—Mary Beard, The Guardian, Best Books of the Year 2015
A genre-busting diary-biography of John Aubrey - antiquary, biographer, and perfect seventeenth-century English gentleman - in his own words. John Aubrey: My Own Life received rave reviews when published in the UK in early 2015.
Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey is an extraordinary book about the first modern biographer that reimagines what biography can be. This intimate diary of Aubrey’s days is composed of his own words, meticulously collected, collated, and enlarged upon by Scurr in an act of meticulous scholarship and daring imagination. Aubrey was born in Wiltshire, England, in 1626, and is best known as the author of Brief Lives, a book that redefined the art of biography through its informal and memorable sketches of the lives of his contemporaries, both men and women. The reign of Queen Elizabeth and the dissolution of the monasteries were not too far distant in memory during Aubrey’s boyhood. He lived through some of England’s most interesting times: the Civil War, the execution of Charles I, the brief rule of Oliver Cromwell and his son, and the restoration of Charles II. Scurr’s biography honors and echoes Aubrey’s own innovations in the art of biography. Rather than subject his life to a conventional narrative, Scurr has collected the evidence - remnants of a life, from manuscripts, letters, and books - and arranged it chronologically, modernizing words and spellings, and adding explanations, when necessary. All sources are given in the extensive endnotes. The result is an immediate, vibrant account of a life, “rescued . . . from the teeth of time,” as Aubrey said of his own strivings.
The UK edition of John Aubrey was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Biography Award and was selected by Mary Beard as one of the “Best Books of 2015” for The Guardian, was on The Guardian’s list of the “best biographies and memoir books of 2015,” and the Times Literary Supplement / TLS “Books of the Year” list for 2015.
Ruth Scurr is a historian, writer, and literary critic. Her first biography Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize in 2006 and was listed among the 100 Best Books of the Decade in The Times in 2009.
“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
“Anyone who has not read Ruth Scurr’s John Aubrey can have a splendid time reading it this summer. Scurr has invented an autobiography the great biographer never wrote, using his notes, letters, observations - and the result is gripping” -A.S. Byatt, The Guardian
“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