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The Major Works

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  343 ratings  ·  18 reviews
Samuel Johnson's literary reputation rests on such a varied output that he defies easy description: poet, critic, lexicographer, travel writer, essayist, editor, and, thanks to his good friend Boswell, the subject of one of the most famous English biographies.

This volume celebrates Johnson's astonishing talent by selecting widely across the full range of his work. It inclu
Paperback, Oxford World's Classics, 880 pages
Published September 28th 2000 by Oxford University Press (first published June 1925)
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Roy Lotz
While an authour is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst performance, and when he is dead we rate them by his best.

By the time you put down Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, you are left with a very peculiar portrait of the man. Boswell’s Johnson is a bull, who tramples bystanders in a stampede of wit. He is arrogant, overbearing, stubborn, and delightfully epigrammatic—the kind of man you would like to overhear, but would not wish to talk to. So cartoonish, in fact, did Johnson ap
Dec 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I like to think that reading this book—an activity which has occupied me for about the last year of my life—has been rather akin to an arranged marriage. What began without love—or, at most, the minutest spark of attraction—has developed, over the arduous months, into a bond of considerable strength. I can't say that I love Johnson; but I feel, for better or for worse, that he is a part of me now.

The following sub-reviews concern what I deem to be the most important works in this collection, and
Jeff Crompton
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Okay, I'm weird. I have an unaccountable affinity for Samuel Johnson, that giant of the 18th century, whose work is often considered ponderous and dated these days. He was conservative, moralistic, and religiously orthodox; these are all traits which don't appeal to me. But I love his writing - a good portion of it, anyway. There's a melancholy in much of his work which touches me - an awareness that much of what happens to us is out of our hands, and that life is short, and death is certain.

Jackson Cyril
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Johnson is the greatest critic in the language; not least because he writes for the common reader and because he is at pains to illuminate the texts he examines and not complicate them (cf. any number of modern critics).
Apr 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Because of the influence of Harold Bloom and Michael Wenzl, I have become a Johnsonian reader (to say that I am a Johnsonian critic is perhaps going too far and overtly flattering myself), and I am consistently amazed by my conversations with people who have no basis for analyzing or evaluating human creativity beyond, "duh, I don't know, I just liked it." Aesthetic pleasure as a critical paradigm is fine, but please learn to enunciate that, people. You might start in the training of your brain ...more
Jacob Aitken
Samuel Johnson walks us through, not only how to think, but how to write. Not every essay is of equal value. Further, Johnson is often responding to minute controversies in English life, for which even Google might not avail the modern reader.

Still, it is a feast on words.

Definition of wit: it is that which he [the reader; the critic] never found wonders how he missed it (Johnson 677).


The poems are uneven, but his London, if historically anachronistic, is a delight to read.

And call Britan
Jim Grimsley
Nov 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I have been slowly making my way through this volume for some time now, and devoted a few days to completing the reading while fall settles the leaves and Thanksgiving approaches. I can't pretend to know the period in which he wrote in any detail, though reading him has been an education in who was prominent at the time. He was clearly one of the masters of the literary scene in the eighteenth century and his opinions range so broadly over writers and literature - framed with such assumption of ...more
I wasn't interested in the poetry, and some of the other stuff also didn't seem to have aged well. I read all the essays from The Rambler, which were enjoyable, as well as a few other pieces from the book which I figured looked interesting (among these his preface to A Dictionary of the English Language, the Annals and Letters at the end, and A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland), a few of the early prose pieces. A mixed bag, not really worth reading from cover to cover in my opinion.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sermon 5 was the only reason I bought the book. It had some good points in it. I realized that Samuel Johnson was opposed to the American Revolution (of course! He was British!) but for reasons that seem to contradict the rest of his thinking. Interesting thoughts but very worldly.
Lenhardt Stevens
The good Doctor. Views always appreciated.
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pretty good - included his Ramblers, and Idlers, the lovely story Rasselas & how much Johnson hates Shakespeare ...more
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
My intention was to read only "Rasselas" and "The Vanity of Human Wishes" but I ended up reading all of the essays and poems and samples of several other pieces. I could have read a hundred more essays but the very 'Inside Baseball' biographical sketches and criticisms of the poets put the brakes on my fascination with Johnson, even though I've read Milton and Pope, and was thus familiar with his subjects.

My reading of Johnson coincided with the 2016 US presidential election. Is that relevant? P
Daniel Klawitter
Feb 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant. Highly quotable. A justly honored essayist and wit of English letters.

"Many of the books which now crowd the world may be justly suspected to be written for the sake of some invisible order of beings, for surely they are of no use to any of the corporeal inhabitants of the world." ---from Johnson's 1757 "Review Of Soame Jenyns."
Oct 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
Recommended for students of literary history, linguistics (chapter about development of the first English language dictionary) and social customs of 18th century England (essays and letters). Not my cup of tea.
Sep 29, 2010 added it
A nice, (and concise) reference book if you like Johnson's work.
Dec 17, 2007 rated it liked it
He had lots of smart things to say. Of course the quicker way to find out what they were is to google "Samuel Johnson quotes."
Dec 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Likely the greatest prose writer in English. Clear, to the point, and with forceful eloquence; one of the few writers where your main thought is: "I wish I could write this well"
Read parts of this for my Neoclassicism seminar with Bruce Rose at BJU.
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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

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