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The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

3.46  ·  Rating details ·  5,322 ratings  ·  249 reviews
Rasselas--regarded as Johnson's most creative work--presents the story of the journey of Rasselas and his companions in search of "the choice of life." Its charm lies not in its plot, but rather in its wise and humane look at man's constant search for happiness. The text is based on the second edition as Samuel Johnson revised it.
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 224 pages
Published April 22nd 1999 by Oxford University Press (first published 1759)
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3.46  · 
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 ·  5,322 ratings  ·  249 reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
May 20, 2007 rated it really liked it

Written in one week to defray the cost of his mother's funeral, Johnson's moral tale is a superior example of the prose of its era, and its era—the Age of Enlightenment—is renowned for the quality of its prose. It is true that Candide—written in 1759, the same year as Rasselas--excels Johnson's work in both wit and humor, but then Voltaire's task was much easier. He merely wished to demolish another man's philosophy, whereas Johnson wished to persuade his readers how to be happy.

Being happy wasn
Aug 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 18th-novels
Dr Johnson’s foray into fiction is an oddity. The themes are similar to Candide and they were written at pretty much the same time. For different reasons.
Johnson famously said “No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”. His only novel was no exception. In January 1759 his mother became ill and Johnson needed money to support her and pay her medical bills. He wrote Rasselas in a week, in the evenings. He received one hundred pounds for it and it ended up paying for his mother’s funeral
Aug 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Wayne by: no one
If you think this is too ,too old hat for you then perhaps the fact that Jane Austen was a BIG fan may break down your prejudices. And pride? She loved and inherited Johnson's neoclassical balance of style exemplified in such of his sentences as:"Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience" and "Marriage has many pains but celibacy has no pleasures." See where Jane tapped into that conciseness, wit and wisdom now ?
And both of these sentences are to be found in the enchanting philosophic

Description: An intriguing, contemporary take on Samuel Johnson's classic tale of an African prince in search of happiness.

A star cast is led by Ashley Zhangazha as Rasselas, Jeff Rawle as Samuel Johnson and Lucian Msamati - the RSC's first black Iago - as the poet Imlac. Singer and actor Cynthia Erivo makes her BBC radio drama debut as Princess Nekayah.

Recorded on location at Dr Johnson's House, 17 Gough Square, in the City of London - the very place wher
This was one of those books that I’ve been avoiding for years; it had to be dull...right? When I found a copy in Oxford’s “World’s Classics” edition, I felt that the time had come. I was most pleasantly surprised. Rasselas has often been cited as the author’s most creative work – aside from his ground-breaking dictionary – and I’d have to agree. It is a cautionary or moral tale about choices in life. It is very much like V
A bored rich prince gets tired of his boring rich life, and decides to escape the so-called Happy Valley where he lives/is imprisoned to learn about real life and what it means to be happy. Along for the ride are a poet who's lived outside the Happy Valley before, the prince's sister, and her maid. The group travels around for a while and meets a lot of different people, none of whom are really happy. This is all an excuse for Johnson to ramble philosophically and repeat the same points over and ...more
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: british
I'm giving this five stars, because it's right up my alley style-wise (the Eastern pilgrimage tale), and I can't stop thinking about some clever points made even early on. It's sort of Gibran's The Prophet meets Candide, but with a more plausible outcome than either. I cannot find anything to complain about it in this novel.

A few of my favorites: At the tail of Chapter 13, Imlac warns Rasselas about belief in omens, "Do not disturb your mind with other hopes and fears than reason may suggest. If
Free download available at Project Gutenberg.

From BBC Radio 4 - Drama:
An intriguing, contemporary take on Samuel Johnson's classic tale of an African prince in search of happiness.

A star cast is led by Ashley Zhangazha as Rasselas, Jeff Rawle as Samuel Johnson and Lucian Msamati - the RSC's first black Iago - as the poet Imlac. Singer and actor Cynthia Erivo makes her BBC radio drama debut as Princess Nekayah.

Recorded on location at Dr Johnson's House, 17 Gough Square, in the City of London - th
This was recommended by a reading friend on one of the Amazon forums that I frequent. Agree with other reviewers of the novella that it is a little "gem" of a book. This review is for the kindle version.

Rasselas is a Prince who has all his needs and wants catered for but he is dissatisfied with his life. He sets out on a journey with his sister and his mentor Imlac to discover the "choice of life", the meaning of happiness.

Was pleasantly surprised with this, how readable and found myself stoppi
Mar 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nobody reads Johnson anymore except english majors. Which is a shame since while Johnson is disdained for his lack of political correctness in his conservative particulars, his wisdom in generalization is unassailable. Much can be gleaned from his philosophy and general opinions about life and our condition on this mortal coil.

Hence, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia a moral tale if there ever was one. One of the things one has to keep in mind when reading Rasselas is that Johnson is

I found many interesting ideas in this classic but overall felt it was an uneasy mixture of philosophy and satire. Rasselas is bored in the Happy Valley in which all the offspring of Abyssinian royalty were confined (along with their servants & others required for their comfort and amusement) because, as he says himself, " 'That I want nothing,' said the Prince, 'or that I know not what I want, is the cause of my complaint: if I had any known want, I should have a certain wish; that wis
Sep 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I was on the road this weekend and picked up a copy of the WSJ weekend edition. It had an article about Samuel Johnson's Rasselas. My second semester in graduate school, I took a Johnson seminar from O. M. "Skip" Brack, who eventually directed my PhD thesis. He believed that the world would be a better place if everyone read Rasselas at least once a year. I haven't followed that regime, but I'm inclined to agree. Johnson is largely forgotten now by most readers (even though he is the most import ...more
Jun 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1315-read
In Jane Eyre, little Helen Burns reads this "didactic romance." (Quotes from my Barnes & Noble classics edition describing this book to me in the end notes.)

(1) If little Helen Burns can read it, why shouldn't I? (2) What the HECK is meant by didactic romance? Will the Prince learn something from some horrible affair of the heart? (3) It's one of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so, it's 'on like Donkey Kong'.

Laura Jean
This was a nice quick little read. It is a story about a younger son of the King of Abyssinia (Modern Ethiopia: the only African nation NOT to be colonized, by the way), who is raised in a utopian valley where his every need, pleasure and whim is met uncompromisingly.

So of course he is unhappy.

He finds a way out of the valley with one of his sisters, her waiting maid, and a sage friend, Imlac who has seen the world before entering the valley.

The spend the rest of the book trying to figure out
Addy S.
Oct 24, 2018 rated it liked it
A fun classic, though it was confusing at times.
Kelsey Bryant
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I think of this short book as a novelization of Ecclesiastes. It's about a search for "the choice of life." What is the meaning of life? What should we be doing to get the most genuine satisfaction out of life? It's funny how this question persists, unchanging, from B.C. to 1759 to 2017.

Samuel Johnson was a philosopher and prolific writer, but this was his only novel (novella, more like it). Thus it's heavy on intellectual and philosophical conversation, though it also moves fairly quickly with
Laurens van der Tang
Sep 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money." (from Boswell's Life of Johnson)
Indeed, and sometimes, wonderful things emerge. True, Rasselas is no great novel. But it is a great ethical tract, which adresses questions which are still prevalent in the present day. Rasselas' simultaneous discontent and affluence looks very much like the situation of bored teenagers nowadays.
Although no overarching solution is found by the main character, many valuable insights are encountered on the road.
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Johnson apparently wrote this in the evenings of a week, hoping quickly to earn some money before his mother died so that he could pay for and attend her funeral. She died before he finished, and he brought the work to a rather abrupt end with a chapter titled "The Conclusion in which Nothing is Concluded." On the other hand, it was clear that Rasselas and his friends already had sensed what the answers to their questions might be, so the conclusion was appropriate. It is an astonishing feat of ...more
Aug 05, 2009 added it
The closest thing SJ ever wrote to a novel, RASSELAS often gets compared to Voltaire's CANDIDE. But where Voltaire's novel attacks one philosophical tradition, Johnson's tries to participate in several. This is one of things I'm coming to like about Johnson - despite his reputation as a critic with highly subjective yet authoritative tastes (see, for instance, his disdain for Milton yet curious love for Pope's ILIAD), he constantly tried to build meaning out of the available intellectual traditi ...more
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who read classics just to say they've read them.
Recommended to Nicole by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 1001-list-books, 2011
I'd seen several reviews and/or comments placing Rasselas in the same vein as Candide, and while I agree that they're both tales about young men going out into the world to discover themselves I can't take the comparison any further. Overall I found Rasselas a slow and rather disappointing read.

The young prince of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) becomes bored with the coddled life inside the royal compound and resolves to go out and discover the world. It sounds like it's going to be an adventure, but it
Wicked Incognito Now
Nov 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that should be assigned in high school. It was written in 1759, but it's not inaccessible to the average reader. Samuel Johnson addresses humanity, and the nature of happiness by sending the Prince of Abissinia (modern day Ethiopia) on travels to meet many different types of people.

Rasselas (the prince) is determined to find the thing that will make him happy and he takes his sister, her maid, and a poet with him. They encounter many different types of people: philos
Quentin Crisp
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am dashing this one off, and must apologise for brevity, etc.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, considering I have long felt myself at odds with the pragmatism and general English down-to-earth-ness of Johnson's traditional image, and of the few quotes of his that I had been familiar with, such as the execrable: "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." Even now, that seems a pretty hateful thing to say, typical of British philistinism.

But, Johnson clearly is not a philis
Manuel Alfonseca
Oct 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Excellent summary of Samuel Johnson views about life, happiness and morals. Although I don't agree with everything he says, there are a few pearls that I decided to treasure, such as these two:

Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal; and he may properly be charged with evil who refused to learn how he might prevent it.

My comment: A good lesson for our politicians.

Do not reproach yourself for your virtue, or consider that as blameable by which evil has accidentally been caused.

In other wor
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy-horror
18th century fantasy is a delightful imaginary journey in search of the good life. This novel is thematically similar to Candide by Voltaire, also published early in 1759 – both concern young men travelling in the company of honored teachers, encountering and examining human suffering in an attempt to determine the root of happiness. However unlike the satirical approach of Voltaire, in Rasselas Samuel Johnson confronts the question whether or not humanity is essentially capable of attaining hap ...more
paulA neves
Sep 17, 2008 rated it liked it
Very interesting, concise read that might just spark your interest in Neo-classicism and biography, as so much of Johnson's philosophy here seems colored by his personal life, especially the death of his mother (he wrote Rasselas to make money to pay for her funeral). One of the most significant aspects of this moral/intellectual parable/tale is how Johnson uses it to hold court on the nature of poets and poetry (see Chapter X) and, more broadly, the untenable nature of happiness.
Jan 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Worth a read, a very beautifully written discourse on the choice of life and fruitlessness of many searches and plans. Great quotes such as "they considered themselves as condemned to labour for the luxury of the rich, and looked up with stupid malevolence towards those that were placed above them", "my prosperity puts my life in danger" and "the Prince soon found that this was one of the sages whom he should understand less as he heard him longer."
Larissa Rowan
Feb 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: books-of-2017
What is happiness?
Baby don't hurt me,
Don't hurt me,
No more.

Yeah this book is pretty cool. Maybe not for you if you're an optimist, or annoyed by whiny unsettled characters as this is essentially a story about being a teenage dirtbag...with some philosophy sprinkled on top.
Timothy Bartel
Jul 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
A deceptively simple, viciously skeptical exploration of the limits of human pleasure and the endless search for the good life. Every kid should read this in high school.
Nov 17, 2009 rated it it was ok
Joseph R.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While living in the paradisiacal Happy Valley, Rasselas, son of the king of Abysinia, is dissatisfied. He has all material needs provided for and plenty of mild diversions. His restless curiosity makes him long for the outside world. He decides to leave the valley, which is easier said than done. The princes and princesses only get to leave if they have to take the throne. Otherwise they are locked away. Rasselas finds an ally in Imlac, a world traveler who came to the Happy Valley for solace fr ...more
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Samuel Johnson was an English author. Beginning as a Grub Street journalist, he made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, novelist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. Johnson has been described as "arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history". He is also the subject of one of the most celebrated biographies in English, ...more
“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” 130 likes
“Of the blessings set before you make your choice, and be content. No man can taste the fruits of autumn while he is delighting his scent with the flowers of the spring: no man can, at the same time, fill his cup from the source and from the mouth of the Nile.” 80 likes
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