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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self Hardcover – November 12, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) is the most famous diarist in English letters. From 1660 to 1669, he penned an unforgettable day-by-day description of Restoration London, with its disasters (the Great Plague of 1665, the Great Fire of 1666), its tumultuous politics and its amazing cultural fervor. Pepys's diary also describes his eager womanizing, as he makes passes, often clumsily, at barmaids and shop girls and the wives of his associates. It is Pepys's intermingling of the public and the private that makes his diary so remarkable. Tomalin (Jane Austin: A Life, etc.) really knows her man, following him closely through some of the great events of English history. As a young government clerk, Pepys allied himself with his cousin Edward Montagu, who turned away from Cromwell to help Charles II become king in 1660, and the Restoration made Pepys's career. Highly organized, intelligent and a savvy political infighter, as Tomalin portrays him, he became a leading navy official and helped build the British navy into a world power. Tomalin also brings us inside Pepys's personal life: his tempestuous marriage, his romantic liaisons, his private, quite negative feelings about King Charles II. Tomalin writes brilliant chapters on all aspects of Pepys's life, relying not only on the diary but also on impressive scholarship. Tomalin clearly admires her subject, whose energy she constantly praises. For those who have already enjoyed the diary, Tomalin's learned and entertaining work admirably fills in the gaps. 16 pages of photos.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Tomalin, biographer of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, goes beyond Pepys's diary years to examine his entire life.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375411437
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375411434
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #532,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 76 people found the following review helpful By Lauren S. Kahn on February 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I buy a lot of books from Amazon[.com] and, because I am so busy reading them, I do not often review them. This biography of Samuel Pepys was just terrific, so I had to say something about it.
I am a history buff and suppose anyone buying this book would have to be. Samuel Pepys, as it turns out, was a lot more than just a diarist. He was, in effect, what we would call Secretary of the Navy during the Restoration.
Raised as a Puritan, he successfully made the switch to a Stuart supporter when The Restoration became inevitable after Oliver Cromwell died and his son just did not measure up to the job.
We are taken into the world of an ambitious man clawing his way up to the top of the greasy pole. He knows how it is done--and how to make money from bribes (and convince yourself that you are not doing anything immoral at the same time). The way things were done in 17th century was a bit different than it is in the modern US--and perhaps a bit of the same.
The most riveting bit about Pepys life was an operation he underwent in 1658 for the removal of a bladder stone. It goes without saying that there was no anesthesia in those days. First they tied you down and then they cut and probed; there is an illustration of someone trussed up like a turkey with a probe inserted in--well, you have to see it.
Great pain and death was a daily companion for those living before anesthesia--and I am not even going to talk about tooth pain. Death, moreover, was all around. Children died from all sorts of diseases that are easily curable now. Any sort of fever could end in death--and, of course, there was bubonic plague, which killed off about 1/6 of London's population in a single year.
I found this book absolutely riveting.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 8, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book as a follow-up after listened to the audio recording of Pepys Diary narrated (performed!) by Kenneth Branagh to get a more in depth knowledge of the historical times, characters and political forces of the day. I am no avid historian but great history can approach great literature in stature (my bias). This very well researched and thoroughly documented account of the life of Samuel Pepys spans the years prior to, during and subsequent to the diary years. Although the most compelling period is the diary years, the times prior to that disclose his upbringing and particularly his health and it's lasting imprint on this amazing character - no doubt contributing to his life long ambitious drive and living for the moment. You will never consider a kidney stone in the same light after reading this account!
As preivious reviewers here have noted, the diary was written largely in code. That and heavy editing by nervous publishers over the years have kept the complete story from full disclosure for nearly 300 hundred years. Initially the bawdy stories kept my rapt attention, but this research reveals it is much more than that - a very multi-layered and mullti-faceted sotry that for the history novice like me, puts a humanistic face on the 17th century.
Significant points that Tomalin reveals include that this secret diary is one of the best historical accounts that covers London's Restoration period as the King had tight control over "the press". The diary documents firsthand accounts of the plague, the great fire, the return of the king to the thrown, the many wars at sea with the Dutch, the political struggling between the Royals and the Common Wealth, the intense distrust between protestants and catholics and religious persecution.
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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful By sarah crapo on November 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This one is and I've read them all. Tomalin chooses diary excerpts brilliantly, tying together a picture of the man in his own words that captures the spirit of the diary and other materials (letters and so on) perfectly. Then she wraps it all into the context of the fascinating times in which Pepys lived and gives us rich introductions to those who shared his life and world. This book is a MUST READ for anyone who likes Pepys. Anyone who doesn't know Pepys will run right out and buy the 11-volume version of the diary after reading this book.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Loveitt on January 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A good biographer must tread a fine line. She must enable us to get beneath the skin of her subject. We have to be made to feel that we really understand what makes the subject tick. On the other hand (if you don't mind me mixing my metaphors!) she must maintain a critical perspective. The biography should not degenerate into "hero worship". In "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self" the biographer, Claire Tomalin, has managed to achieve this balance. Admittedly, as far as getting beneath her subject's skin, Ms. Tomalin has been helped by one of the most famous diaries of all time- the one kept by Pepys from his late 20's until his late 30's. But I have seen other biographies of Pepys that relied too much on the diary- where the diary became a crutch that enabled the biographer merely to amuse us with its sometimes slapstick sexual content, rather than to thoughtfully present us with a well-rounded, flesh-and-blood human being. So, besides reporting on Pepys's crude and predatory amorous adventures, much of the book is devoted to Pepys's hard work over many years as a naval administrator. He devoted himself to modernizing the Navy by both the introduction of proper record keeping and by using the resultant statistical data to develop a more efficient procurement process. He also never stopped trying to get adequate funding so that more ships could be built. Pepys, who as a teenager witnessed the execution of Charles I and who was an admirer of Cromwell, was a great believer in meritocracy. However, Ms. Tomalin also shows us a Pepys who didn't fail to enrich himself by taking advantage of his position- he accepted numerous "gifts" from people who wanted government jobs or contracts. (The "gifts" weren't always in the form of money.Read more ›
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