• The Life of Samuel Johnson

  • By: James Boswell
  • Narrated by: David Timson
  • Length: 51 hrs and 2 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (116 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Charming, vibrant, witty and edifying, The Life of Samuel Johnson is a work of great obsession and boundless reverence. The literary critic Samuel Johnson was 54 when he first encountered Boswell; the friendship that developed spawned one of the greatest biographies in the history of world literature.

The book is full of humorous anecdote and rich characterization, and paints a vivid picture of 18th-century London, peopled by prominent personalities of the time such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Wilkes, Oliver Goldsmith and David Garrick, while also giving a compelling insight into Johnson's complex humanity - his depression, fear of death, intellectual brilliance and rough humor.

Public Domain (P)2017 Naxos AudioBooks

What listeners say about The Life of Samuel Johnson

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Wonderful!

I usually try to wait till I’ve finished listening to a book to write a review. I have to make an exception in this case. David Timson is the perfect narrator for Boswell’s Life of Johnson, and he carries it off with lightness and charm (and the slightest of Scottish accents). I took a point off on the story because I dislike Boswell - it’s irrational, but despite his charm and his devotion to Johnson, I can’t help feeling he’s not a very nice person. Fortunately the effect of the book is of spending many hours in Johnson’s company rather than Boswell’s.

There is one other recording of the complete Life available on Audible. While both are excellent, Timson’s delivery is more engaging and the sound quality of this recording is better.

Don’t think of it as a mammoth undertaking. Think of it as something to listen to for an hour a day - at that rate you’ll have gone through the whole thing in less than two months. You can even take weekends off.

44 people found this helpful

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Extraordinary reading of the apotheosis of English biography.

While the book itself is a famous and worthy classic, the reading done by the narrator is of a splendor to its source. David Timson creates a constellation of characters from across 18th Century United Kingdom, without ever intruding into the flow of the narrative. You will have a hard time believing that just one person created all these dozens of great historical figures as well as the less or unknown ‘cast of thousands’, each clearly distinguished and brought fully to life. What a performance!

17 people found this helpful

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For a general reader, the hype may overblown

This is frequently called the best biography written in English. It's hard to completely agree. It is certainly a massive achievement and the level of depth is extraordinary. But bulk aside, it has a couple of serious flaws. First, Boswell is not particularly good at distilling the mass of data into the core of the man. And second, Boswell suffers from an obvious bias in favor of his friend. He dutifully lists some faults, but his heart is really in hagiography. He is a little too close to the subject and too much a part of the story he tells to be a good biographer. Call his achievement something else; history, memoir, something other than biography.

And it is 50 hours. That's a lot of time. And much of it is spent listening to carefully recorded retorts of Johnson, where he gives his strongly held opinions, often in disagreement and sometimes purely for the joy of disagreement, phrased in beautifully polished language. In other words, an extremely articulate know-it-all. This can be very amusing but gets tiresome rather quickly. It's easy to imagine why Boswell's wife was less than enamored of him. Plus, big patches go into extensive details on literary works and personalities not well known to many contemporary listeners and interest may well flag if you are not very well versed in the period.

13 people found this helpful

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Stunningly thorough

I've never before felt like I knew the subject of a book personally. Boswell makes you feel as if you actually knew Johnson, and the reader makes both Johnson and Boswell come to life.

There's one part that I was particularly impressed with: Boswell quotes Hawkins quoting Johnson, after Boswell expresses doubts about the authenticity of the quote. The reader read the quote in Johnson's "voice", but subtly added the accent from the Hawkins "voice" to it. I was impressed that that much attention was paid to details.

11 people found this helpful

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The finest literary biography

The Life of Johnson by Boswell is a wonderful treat for anyone interested in literature and literary biographies. It is a biography that intuitively understood how to bring the subject alive and leads you through Dr Johnson’s everyday preoccupations and literary exertions. More than anything, it introduces us to the live everyday conversations of Dr Johnson, whose solemn wit and repartee is legendary, either alone with Boswell or in company with other great names of the era - Garrick the actor, Oliver Goldsmith, Reynolds the artist, and many others. It is a long book but fascinating for anyone interested in the subject and in the times. David Timson is probably the best narrator of English literature with perfect enunciation as well as the right intonation. It is indeed an education to listen to his narration of the book. #EnglishLiterature #Biography #OutstandingNarration #18thCenturyLondon #Tagsgiving #Sweepstakes

8 people found this helpful

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An excellent performance

If you love the book, do make time to listen to a sample. I don't think a better job could be done.

8 people found this helpful

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Zero Organizational Effort by Audible

This book is tremendous. The narrative and the narration are both outstanding, but I cannot for the life of me understand why this classic work’s audio rendering was so poorly organized. Why would Audible or Naxos just hack the chapters the way they did? There’s no titles, no information guiding the reader by timeline or topic, and no discernible reason for the chapter breaks they have provided (except that they’re each about 2 hour chunks). But this makes no sense, since the accompanying PDF was meticulously organized! The PDF was not advertised, but tucked into the often useless chapter tab. Once I accidentally discovered that there was a map of the book, I naturally attempted to use the map to navigate. But in my attempt to follow the instructions I found that the time stamps do not line up! But why include it in the first place? Its maddening that the PDF should show such careful and helpful subdivisions while the audiobook was just chopped haphazardly. As far as I can tell, there is ZERO correlation to the PDF and this $42 audiobook.

And this book is not a one-off example either. I have 241 titles in my audible library, and MOST of them share the same difficulty; no chapter titles or attempts at organization. This is especially irritating with longer, classic works or essay collections where one can easily get lost. If one were to press play by accident, and the book plays for a while, it is actually impossible (without screen shots) to retrace the timeline back to the original spot. So frustrating!

An obvious solution to this is possible; bundle the books with the proper kindle companion within the audible app. Even if the whispersync feature is unavailable, and even if it costs a dollar or two more, this would be a first step in making these books usable. Many of the classics are sold on kindle for 99¢ or even given away. If the companion is expensive, then the price of the kindle could be tacked on, or the book could cost a credit-and-a-half (thereby, somewhat coercively, incentivizing the customer to use their half-credits toward more audible/kindle books in the future). But the way it stands is unacceptable.


I really have to say, to have such wonderful books performed by wonderful performers bogged down by such a glaring oversight is maddening. Its a lovely book, but I get so lost, and I am consistently afraid to lose my place. Audible owes it to their customers to put some effort into time-stamped chapter breaks and subdivisions.

4 people found this helpful

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For the serious fan only, maybe?

Way too long for anyone other than the most serious student of his life and or times, I think. Well-performed, interesting subject matter usually. I think redundant and over-kill. That's the fault of Boswell's man-crush. lol.

4 people found this helpful

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Brilliant

Highly recommended. It’s the kind of book (or audiobook) that can be read and reread.

4 people found this helpful

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Nothing compares to Boswell's work

How I wish I had Dr Johnson's vocabulary so I could string together enough superlatives to describe this lovely tribute. And I wish I could let Mr B know how much he has done for posterity by recording events and great men of the early Georgian era. So much wisdom and common sense here. And such platonic love. Im a better person for having listened to it.
The reader deserves an Oscar, too. The people all come to life and are all distinct. Plan to read the Hebrides book soon.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Peter
  • 12-10-18

A peerless biography

Until I'd listened to this audio book, I hadn't realised what an intelligent and skilful writer James Boswell was. He gives us a beautifully articulate insight into the life of Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Britain. The majority of the book is devoted to Johnson's middle-age and later life when Boswell knew him well and made extensive notes about their friendship and the conversations they had. He has done himself and Johnson proud and left a great legacy for them both.

There are other audio book versions of this book, but, believe me, none will surpass this one. The narrator, David Timson, gives an outstanding performance - the best I've ever heard in an audio book - skilfully interweaving a variety of accents whilst maintaining perfect fluency and diction. He gives Johnson a slight Brummie accent, but I can confirm, as someone who lives in Staffordshire, that those who live in the south of the county do speak that way. If there are awards for audio books and narrators, then this should be right up there with the very best.

12 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 03-21-20

Words fail...

A great book, a great performance. The book never lost steam from beginning to end. At the 40hr mark I began to lament its approaching end and I could wish that Boswell had given more of his great friend. I particularly relished Boswell's frequent accounts of his friend's deep piety and feel Boswell's choice to detail more of it as the book neared its close was perhaps the most fitting tribute to a fallen son of Adam grateful to have been lifted by grace.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen John Roberts
  • 09-26-19

A Detailed Biography of an Extraordinary Man

It was not always easy to follow and, to modern ears, is exceedingly verbose and pompous, but, overall, it is a beautifully written and informative account of a unique friendship and a fascinating era.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-02-21

Fascinating

I had wondered if this would be a dry old tome, too antiquated to be really interesting, but no, it was anything but. It felt like invisibly standing among people who were walking this earth over 300 years ago walked and talked. Our two leading men, Dr Johnson and James Boswell come across as rounded, real and as relevant today as of yore. Boswell shows Dr Johnson as a brilliant, complex but very human man. Even a reference to some of his physical ticks which today would be classed as OCD. It is like being able to take a small peak into Georgian life and hear real conversations, listen to real people and realise that apart from the shear intellectual brilliance of Johnson, how very like we today they were. Dr Johnson and this book deserve to be much more widely known and exposed at school level as he and it are a national treasure to the UK.

I have to mention the narrator, David Timson, who is simply superlative; the ease which he switches through the voices, never faltering in such a mammoth work is second to none and greatly adds to the listening enjoyment. Well done indeed.

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  • snailandgingerbeer
  • 03-20-21

Brilliant Biography!

This is not for everyone as 51 hours is a huge commitment of anyone's time but for those of us who like this sort of thing this is the sort of thing that we like, The narration is superb with Johnson being given a slight Midlands accent, Boswell with an Edinburgh accent and so on. It is difficult not to feel that you really know these men after so much time in their company. For those interested in the domestic history of the day this is fascinating for this aspect alone. We learn that Boswell could get from Edinburgh to London in 5 days or if he left London at 01.00 he could be in Lichfield for supper. The language of the day is surprisingly modern in feel being reported speech rather than dialogue from a novel. If you are prepared to put the time in this is excellent value for a credit.

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  • Omar Shubeilat
  • 02-16-22

extraordinary

extraordinary biography of a giant of literature! a bit long and had to take a break in the middle but it's perfect for vacations