Claire Tomalin’s 2002 Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self as a companion piece to his diaries. It is not just the subject or the nature of the turbulent times that I loved about this book. Though Tomalin’s breadth of knowledge is wonderful, it is the clarity of the writing and the absolute singularity of purpose that made this such a delightful book: Tomalin wants to explain. She does not want to tell you how clever she is, how much research she had done, nor engage in controversy or best anyone. This is an exploration of Pepys, not an academic cockfight. The writing is so crisp and clear that each sentence left me hankering for the next. More than that, and this is rare in biography, the book left me fond of the subject. I once cheered on a bus when Hemingway shot himself on page 998. She does not flinch from Pepys’ sexual predation or the sliminess of his social aspiration, but gives just enough background to make it explicable and to prompt a spark of empathy and a recognition that these flaws are universal. Gorgeous, velvety, luscious reading.
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