By Wook Kim
Updated March 17, 2020 at 03:09 AM EDT

Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

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On a December day in 1659, Samuel Pepys, a low-level civil servant in Restoration England, purchased a plain 282-page notebook in which he planned to keep a journal. ”It was an unpromising moment to embark on a record of his daily activities,” wryly observes Claire Tomalin in her brilliant new biography, Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self, of the man whose diaries are now regarded as perhaps the most famous in English letters. Tracing his career — from humble bureaucrat to an influential architect of the modern Royal Navy — Tomalin presents a fascinating portrait of an individual equal parts yuppie (shallow and materialistic), company man (a capable administrator), and skirt-chasing scamp. Yet Tomalin never falters in her appreciation of this unpretentious genius. It is, after all, difficult to condemn a man who watches the royal pooch ”s— in the boat, which made us all laugh and me think that a King and all that belong to him are but just as others are.”

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Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self

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