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Extended Audio Sample The Life of Samuel Johnson Audiobook, by James Boswell Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (1,165 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: James Boswell Narrator: Bernard Mayes Publisher: Craig Black Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: December 1998 ISBN: 9781455174300
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James Boswell forever changed the genre of biography when he painstakingly transformed a scholarly profusion of detail into a perceptive, lifelike portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson.

James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson reveals a man of outsized appetites and private vulnerabilities and is the source of much of what we know about one of the towering figures of English literature. Boswell spent a great deal of time with Johnson in his final years and from his scrupulously accurate memory and copious journal was able to faithfully record the brilliance and wit of Dr. Johnson’s conversation. Boswell’s aim and achievement was completeness; no detail was too small for him. On this point Dr. Johnson remarked to him, “There is nothing, sir, too little for so little a creature as man.” Boswell’s thirst for detail makes this indisputably the finest of many biographies of Johnson.

This biography gained its unique place in literary history from the fact that its style was revolutionary. The usual style of biographers of that era was to record dry facts from the subject’s public life only. Boswell differed by incorporating actual conversations of Dr. Johnson, which Boswell had previously noted down in journals, and by including many more details of personal life. The result revolutionized the genre.

For both its subject and its style, The Life of Samuel Johnson is still popular with modern critics and students of the history of English thought and of English literature.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “The effect of [this] biography is also similar to that of War and Peace or Anna Karenina. Just as those novels provide a social history of Russia, so the Life serves as a portrait of late eighteenth-century England. On the title page Boswell claimed that his book exhibits “a View of Literature and Literary Men in Great-Britain, for Near Half a Century,” and the book has shaped posterity’s view of Johnson’s literary world quite as much as it has created an image of Johnson himself.”

    Masterpieces of World Literature

  • “Nothing comparable to [The Life of Samuel Johnson] had existed. Nor has anything comparable been written since, because that special union of talents, opportunities, and subject matter has never been duplicated.”

    Walter Jackson Bate, American literary critic and biographer

Listener Opinions

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Hilary Hicklin | 2/16/2014

    " What an extraordinary book this is. That Boswell should have decided to write Johnson's biography by "shadowing" him and keeping track of his movements in the 18th century is quite amazing and indicates Johnson's renown in his own lifetime as a man of letters and the creator of the first English dictionary. His erudition is simply astonishing. For example, in his last days when he knew he was not long for this world he kept himself amused by translating Greek into Latin poetry. What a scholar. Fascinating book not just for the account of Johnson's life but because of the portrait it gives us of 18th century life. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mike | 2/8/2014

    " It's a great one. Will re-read again. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Faye | 2/2/2014

    " It would have been so much better if Boswell had kept himself out of it and had stuck to writing about JOHNSON. It really got on my nerves after a while. For once, I think I support the abridgement of a classic. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Doug | 2/1/2014

    " Very witty and entertaining at parts, but also very dense. Along with 100 Years of Solitude, it's a book where I spent so much effort climbing the mountain that I couldn't enjoy the view. Will have to reread it to really grasp it and appreciate it. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 J. Alfred | 1/31/2014

    " Before Andy and Red, before George and Lenny, before even Holmes and Watson, there was Boswell and Johnson, the gold standard for the Bromance in English Lit. This is an interesting account of Dr. Johnson, the caustic old idiot savant who is known more for his conversation than for anything he actually wrote. (I suggest an abridged version!) "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Laurel Kane | 1/21/2014

    " Read for my Roots of Modern Disciplines course taught by Mary Poovey @ NYU. This book is ridiculous is so many ways... but mostly good ones. I laughed out loud plenty of times. It is also fascinating to realize that these things were said by Johnson (and others) almost 250 years ago - kind of made you feel like you stepped into a time machine. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Andrew | 1/18/2014

    " This is an incredibly warm portrait of friendship and the character of Samuel Johnson in "The Life" is one of the most vivid in literature. Johnsonians complain that Boswell's work has clouded Johnon's reputation but it was worth it. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kiof | 1/10/2014

    " The ultimate non-fiction book. Just plain great. For me, this is beach-reading. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 John Waterworth | 11/5/2013

    " I finished this book, finally, at the third attempt. In total, that means it took me about 40 years. It's interesting to hear about the times and the people, but Johnson himself is disappointingly tedious - which tends to make the book less entertaining than expected. But I got there in the end! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Liz | 10/20/2013

    " I'm only on page 50, of 1006.... it's a daunting prospect but it's already clear it will be so well worth it! I love that elegant georgian (?) way of writing. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Michael Hinsley | 9/8/2013

    " It gets better and better. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Joel Patton | 8/29/2013

    " It makes me think of reality TV ("Let's go to the Hebrides. . . ."), but infinitely more erudite, of course. Moral: Johnson was kind of an asshole, but is fun to read about. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Katie H | 5/6/2013

    " I found it kind of hard to read merely because the way things were written during this time. Interesting subject though! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Richard Spring | 3/8/2013

    " The best book I have ever read.Richard "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alexander | 1/1/2013

    " Serious time committment, but worth it. You really get to know Samuel Johnson in all his quirks and brilliance. Added bonus: you get to see Boswell, the fawning ninny, (and author of the book) chopped to shreds by Johnson. Satisfying. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 John | 11/1/2012

    " I only remember it was so very well written. boswell the better man "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ken Ludwig | 8/10/2012

    " This, along with Pride and Prejudice, Tom Jones and a few prime Wodehouse novels, is my favorite book of all time and I'm always re-reading it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 TheCustomer | 7/29/2012

    " A fascinating account of the battle of wits played out two hundred and fifty years ago, 8 Mile set in a Georgian coffee house. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Linda | 4/1/2012

    " I had to control myself not to make a thorough study of Johnson after reading this account of his life. He was a true character. I especially loved the group of men he hung out with. Boswell was a good friend to write a book that immortalized the bigger than life Johnson. "

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About the Author
Author James Boswell

James Boswell (1740–1795), Scottish man of letters, was born in Edinburgh and studied civil law at Glasgow, but his true ambition was literary fame and the company of great men. In spring 1760 he ran away to London, where he first met Samuel Johnson. He eventually met Voltaire, Rousseau, and Paoli, the hero of Corsica, whom he Boswellized in Account of Corsica, which was an immediate success. In 1773 he was elected to Johnson’s famous literary club. After Johnson’s death and the publication of The Journal of the Tour of the Hebrides, another great success, he began his acknowledged masterpiece, The Life of Samuel Johnson.

About the Narrator

Bernard Mayes is a teacher, administrator, corporate executive, broadcaster, actor, dramatist, and former international commentator on US culture. He is best known for his readings of historical classics.