Yngvild's Reviews > The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson
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's review
Dec 25, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: adventure

Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia is an odd little set of musings on life, happiness and what it takes to connect the two. Samuel Johnson sends a mixed group of young adults out into the world to observe various theories of life in action. The result isn’t by any definition a novel, just a ragbag of thoughts.

Most importantly, Johnson wants to see who is better off: intellectuals and academics; politicians and other leaders; or those who just want a bigger chicken in the pot and a bigger SUV in the garage. His concern for intellectuals like himself is the danger of living too much in their imagination, isolated from other people.

There is a discussion about how our attitudes change with age, understandable since Rasselas was written just after the death of Johnson’s mother. Most interesting of all is a fascinating little analysis of consciousness and what the ancient Egyptians could have been thinking when they preserved dead bodies.
The conclusion, in which nothing is concluded.

All praise to Johnson, he comes to no conclusion. (The quote above is the subtitle to the last chapter.) Unlike the trite bromide Voltaire puts in the mouth of Candide, or even Swift’s award of the blue ribbon to the Houyhnhnms in Gulliver’s Travels, Johnson has no answers, only questions.

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