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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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

Public Domain (P)2017 Naxos AudioBooks

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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!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Tad Davis
  • 02-02-18

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.

17 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • David R. Scott
  • 30-05-18

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 break ugly to life. What a performance!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Fraser Pearce
  • 17-09-18

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.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 22-08-18

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.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful