cover image John Aubrey: My Own Life

John Aubrey: My Own Life

Ruth Scurr. New York Review Books, $35 (552p) ISBN 978-1-68137-042-2

Scurr follows her acclaimed first biography, Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution, by immortalizing a Renaissance man of 17th-century England. John Aubrey (1626–1697), a biographer himself, is known primarily for his book Brief Lives. Scurr brings him brilliantly to life by using surviving letters and manuscripts to craft the diary he never wrote. Living in a century of religious and political upheaval, Aubrey sought to preserve the old and discover the new, researching and engaging in correspondence on a wide range of subjects including medicine, architecture, and archaeology. Scurr’s diary format allows us to watch him grow from a curious boy who “like[s] to think about the past” to a man quietly passionate about everything ancient: “If I do not keep careful notes... no one else will make these records.” He is a humble friend who values and amplifies the ideas of others, an omnivorous thinker always asking “Why?”, and an enthusiastic collector of details about contemporary and historical personalities. Indeed, the Aubrey whom Scurr recreates for us is as charming and entertaining as his “diary,” which Scurr has rendered accessible by modernizing spelling and word choices. This book is both a wonderful historical resource and a delight to read. (Sept.)