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Samuel Johnson Paperback – June 1, 1998

13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; 1st Counterpoint pbk. ed edition (June 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1887178767
  • ISBN-13: 978-1887178761
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #715,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Charlene Vickers on May 29, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Most earlier biographies of Johnson have concentrated on the author's public life and his work as a writer. Bate's is the first to zero in on the inner man -- and it succeeds magnificently.
In some ways, Johnson's personality was as complex and as tragic as that of his best-known biographer, James Boswell. Johnson's towering genius was often at odds with his uncouth ways, his disfigured face, and his seemingly lunatic tics and stutters. He controlled his desires and needs with an iron fist of self-control, often denying himself even the most innocent pleasures in his never-ending quest for spiritual purity. Bate shows us how Johnson's neglectful childhood and his crushing poverty as a young man forged his emotional character, and how his many disappointments as an adult moulded his spiritual character.
The only qualm I have about recommending this book is that Bate sometimes goes too far in his psychological analysis. Since this book was published, a consensus has arisen that Johnson suffered from Tourette's Syndrome, a neurological condition characterized by ticcing, a quick wit, an unusual gait, and specific personality quirks. If this is the case, and if many of Johnson's character traits can be attributed to Tourette's and not emotional damage, much of Bate's analysis is incorrect.
Having said that, I still highly recommend this book. Bate can't be faulted for omitting a diagnosis that couldn't have been made at the time he wrote the book. Moreover, the bulk of his analysis is spot-on, and his love of and respect for the subject of the book are obvious in every chapter.
I highly recommend this book.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read this book in hard cover over 20 years ago when it first came out. At that time I knew very little about Samuel Johnson and most of what I thought I knew was wrong. Bate's biography brought Johnson to life and introduced me to the life and works of one of the most important English writers of the 18th Century and (to paraphrase Charlotte) one of the most noble men to have ever lived. In the years since I have read virtually all of the Johnson biographies and secondary literature and Bate's book still holds up well.
Bate employs Freudian analysis, something of which I am not often fond, but he does it in an unobtrusive and persuasive way. The book carefully discussses Johnson's works and puts them into historical and literary context, but the real emphasis is on the life.
Read Boswell's Life of Johnson after reading Bate, but read Bate. Now that this rather long book is in paperback, it is affordable so even a relatively slow reader can take the time to learn the story behin "Dictionary Johnson." At the risk of hyperbole, reading this book and becoming acquainted with Johnson's life has made me a better person. I hope as many people as possible venture down that same path.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Ostrach on October 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
I read this book over 20 years ago. It was my introduction to Samuel Johnson. The book inspired my deep devotion to Johnsonia. The subject, I now know, is fascinating; for over two centuries biographies of Johnson have never been out of print. But this book caught my attention and fixed it. It is a moving portrait of a person like all of us except with greater disabilities and greater strength and, after years of struggle, greater triumphs.
I urge anyone with an interest in English literature or 18th century England or in the heights to which a honest and brave man can reach to make the effort to read this book. It is, at the very least, a good read. It may also make ytou a better person.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Frank Lynch on July 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
What a predicament -- to be James Boswell, and have first hand acquaintance with Samuel Johnson, and to write one of the most famous biographies the world has ever known. What an opportunity -- to be Walter Jackson Bate, and be removed from Johnson by some 200 years, approach him with greater objectivity, and write one of the best literary biographies of the century. Where Boswell was blinded by Johnson's brilliance, Bate has seen Johnson as a human being, complete with flaws, frustrated dreams, and depressions. Out of this context, the works of Johnson the writer take on new meaning, and made me appreciate Johnson's perspective all the more. Boswell's record of dinner conversations can only take one so far. Eventually you have to wonder, in the words of Jack Lynch, "Who was this Johnson guy?" You cannot get a fuller portrait than the one Bate gives us.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By loce_the_wizard VINE VOICE on September 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
The very idea of writing a definitive biography of a figure as towering as Samuel Johnson seems unthinkable, yet the late Walter Jackson Bate succeeds in capturing the essence of Johnson's life in spectacular fashion. Some may quibble at Bate's occasional forays into speculation, particularly when he writes about Johnson's troubled childhood and how its events shaped his later life. Because Bate imposes such detail and rigor in his scholarship, however, it would be foolhardy not to think his depictions, even the speculative ones, as pretty accurate.
The physiological analysis of Johnson's character may strike some readers as heavy-handed, yet it ultimately illuminates the full character of Johnson, helping the modern reader to understand more clearly the time and culture that produced a character as complex and powerful as Dr. Johnson.
As I neared the end of this wonderful volume, I felt the same pangs one feels toward the conclusion of an excellent novel. Bate writes with such power, clarity, and insight that I cannot foresee any other biography of Johnson dislodging this one as the definitive rendering of his epic life.
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