John Aubrey, My Own Life

NYRB. Sept. 2016. 552p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781681370422. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781681370439. LIT
The English antiquarian John Aubrey (1626–97) is best remembered for a book he never published. Brief Lives, versions of which have been released over the past two centuries, most recently and authoritatively edited by Kate Bennett in 2015, is based on unsystematic collections of notes Aubrey gathered about hundreds of people living in the 16th and 17th centuries, including himself. In this biography, Scurr (history, Cambridge Univ.; Fatal Purity) arranges Aubrey's own words, modernized and supplemented with her own where necessary to provide context, into a year-by-year diary. It makes for pleasant reading and has garnered much praise in England, where it was originally published. Yet, scholars curious about the contents of any paragraph must turn to the endnotes to find their origin; to discover Aubrey's exact words requires copies of Scurr's printed and manuscript sources. Similar to Aubrey, Scurr digresses, and some details seem extraneous.
VERDICT Scurr's book is accessible and entertaining for all readers. For a more conventional portrait, suggest Anthony Powell's John Aubrey and His Friends.
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