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Samuel Pepys the Unequaled Self by Claire Tomalin

March 21, 2012

I have just finished this incredible book. Its one I have always wanted to read. The book tells the story of Samuel Pepys who is famous for writing a detailed diary of his life and the events that surrounded him during the 1660s. He came from humbles beginnings to being the secretary of the admiralty. He had a fascinating personal life and witnessed some of the most significant events of his time.  I have read an abridged version of Pepys’ diary and wanted to know more about Pepys’ later life.

To write a book about someone like Pepys is a huge undertaking. Anyone who has read his famous diaries already feels like they know him so well. However the diaries really only cover a relatively short period of his life. The diaries are so hugely significant because of when they were written. They are one of the primary sources for anyone wishing to research the restoration, the great plague and the fire of London. They are also significant in their descriptions of everyday life in restoration England and their frank honesty about Pepys personal life. Claire Tomalin has done a fabulous job of piecing together Pepys’s life into an interesting and readable story.

This book is an amazing companion to the diaries. It fills in all the gaps. I loved reading about Pepys’s family background and his amazing career path. It was so interesting to read about his life after his wife’s death and his old age.

The highlight of the book for me was the final chapter in which Tomalin tells us how the diaries went undiscovered for so long and how it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were published in full. I just found it amazing that they sat in a book shelf un read for so long.

I am now desperate to read Tomalin’s other biographies, especially Charles Dickens and Mrs Jordan.

I give this book a 5 out of 5

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