The Unequalled Self
By Claire Tomalin
(Vintage Books USA, Paperback, 9780375725531, 465pp.)
Publication Date: November 11, 2003
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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 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.
“A magnificent triumph. . . . Absolutely stunning.” —The Atlantic Monthly
“Invaluable. . . . [Tomalin] not only brings [Pepys] back to vibrant life, but makes a powerful case that he’s more central, more ‘relevant,’ than we ever imagined.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A magisterial book [written] with an elegance and concision that few historians could match. . . . You have to love Samuel Pepys. He is us.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Exceptional. . . . Nuanced, moving. . . . A book teeming, like the diary, with clarity, momentum and great pleasure.” —Chicago Tribune
“Exemplary. . . . The perfect bookend to [Pepys’s] own rollicking self-portrait.” —The New York Times
“Fine and engrossing. . . . Tomalin possesses a particularly graceful and pleasing diction, a proper sense of measure, and a piquant willingness to express her own views.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Excellent. . . . Remarkable and sympathetic. . . . One is not likely to think of Pepys in the same way again.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“A superb biography by a writer at the height of her powers.” —Whitbread Award Judges’ Citation