The Life of Samuel Johnson

Narrated by: Bernard Mayes
Length: 54 hrs and 39 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (18 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

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.

Public Domain (P)1998 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What listeners say about The Life of Samuel Johnson

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Living account of an extraordinary scholar

Originally I bought this piece because I very much enjoyed the other books read by Mr Bernard Mayes, who excelled himself in this work. He breathes life into the characters, but is not voice-acting as many readers do, and leaves a great deal for the imagination. His voice only helps illustrating, which is a really rare thing amongst readers. This explains my 5 star for performance.
This was the first biographical work I have "read", and I enjoyed every minute of it. My greatest enjoyment came from the fact that not only is it an account of a great and extraordinary historical figure, but it is an account by a close friend and contemporary, James Boswell.
Dr Johnson's person is interesting enough in itself to capture the mind. He lived the life of a really great man: producing invaluable works of scholarship, and heroicly suffering his physical and psycholocigal ills. A fruitful, eventful, thoughtful, but miserable life. His life as a literary figure mainly revolved around conversation, acquaintances, writing and exchanging letters, so action-fans may not enjoy this book all that much.
And apart from the doctor's life this book gives a first hand account on the literary life of 18th century Britain. The great poets, journalists, scientists etc. you read about on Wikipedia come to life, and can be observed in their everyday discussions, one can feel as if one sits with these great men around a table in "the Club". Many historical events, political turbulences (like the American Revolution, the Gordon riots, etc.) can be recognised as our heroes experience and discuss them.
I can encourage everyone, especially those interested in history and human nature to read it. It is great to read and re-live the life events of these great figures day-by-day, and it comes as a real sorrow when the book eventually ends, upon Dr Johnson's death.

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Take a long bath in late 1700's intellectualism

Hop in and you will soak up the thought process and value systems guiding them through what was then considered the gold standard of conversational excellence in debate around a rambling errata of literary and intellectual arguments of that long gone by day and age when men of letters were men of leisure.



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  • Antony
  • 11-30-17

Excellent

What made the experience of listening to The Life of Samuel Johnson the most enjoyable?

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Mr Mayes does a brilliant Dr Johnson. My only gripe is the recording is a little faint and iffy at times but I encourage you to persevere. After 40+ hours of listening, you will feel immersed in the book and that Dr Johnson and Boswell are close friends.

3 people found this helpful