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Extended Audio Sample The Life of Samuel Johnson, 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:
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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 by 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 by 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 by 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 by 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. "

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