The Life of Samuel Johnson

  • by James Boswell
  • Narrated by Bernard Mayes
  • 43 hrs and 4 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

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.

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What the Critics Say

"The most famous single work of biographical art in the whole of literature." (Walter Jackson Bate, American literary critic and biographer)
"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 18th-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)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

This is it. Life in the 1700s

A book I read many years ago in my youth, one that I have wanted to re-read ever since but have found it hard to find the time. It was a joy to immerse myself once again in the life of this most distinguished man. It is not only the man himself that is brought to the fore, but also the culture of the period and the general thoughts of men at the time, as told by his friend James Boswell through anecdotes, first hand accounts and the writings of Mr Johnson.

The delivery of the book by Bernard Mayes is wonderful. His slow and deliberate style lends itself fantastically well to the content, other than perhaps for the recital of many of the poems - the essence of which would often stagnate before the recital ended. This is a small point though and I thoroughly recommend pushing on through.

A little harder to overcome it the quality of sound, Bernard Mayes has a bass voice and the recording is annoyingly muddy. If this does not unduly perturb you then you will find you are on to a winner.
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- Nico

Great book, bad recording.

This very long, fairly dry book has been just the book I was looking for. A real window into the 18th century, and to a period of Toryism very different than today. Boswell writes well, and includes all the little anecdotes I was told to expect. It is like eavesdropping on your favourite author.

Bernard Mayes is too slow, too monotonous. Each sentence gets one of the two or three intonations he has in his very small palate, making it harder to follow. The recording is "muddy" to say the least. And with about 27 hours remaining, either Bernard Mayes stepped out, or they switched tapes and started speeding up the recording, because it sounds drastically different.

That said, these are problems common to all of Bernard Mayes' recordings (I have listened to 5 or 6). Unfortunately, his is often the only recording available, or not quite as bad as the alternatives. Time for some new recordings to be commissioned!
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- Peter Thomas McNeely

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-07-2012
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.