my growing obsession with 17th century England. Next up: Lisa Jardine's bio of scientist Robert Hooke. Observer review Guardian review

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    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 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 Cromwellian at the beheading of Charles the First; the mature Pepys who witnessed the Plague, the Fire of London, the founding of the Royal Society and the revolution of 1688. We are shown his career as a famous naval administrator who remained loyal to his master, James the Second, and the intellectually curious book collector who had a wide circle of friends - a few with names even more familiar to us than his. An engrossing account not only of an individual life, but of a time and place.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nicki Markus

    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 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.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sonia

    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 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 the last half of the book. One of my most favourite things is learning about his bookshelves that are the first known freestanding bookcases (made for modern day books) in the world! Wow, that's a dream.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    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 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 read other biographies written by Claire Tomalin.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenine

    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.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    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.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Carol Dobson

    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 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 actual writing which serves to reveal more completely the author and the society in which he lived. This is a fascinating view of life in the 17th century and of a man who has become one of the most famous diarists of all time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bill Tress

    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 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 good genes serve her well. Her degree is from the University of Cambridge. She has worked in publishing and journalism as a literary editor and all this academic and professional background and her sense of humor and insight make her a great talent. This book would have been a complete bore without her marvelous skill. The book is a history of 1660ies England and about Samuel Pepys a little-known civil servant in seventh century England. What makes this book of interest is that Pepys kept a diary for approximately ten years beginning in approximately 1660. This diary covers his journey through the traumatic events of England history during this period. The diary is still available in a nine-volume set and referenced by historians for its insight into seventh century London and its documentation of English Naval history, yet it is a difficult read full of shorthand notes, and various language usage. This is where Tomalin genius comes to the fore, she skillfully interrupts this diary and using numerous other sources paints a delightful portrait of the life and times of Samuel Pepys. Pepys was born in 1633 to lower class parents. His mother was a washer woman, and his father was a tailor. He was the fifth of eleven children and the eventual only survivor of the eleven. He did receive a good education at Cambridge, yet it was a family connection that got him into civil service. Early in his life, Pepys after years of pain had an operation to remove a kidney stone. The primitive medical practices of these times make a person cringe and most operations resulted in death, yet Pepys survived his stone removal. He had a similar procedure late in life and survived that operation also. Tomalin’s description of these procedure was cringe worthy to say the least. Her book includes a picture of a patient tied into a chair and being held down because no numbing drugs were used, ouch! His diary illustrates his considerable emotional skills that used in conjunction with his intellectual skills move him forward to eventual proximity to the King of England. He had insight into people and could sense in what direction the political wind was blowing, and I would guess that this skill is critical of the political life even in present times. He also seemed to be person well-liked by everyone, he had lifelong friendships He held key and powerful positions in government, He was on the Navy Board and in charge of Vicissitude and for someone from his humble beginnings this was a big deal! So, he could hardly fail to acquire rich and powerful friends, his diary charts his social and professional rise among ambitious men jostling for positions and property. He was a man of his times and this made him somewhat of a sexual predator who used his status to molest vulnerable woman such as teenage servants and maids who had much to lose by rejecting his advances. These practices seemed quite prevalent during this time and most men of influence had at least one mistress. While we can all agree that this behavior was and is despicable, Tomalin presents is such a way that it is humorous at times. He knew his flesh was weak so after abominable behavior he felt guilty and describes the event in this diary while promising never to do it again. When there are consensual encounters or with ladies of ill repute it becomes somewhat humorous, and I sensed that Tomalin takes a certain delight in describing these sexual adventures, particularly because they existed in the context of the diary and were endemic of the times. The chapter on marriage is among the best of this story and truly funny when you observe the many times that the men described in his diary think with their dick. Overall, this is a human story that shows Pepys at his brilliant best while administering to the British navy and his scandalous worst as a sexual predator, yet in the end the portrayal makes him human. The historical aspects of this story are many and well done. Tomalin describes how Pepys navigated the rebellion of Oliver Cromwell and the overthrow of the monarchy. He was loyal to the new republic and Cromwell, yet he and others were quick to sense the return of Charles II as King and immediately professed loyalty to the King. Others perished when the King sought out his revenge, yet Pepys some how survived to prosper. Pepys was smart and maybe even ahead of his time. His diary sheds light on the way officials of government and businessmen worked together, through clubs, through hospitality, through trips that mixed business and pleasure, through well chosen and discreetly given presents and through cultivating the friendship of those in a position to be helpful in getting licenses and contracts. The circumstances were different, yet there is something eerily familiar about it too. Pepys was mimicking our modern world while making himself rich and indispensable to King and Country. The English navy and its many wars with France and the Dutch are described very well, Pepys genius was evident in his administration of the Navy. He did this through enlightened Administration and reform but not as a warrior himself. Tomalin talks about the hated practice of conscription on the high seas and these practices persisted for many centuries. This reviewer remembers the War of 1812 where British conscription of American seaman was one of the reasons for that war. Profiteering was also a problem that Pepys addressed. Captains and Ministers after the capture of a foreign vessel would claim the prize as a spoil of war and take most of the bounty while relegating King and Country to a minor share. Most of the crews were only occasionally paid and they lived with inadequate clothing and food while enduring hardships and abuse. Pepys worked on these Naval issues and helped make the British Navy a powerful and effective force. In other chapters the great fire of London and the effects of the plague in London are described through Pepys diary. This is excellent reading because it is firsthand knowledge, he was there and tried to survive these events while trying to save his family, their homes, and belongings, this was remarkably interesting reading. Pepys died in 1703, yet he had the foresight to lay out how his diary, papers and letters were to be handled. They went to Cambridge University and languished there for decades until identified as a store house of English and Naval history. In the nineteenth and twentieth century they became a source of historical research. Over the centuries, various people have attempted translations of his nine-volume diary with varying success at cracking the code of his shorthand. A number of biographies have been written, yet I believe that Claire Tomalin has written an outstanding work full of minute detail gathered from multiple sources, wonderful prose created a very comprehensible work, and her in-depth research full of correspondence between Pepys and friends provides a wonderful insight to the humanity of this man.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Greg Thorpe

    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 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 don't! The momentum of the book is such a joy and the high-drama moments leap out all the better in the context of the whole. Chapters on Pepys' language, marital jealousy, or 'the three Janes' yield just as many thrilling details as his zombie-esque plague streets, or the weird mix of apocalypse and humdrum that surrounds his telling of the Great Fire. The great uncredited character throughout, of course, is London itself – the riotous buzz, the filth, the beauty, the endless political flux, the injustices, the grandeur. Pepys is there to see one of the first women perform on the London stage. He sees Hamlet performed by Thomas Betterton, who was schooled by D'Avenant, who was taught by Shakespeare himself. The snapshots are brought to life first by Pepys, then by Tomalin, who first and foremost adores Pepys as a prose writer. The details are endlessly fascinating. Where and how people meet, eat and have sex. The alien formalities of love and friendship. The eye-witnessing of historical tumult. At the execution of Charles I the soldiers deliberately make a loud noise so the crowd won't hear the final words of the king, then when his head rolls off, the day continues as normal, the shops stay open, and Pepys heads back to school. Years later, when Pepys joins the small band who bring Charles II back to England to take his place on the throne, the exiled king's clothes, Pepys notices, are shabbier than his own. These irreplaceable moments are given such skilful construct and context by Tomalin, it's almost like a collaboration 400 years in the making. Highly highly recommend.

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