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The Life of Samuel Johnson

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  5,938 ratings  ·  267 reviews
In Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson, one of the towering figures of English literature is revealed with unparalleled immediacy and originality, in a biography to which we owe much of our knowledge of the man himself. Through a series of richly detailed anecdotes, Johnson emerges as a sociable figure, vigorously engaging and fencing with great contemporaries such as Garrick ...more
Paperback, 1408 pages
Published October 30th 2008 by Penguin Classics (first published 1790)
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Bruce Grossman This book has everything in it! History, poetry, religion, political science, society, humor, law, etc. etc. . . . and especially human nature--- it e…moreThis book has everything in it! History, poetry, religion, political science, society, humor, law, etc. etc. . . . and especially human nature--- it exudes human warmth and more than a book is a companion you can always turn to for entertainment and enlightenment. Reading this book will make you smarter, and probably better, too.(less)

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Paul Bryant
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Someone at the time – I think it was Anna Letitia Barbauld – said that reading the Life of Johnson was like taking a walk in Ranelagh pleasure gardens: everyone you knew was there. That remains the best reason for reading it: the book is a bit like a huge chunk of amber, in which a slice of eighteenth-century London has been perfectly preserved, in all its chaotic splendour.

And this is just as well, since although the Life tells you a great deal about what Johnson was like, it doesn't actually t
Roy 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 y
W.D. Clarke
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, 2019, 18c
Whew! Nearly four months, already? The thing about insanely long books like this one (1300pp of tiny, tiny type!) is that if you have at most an hour or two to read each day, you really do live with them over time and they become almost a part of the family. You have your little spats with them, they say the most insane or embarrassing things sometimes, but deep down you feel this unbreakable connection and find that you can't do without them, and as I imagine my mom saying to us at Xmas (paraph ...more
Aug 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Justin Evans
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Douglas Wilson
Nov 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
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
BAM Endlessly Booked
Every time I see this book on my list I read it as “ the life of Samuel JACKSON” and that would be so much more exciting
Mar 27, 2008 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. ...more
Actually, I dip in and out of this one (over 30 years!) and I find it delightful & very funny.
Nov 12, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: english-history
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
Read this in graduate school and wrote a paper on the connection between Johnson and Presbyterianism. Six years later I published an article based on that paper. Lewis puts this book in his list of top ten most influential books in his life. ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Josh Friedlander
The goal of Boswell's fawning, minutely detailed life is to give you a flavour of Johnson as a conversationalist; to that end he assembled countless anecdotes from their time together, trying to quote verbatim and omit as little as possible, sometimes from notes he would write up after their evenings in the Mitre or one another's homes. The pity of this is that, on the abundant evidence, Johnson was not a terribly interesting mind, and his wit has not really lasted. His politics and opinions wer ...more
Jacob Aitken
This is a great book about a great man, albeit not written by a great man.  I started reading this in 2016, I think.  C. S. Lewis recommends approaching it as “lunch literature.”  This does not mean it is light reading, however.  It is conversational reading, but in these conversations Johnson reveals a remarkable dexterity of mind.

There are several key events in Johnson’s life. One key event is the publishing of his Dictionary.  Age 46: Published the Dictionary.  Received MA in 1755. Another tu
Oct 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a truly heartbreaking book that I will be revisiting again, probably not from cover to cover, but definitely to dip in and remember.

You have many reasons to visit this book, and one of the best is that it was one of C.S. Lewis’s top ten favorite books. Still, a caveat: get an abridged version: I read through this book and marked carefully all the spots that were actually interesting so that I can skip all the letters. To read this book is to be baptized as a literary Anglophile, but I do
Jeff Miller
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really wasn't expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. Just one of those classics I hadn't got around to. I really like how Boswell chronicles Johnson's life detailing the positive and the negative. Boswell is so in awe of his friend but does not shade his flaws. Making you wish you had known and interacted with him yourself. ...more
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiosnbios
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
Will Miller
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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. ...more
Valerie Kyriosity
Dr. Johnson is a new old friend. I loved Boswell's love for him, which was genuine through and through, even when confronting his faults. Johnson knew everybody and thought about everything. Much of his thinking was on target, but some was wide of the mark. All of it came from a remarkably capable mind and was expressed with a rhetorical skill that has had few equals. His piety was strong and genuine. Sadly, one of his errors was a conviction that we cannot be assured of our salvation, so he was ...more
Jun 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 03, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The second volume of Boswell's life of Samuel Johnson portrays Johnson as a man who, although growing older, retains extraordinary vitality. In fact, Johnson by this point has ceased to write so much and begun to talk even more, always demonstrating a rapier-like personality, not full of opinions so much as reasoned judgments, never making a statement without quickly backing it up with one, two, or more justifications.

The Johnson here strikes me as almost Falstaffian, not in the bawdy sense, but
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Apr 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The ultimate non-fiction book. Just plain great. For me, this is beach-reading.
May 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, classics
This is a very famous book. And quite a good one. But I am mighty glad that I read an abbridged edition. It is, as everyone knows not really a biography. More a collection of witticisms. And there really are a lot. But you do have to find them. So reading this is a bit like reading pornography, you hunt for the juicy parts. It is all there, the refutation of Berkeley, patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel, hell that is paved with good intentions, that no man is obliged to do what he can ...more
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James Boswell, 10th Laird of Auchinleck and 1st Baronet 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 Johnson’s biographer, inherited h ...more

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