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Life of Johnson

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3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  2,108 ratings  ·  147 reviews
Poet, lexicographer, critic, moralist and Great Cham, Dr. Johnson had in his friend Boswell the ideal biograoher.
Paperback, 1528 pages
Published December 11th 1980 by Oxford University Press (first published 1790)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Paul Bryant
This is a book which is not about a thing but is the thing itself. I think there’s a complicated German philosophical term for that.

In the history books they will tell you Samuel Johnson is dead these 200 years, but I say No Sir. He’s alive, here, right here. He’s walking and talking and wringing the necks of fools right here.

In this book’s oceanic vastness of pages Boswell the drunk, the fool, the butt of japes, the ignoble toady, creates the reality tv of 18th century London. There are verbat
...more
James
Samuel Johnson was one of the great figures of 18th Century England. As a poet, critic, and literary jack-of-all-trades, he would become a great innovator (particularly in the genre of biography) as well as a devoted assimilator of the fading Augustan tradition, favouring abstraction and a high moral tone to the burgeoning realism of his day. Often pegged as a stout Tory with tightly buckled beliefs and an awful quip reserved for anyone daring enough to contradict him, the jury is still out on w ...more
Justin Evans
I might be too exhausted from reading the thing to write a proper review. Just holding it takes a toll on my sub-ganymedic upper body.

The first thing to note is that I'd much rather read more Boswell than read more of Johnson's letters. Boswell's writing is like that of eighteenth century philosophers: totally unselfconscious, they simply say what they mean. Later theoreticians will undermine a lot of it, and try to find latent contradictions and so on, but the fact is that most people are a pl
...more
umberto
I walked to visit Dr. Johnson's House at 17 Gough Square, London in England on July 5, 1997 in the evening alone. I also bought this great biography there (10.99 pounds) and had since kept reading off and on till I reached its final page on November 5, 2001. I had known this book since my early teens and thus I have my own respect for Dr. Johnson for his humility with his literary brilliance as well as his fame and recognition from the Universities of Dublin and Oxford with the two honorary doct ...more
Douglas Wilson
I recently included a "bucket book" in my line-up of books I am reading. These are books I really ought to have read by this time in my life, but which, alas, I have not. This book, The Life of Samuel Johnson, was the first in this roster that I have completed. Having done so, it continues to strike me as a really good idea.

Boswell mentions near the end of the book that those who took the time to read "may be considered as well acquainted with him." I think this is quite true, and gaining the ac
...more
Eric
Jan 21, 2009 Eric marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I put this down around page 600 because I didn't think I had the time or attention to devote to all 1200 pages. That said, it's not arduous reading. Exceedingly pleasant, in fact. Richard Howard, in a poem somewhere, referred to the 'glossy carapace' of 18th century diction; Boswell, on his own and aided by copious extracts from Johnson and others, forms a treasure chest of elegantly turned utterance.
Lotz
The Life of Samuel Johnson is many things: charming, witty, vivacious, absorbing, edifying, beautiful; part philosophy and part history, with some politics and religion on the side. It is ironic, then, that one of the few things it most definitely is not is a biography.

James Boswell was not interested in creating a record of Johnson’s life, but a portrait of his personality. As a result, Boswell rapidly plowed through the time of Johnson’s life that the two weren’t acquainted—the first fifty yea
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Robert
When you major in what is called "English" at college, certain inconvenient figures present themselves. One is Ben Jonson who is inconvenient because it is so much more rewarding and taxing to spend your time on Shakespeare, although Jonson also was a major dramatist during Shakespeare's day.

Another inconvenient figure is William Blake, the poet often grouped with the "Romantics," but clearly not one of them and a study unto himself, sui generis, one of a kind. If you're going to study Blake, yo
...more
Brad
The best way to read Boswell's Life of Johnson is this way: via a somewhat cheesy, "classic library" volume of a Great Classics type of series. The book looks like one of those books you would find in the movie set of a lawyer's office, trying to look distinguished and old, although it feels plasticy.

We learn from other sources (outside of Boswell) that Boswell himself was something of an annoying 18th century star f__ker, but thank God he was - because reading this book is like being a part of
...more
Rozzer
Eclipse first, the rest nowhere. Yes, people, this is it. The BEST biography ever written anywhere in any language. You may not previously have made the acquaintance of Jamie or the good Doctor, but after having read this incredible work they will be your friends for life. It's true. Eighteenth Century London is long ago and, for most of us, far away. Few of us have ever known men to wear knee-pants and tricorne hats as these did, or even seen the huge, thirty-yard dress productions that the lad ...more
Will Miller
Full of falsities. And it has probably done as much harm as good to our understanding of its remarkable subject. Still, it's very difficult not to love this book. What a hoot. Enjoy yourself - it's difficult not to. And take your time. But don't for a minute fool yourself into thinking this book is about Samuel Johnson.
Mishka
i've read half this book so far and, as with all terribly good, terribly long books that you don't rush through in one go, it's comforting to know that it's at home waiting for me. i'm looking forward to when i can open it up where i left off when life wasn't quite as crazy as it is now and continue giggling at boswell's madness. although the book is titled 'the life of samuel johnson', i am going to need to get a proper biography of the great doctor because i am completely distracted by boswell ...more
Roger
Reading Boswell's Life of Johnson is something I've long aspired to do, and now that I'm retired, I took the time to wade through it. I learned a great deal about the 18th century from Johnson (through Boswell), including fascinating insights into John Wesley, George Whitefield, and the Methodists, from Boswell's point of view. Worth a reading, if that century is of interest to you.
Lazarus P Badpenny Esq
Perhaps there is no greater indication of encroaching dotage than the excitement I feel towards the prospect of devouring Boswell's Life of Johnson.
Kiof
The ultimate non-fiction book. Just plain great. For me, this is beach-reading.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 20, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Good Reading: 100 Significant Books
This is an abridgment of Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, which as it is runs to over 500 pages. I am glad I read it, but I’m also glad I read an abridgment (an ebook downloaded for free from The Gutenberg Project). In the preface the editor tells us he “omitted most of Boswell’s criticisms, comments, and notes, all of Johnson’s opinions in legal cases, most of the letters, and parts of the conversation dealing with matters which were of greater importance in Boswell’s day than now.” I don’t kn ...more
Richard
Boswell's epic chronicle is indulgent and idiosyncratic, but incredibly readable after more than 200 years. Boswell not only brings a version of Johnson to life (how accurately this version reflects the real thing is a matter of academic debate) - the accumulation of character observations, recurring themes, and miscellaneous anecotes and discussions immerse the reader in his entire milieu and the public intellectual life of the era. Among Johnson's associates, Oliver Goldsmith is particularly m ...more
Charles
Here is an experiment in book reviewing. I can't add anything to the mass of opinion about Johnson. So al alternative:

1971-1972 Me and Samuel Johnson

In 1971, a division. The basics are in place, grown-up life is beginning. The ways of knowing are established (in 1971 I was still waiting on history) and their associated modes of production - how to write, compose, do philosophy are known in a preliminary fashion. The period of euphoric, youthful discovery is over: nine important authors in about
...more
Douglas Dalrymple
This is where I’ve spent most of my reading time the past few weeks. My first reading of Boswell’s Life of Johnson was, in fact, the reading of an abridgment. This time, I swallowed the whole 1,200 pages. I’m still digesting and may post something more here by way of a review in the days or weeks to come. For now, I’ll just say that I’m pretty sure Dr Johnson would dislike me. He doesn’t seem to have liked Americans at all (a bunch of vile Whigs!). I doubt whether I would have liked Dr Johnson e ...more
Ron
Boswell's Life of Johnson is one of those books which learned people are told to read but few seldom do. Because of its availability through Project Guthenberg, I undertook to amend that deficiency in my own instance. (Okay, I give up, I can't think that way, let alone write it.)

Frankly, I almost quit due to both the antique style and Boswell's gushing hero worship, however I eventually got a feel for both and plunged on. It was worth it. Johnson was probably not an easy man to know. He certainl
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Blake Nelson
One of my all time favorite books. Read this in college and was devoted to it, ending my letters with longwinded salutations in the style of Boswell and Johnson, whose letters I read, when I'd finished this great book.

Weird that just in the time since then, the 1980s, enough has happened that this now feels more distant historically. And the slightly slow style--it's actually very quick and succinct compared to the writing style of the time--made it very hard to focus on.

I couldn't get very fa
...more
Kay
I was reading this in daily installments sent by e-mail from DailyLit.com. Unfortunately, I found that to be an an abridged edition, plus it was proving hard to follow in e-mailed chunks, so I've since been reading it in book form. My biggest obstacle at this point is that there are so many dramatic personae that it's a little hard to follow, particularly given Boswell's habit of quoting long extracts from Johnson's letters. It's fueled my interest in the 18th century, though, and I'm doing some ...more
Randolph Carter
Greatest biography written bar none. Captures the nature of the man better than anything since. I wouldn't call it the best model for writing a biography, but it still is the finest one ever written. Never surpassed.
JoAnna
"The character of Samuel Johnson has, I trust, been so developed in the course of this work, that they who have honoured it with a perusal, may be considered as well acquainted with him." (1003)

I am by no means an expert, or even a seasoned reader of biographies, but I can attest that there is good reason why Boswell's epic chronicle of Samuel Johnson's life is considered a masterpiece. As an avid reader of anything by Jesuit Fr. James V. Schall, I was enticed to read this hefty book after encou
...more
Gary Daly
I didn't get my BA Arts until I was well into my 30s but was fortunate enough to 'learn' about Samuel Johnson from the 'Blackadder The Third'TV series. Though, James Boswell's superb biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson was for me a rewarding reading experience. This biography published in 1791 captures the oppressive atmosphere whereby Johnson the subject and Boswell the scribe (they were close friends) spend decades on the verge of an existential explosion. Johnson's lifelong wait and fear of ...more
Paul
Boswell’s Life of Johnson is one of the most famous biographies in the English language. Its subject is one of the most celebrated English men of letters. But oddly, a reader of this lengthy encomium might come away wondering exactly why Johnson is so celebrated.

In fact, it is a stretch to call this a biography at all. It does not paint a complete portrait of Johnson by any means. It does little to explicate his works or put them in the context of his life. What it does, is provide long successi
...more
Kate
I am ~1/6 of the way through an abridged (at 600 pages!) edition of this work, right about the point at which Samuel Johnsonis writing prologues for the benefit of granddaughter;John Milton's granddaughter; this part is particularly lovely, and the first actual criticism of Johnson's work. I wonder, had I chosen to try the unabridged work, if there would be more of this? I feel like I've been reading list upon list of works that Johnson has written, but have learned nothing about them, except th ...more
Edward
Reading this book was like spending time talking to a good friend who is curious, interested in new ideas, gives odd twists to old ones, is original in his thoughts, a person you look forward to seeing. The book is loosely organized chronologically so I read it over a period of months, a few pages at a time – no problem of forgetting what I had read as every entry is on a new topic. To read more than that would be overloading your mind, and in fact on a few occasions Boswell complains of that, c ...more
Susannahcox
Reading Johnson's Life was like stepping from my own century into the eighteenth. What a delight to get a little of the "Johnsonian oether" secondhand, and to become acquainted with such individuals as David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Mr. and Mrs. Thrale, Goldsmith, and many others, through his friendships with them. Boswell portrays his friend as at times contrarian and self-contradictory in conversation, yet humane, generous and affectionate throughout his life. I could symapthize with John ...more
Matt Evans
I came to this "biography" (the ironic quotes because of the present controvery; google and learn, if you're interested) by way of the epigram to Nabokov's "Pale Fire": "This reminds me of the ludicrous account he gave Mr. Lanton, of the despicable state of a young gentleman of good family. 'Sir, when I heard of him last, he was running about town shooting cats.' And then in a sort of kindly reverie, he bethought himself of his own favorite cat, and said, 'But Hodge shan't be shot: no, no, Hodge ...more
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Books I've Been Meaning to Read All My Adult Life 3 33 Jul 29, 2014 03:24AM  
Textual history of The Life of Samuel Johnson 3 11 May 08, 2014 01:25PM  
  • The Major Works
  • Eminent Victorians
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A Selection
  • Brief Lives
  • Samuel Johnson
  • The Autobiography Of Benvenuto Cellini
  • Biographia Literaria: Biographical Sketches of my Literary Life & Opinions
  • The Education of Henry Adams
  • The Anglo Saxon Chronicle
  • Confessions (World's Classics)
  • Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self
  • The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats
  • Letters on England
  • Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson
  • Records of the Grand Historian: Qin Dynasty
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Volume II
  • The Complete Works
  • Science and the Modern World
55078
James Boswell, 10th Laird of Auchinleck and 1st Baronet (October 29, 1740 - May 19, 1795) was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the eldest son of a judge, Alexander Boswell, 8th Laird of Auchinleck and his wife Euphemia Erskine, Lady Auchinleck. Boswell's mother was a strict Calvinist, and he felt that his father was cold to him. Boswell, who is best known as Samuel ...more
More about James Boswell...
London Journal, 1762-1763 Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 The Journals, 1762-95 Meeting Dr. Johnson

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“Nay, Sir, it was not the WINE that made your head ache, but the SENSE that I put into it'
'What, Sir! will sense make the head ache?'
'Yes, Sir, (with a smile,) when it is not used to it.”
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“He had no settled plan of life, nor looked forward at all, but merely lived from day to day. Yet he read a great deal in a desultory manner, without any scheme of study, as chance threw books in his way, and inclination directed him through them.” 12 likes
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