The Life of Samuel Johnson

Narrated by: David Timson
Length: 51 hrs and 2 mins
5 out of 5 stars (73 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
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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.

33 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!

10 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.

9 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.

5 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.

4 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

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.

2 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.

2 people found this helpful

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A Masterwork

A jewel of my collection. A peerless performance of the masterful biography of a genius.

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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.

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  • Rachel Redford
  • 03-06-18

A superb immersion in Johnson's mind and century

Published in 1791 seven years after Samuel Johnson’s death and these days probably not often read in its entirety, Boswell’s Life is one of the most highly regarded biographies in English. Having just listened to every word of these 51 hours straight through, I recommend it as a unique and indelible listening experience which creates Samuel Johnson the many-faceted man and immerses you in the times through which he lived.

This was Boswell’s aim: to write not merely a conventional biographical account but a LIFE. The staggering output of Johnson’s vast and varied intellect, including his Dictionary, Lives of the Poets (56 volumes), journal articles and so on (and on) are all presented, but what makes Boswell’s Life different from any previous biography is the portrait of Johnson the man. Childhood scrofula had left him nearly blind in one eye; he was dogged by many other infirmities which he recorded in his journal in Latin, and he suffered from ‘vile melancholy’. But in detailing Johnson’s many kindnesses, Boswell recognised that the ferocious exterior belied a ‘humane and benevolent heart’.

The devotion between Boswell and Johnson who was 31 years older than himself is touching in its depth (so deep that Mrs Boswell resented the great shambling man who seemed to take over her husband and dropped candle grease on her carpet). All the conversations, the ‘assemblage of discourses’ with his many valued friends (Garrick, Reynolds , Thrale, Sheridan) in taverns, clubs and coffee houses on why portrait-painting is unfit for a woman, or the ethics of slavery, are here magnificently recreated by David Timson the narrator.

Johnson’s travels in Scotland, England and Wales widened his thinking (concern for the Scottish crofters, or that minority languages were disappearing). His fondness for his wife Tatty (20 years older than himself), for his close friends and perhaps most deeply for Boswell - and his cat Hodge - detailed here make Johnson a fully warm and living man who bore his physical suffering with fortitude. Behind his irascible exterior Boswell shows us not just the quick wit and humour, but the darkness of Johnson’s soul in his many prayers and supplications to his ‘Holy Father’.

David Timson’s narration is a marvel – not just a wealth of accents from Johnson’s rough provincial Lichfield to Boswell’s fine Scots, but also voices for the multitude of recorded letters and extracts as well as the conversations (always with that introductory salvo ‘Sir!’). It’s a wonderful immersion in another man’s mind and century.

That you can download all this for 1 credit is an amazing bargain!

14 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.

8 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.

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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.

1 person found this helpful