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  • Published: 12 March 2015
  • ISBN: 9781448190874
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544

John Aubrey

My Own Life


The autobiography that John Aubrey never wrote. Discover the perfect seventeenth-century English gentleman in his own words.

'A truly remarkable writer, one of the most gifted non-fiction authors alive' Simon Schama, Financial Times


This is the autobiography that John Aubrey never wrote.

You may not know his name. Aubrey was a modest man, a gentleman-scholar who cared far more for the preservation of history than for his own legacy. But he was a passionate collector, an early archaeologist and the inventor of modern biography.

With all the wit, charm and originality that characterises her subject, Ruth Scurr has seamlessly stitched together John Aubrey's own words to tell his life story and a captivating history of seventeenth-century England unlike any other.

'A game-changer in the world of biography' Mary Beard

'Ingenious' Hilary Mantel

'Irresistible' Philip Pullman

  • Published: 12 March 2015
  • ISBN: 9781448190874
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 544

About the author

Ruth Scurr

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.

Also by Ruth Scurr

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Praise for John Aubrey

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

Writing a biography of a biographer that doubles as an experimental analysis of biography itself is a formidable and astonishing achievement. That it is also profoundly affecting is what makes John Aubrey: My Own Life a triumph

Stuart Kelly, The Times Literary Supplement

To me this book is a delight and.it is the one that I would take with me to a desert island

David Aaronovitch, The Times

For me, the academic historian, Scurr's experimental "act of scholarly imagination" has already modified significantly my own historical understanding

Lisa Jardine, Financial Times

[A] moving and delicate book

Frances Wilson, New Statesman

Scurr's judgment and scholarship in constructing Aubrey's own account of events are so flawless that she allows us almost to forget that she is there

Alexandra Harris, Guardian

The marriage of [Aubrey's] words and Scurr's is so smoothly achieved that I have no idea where one leaves off and the other intervenes

Allan Massie, Scotsman

Scurr's imaginative feat of retrieval has produced a perfect book for dipping into when you want a taste of what it was like to be alive in the 17th century

John Carey, Sunday Times

It is a testament to [Scurr's] skill that you quickly stop thinking about technique and instead slip happily into the company of the character she has created. The wealth of research and the seams between imagination and reality disappear from view. This is truly selfless biography

Daisy Hay, 5 stars, Daily Telegraph

A delightful read about the ebb and flow of thoughts in one extraordinary man's mind

Claire Harman, Evening Standard

Drawing on [Aubrey's] manuscripts and letters, [Ruth Scurr] has fashioned, as chronologically as possible, an autobiography in the form of the diary that Aubrey never wrote. It fits him perfectly. Ms Scurr has done him proud

The Economist

Aubrey was a delightful, self-deprecating man ... A conventional biography of Aubrey could easily have become a portrait of the time through which he had lived, allowing the man himself to be overshadowed ... Instead, Ruth Scurr has invented the diary Aubrey might have written, incorporating his own chaotic, sometimes scrappy literary remains to form a continuous narrative. ... lucky him to have been accorded a biography as whimsical as his own self

Clive Aslet, Country Life

It is a bold and brilliant experiment, but it suits the fragmentary nature of Aubrey's work and life.

Andrew Brown, Sunday Telegraph

Scurr's book illuminates and poignantly captures the voice of a man more often a "ghostly record keeper" in his own writing

Carl Wilkinson, Financial Times

An audacious and successful attempt to write a biography in the subject's own words. Scurr has ingeniously edited Aubrey's swift, vivid prose into a coherent account of the life lived by one of the most interesting (and interested - in everything) writers of our most exciting century, the seventeenth. Irresistible

Philip Pullman, Guardian

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

AS Byatt, Guardian

John Aubrey brilliantly reconfigures the art of biography

David Abulafia, Times Higher Education


Mary Beard, Spectator

In a year that has seen the publication of Ruth Scurr's John Aubrey: My Own Life, it's hard not to wonder...why everyone else bothers. Oh, you think, it's because they started writing their books when the earth was still flat... Scurr's book alters our perception of the territory. You would be sceptical if you weren't awestruck: Aubrey's voice is exceptional, and Scurr's fragmentary form is perfectly suited to her subject's magpie preoccupations.

Gaby Wood, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year

An extraordinarily original piece of biography. gripping, moving, and beautifully rendered

Neel Mukherjee, New Statesman

Bold and imaginative recreation of the diary of the 17th-century antiquary. It shows how close a scrupulous and unselfregarding biographer can come to the savour of a life

Graham Robb, Spectator

A genuinely remarkable work of biographical innovation.

Stuart Kelly, TLS, Books of the Year

Scurr wrote the biography Aubrey didn't write - Aubrey's own - in a biographical form that is unique, new and gripping

AS Byatt, TLS, Books of the Year

This year saw one of the most audacious biographies I can remember reading: Ruth Scurr's John Aubrey: My Own Life... What we are presented with is a wonderful artificial composite: a fascinating patchwork made up of extracts from Aubrey's notebooks, journals and letters, chronologically rearranged with consummate editorial and novelistic artfulness by Scurr. The result is haunting, memorable and, in the field of non-fiction, unprecedented.

William Boyd, TLS, Books of the Year

A game-changer in the world of biography

Mary Beard, Guardian

I'd like to reread Ruth Scurr's John Aubrey every Christmas for at least the next five years: I love being between its humane pages, which celebrate both scholarly companionship and deep feeling for the past

Alexandra Harris, Guardian

Ruth Scurr's innovative take on biography has an immediacy that brings the 17th century alive

Penelope Lively, Guardian

Scurr confidently walks an imaginative life between historical fact and fiction. Her Aubrey - curious yet self-effacing- is a very English hero

Sunday Times

In an act of daring ventriloquism, Scurr here tells Aubrey's life story in his own words, stitched together from his scattered manuscripts. The result is a triumph of historical imagination, as vivid and endearing as its subject's own

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

A triumph, capturing the landscape and the history of the time, and Aubrey's cadence.

Daily Telegraph

A brilliantly readable portrait in diary form. Idiosyncratic, playful and intensely curious, it is the life story Aubrey himself might have written.

Jane Shilling, Daily Mail

Scurr knows her subject inside out.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

The diligent Scurr has evidence to support everything. Learning about him is to learn more about his world than his modest personality, but Scurr helps us feel his pain at the iconoclasm and destruction wrought by the Puritans without resorting to overwrought language.

Nicholas Lezard, Guardian

Acclaimed and ingeniously conceived semi-fictionalised autobiography. Scurr's greatest achievement is to bring both Aubrey and his world alive in detail that feels simultaneously otherworldly and a mirror of our own age. It's hard to think of a biographical work in recent years that has been so bold and so wholly successful.

Alexander Larman, Observer

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