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John Aubrey My Own Life by Ruth Scurr

Sue Baker's view...

Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for Biography 2016.

Shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award 2015.

Calling it a book of scholarly imagination, Ruth Scurr attempts to recreate John Aubrey’s life from his own writings. He was one of the first journalistic voices we have in English history; he was passionately interested in interpreting the landscape, notably the stone circle at Avebury, an early attempt at archaeology. He was poor, saddled with debts but rich in friends and experience, a singular C17 voice.

Costa Judges' comment: “We were all beguiled and charmed by this hugely original take on the life of one of the 17th century’s most engaging chroniclers.”

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Brief Lives, John Aubrey £14.99

Memoir of John Aubrey, John Britton

Who is Sue Baker


John Aubrey My Own Life by Ruth Scurr

Anno 1634, Easton Pierse I was born about sun rising in my maternal grandfather's bedchamber on 12th March 1626. St. Gregory's Day, very sickly, likely to die. John Aubrey loved England. From an early age, he saw his England slipping away and, against extraordinary odds, committed himself to preserving for posterity what remained of it - in books, monuments and life stories. His Brief Lives would redefine the art of biography yet he published only one rushed, botched book in his lifetime and died fearing his name and achievements would be forgotten. Ruth Scurr's biography is an act of scholarly imagination: a diary drawn from John Aubrey's own words, displaying his unique voice, dry wit, the irreverence and drama of a literary pioneer. Aubrey saw himself modestly as a collector of a vanishing past, a 'scurvy antiquary'. But he was also one of the pioneers of modern writing, a journalist before the age of journalism, who witnessed the Civil War and the Great Fire of London in the company of some of the influential men and women, high and low, whose lives he would make his legacy. John Aubrey's own life was a poignant personal and financial struggle to record the doings of great men and the relics of antiquity, the habits of Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton and Thomas Hobbes, the stones of Stonehenge and the stained glass of forgotten churches. In this genre-defying account, rich with the London taverns and elegiac landscapes of an England he helped to preserve, Ruth Scurr has resurrected John Aubrey as a potent spirit for our own time.

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'My Own Life is light, ingenious, inspiring, a book to reread and cherish. The vigour and spirit on every page would delight John Aubrey, that most individual of thinkers and writers, who has found a biographer of originality and wit. It is reverent, charming, poignant: it is made of the same ingredients as its subject.' -- Hilary Mantel

'Another writer of brief lives, Lytton Strachey, feared that in our modern civilization John Aubrey would 'never come into existence again'. But that is exactly what he does in Ruth Scurr's absorbing and imaginative biography. In these pages his purchase on posterity returns with all his ingenious visions and impulses. Scurr is no less a pioneer biographer than Aubrey himself.' -- Michael Holroyd

About the Author

Ruth Scurr is an historian, biographer and literary critic. She teaches history and politics at Cambridge University, where she is a Lecturer and Fellow of Gonville & Caius College. Her first book, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize, was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times. She reviews regularly for the Times Literary Supplement, The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal.

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Book Info

Publication date

30th November 1999


Ruth Scurr

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Biography / Autobiography
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