Ollard's biography of Samuel Pepys is a perverse sort of tribute to the style of the rakish 17th century diarist: its exceedingly ponderous monotony only serves to highlight the charm and spirit of the original journals. Ollard, author of The Escape of Charles II and a biography of 17th century admiral Sir Robert Holmes, calls the diary one of the greatest works in the language (his assessments of his hero tend to hyperbole) but nevertheless focuses on boats rather than books. His central thesis is that Pepys was -- despite his evident greed, corruption, selfishness, petty jealousies -- one of England's greatest naval administrators. Pepys' part in the Dutch wars is lovingly detailed, yet his magnificent passages on the Plague and the Great Fire go virtually unremarked. Ollard's defense of his notorious amours is humorless, even prudish; likewise re his religious skepticism. At times he slips almost into hagiography, a tone of reverence that's entirely inappropriate to the picaresque reality of the dissolute, overweening but clever tailor's son. At best, this is a factual history of what the author calls -- again, somewhat excessively -- ""the most exciting and eventful period of English history."" For scholars, for navvies -- but definitely not for that wider audience looking for vivid portraiture.