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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant exploration of a brilliant mind
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...
Published on May 29, 2000 by Charlene Vickers

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1 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great find
I found this in out annual library sale for $1. I look forward to reading it based on the reviews here on Amazon. I suspect he is the famous Dr. Johnson that was said to disprove Berkeley by kicking a rock? Yes.
Published on June 4, 2006 by W. Jamison


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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant exploration of a brilliant mind, May 29, 2000
By 
Charlene Vickers (Winnipeg, Manitoba) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Paperback)
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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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent introduction to the life of a great man., August 19, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Samuel Johnson (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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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most moving and inspiring biography I have ever read., October 17, 2001
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This review is from: Samuel Johnson (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Bate describes a very human Samuel Johnson., July 19, 1999
This review is from: Samuel Johnson (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
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly Written, Researched Book from a Master Biographer, September 25, 2001
This review is from: Samuel Johnson (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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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars He manages despite Boswell to add to our understanding of Johnson, April 5, 2006
This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Paperback)
I always wondered how anyone dare write a biography of Samuel Johnson since Boswell's Johnson is arguably the single greatest volume in all biographical literature. I now understand a bit better how this can be done , thanks to W.Jackson Bate.

Boswell presented Johnson as he knew him and heard him. He was a living witness who both worshipped the great man, and knew how to draw him out. Boswell is presented Johnson as he appears to contemporaries, in a way Johnson 'live'.

Walter Jackson Bate is doing something different. He is taking all the accumulated knowledge of Johnson, and using whatever techniques modern psychological and literary approaches give for understanding the human personality.

He is telling the story in a more detailed , systematic way and in a way which aims at a kind of deeper comprehension.

What he does is provide insights into the life and character of one of the most fascinating and loveable characters of all English Literature.

Physically huge and powerful, and yet tremendously vulnerable emotionally, a person at once strictly critical in his evaluations of others and of literature, and yet suddenly surprisingly kind in care for friends and misfortunates, Johnson is many paradoxes. But what fascinates above all is his tremendous genius, his great mental and linguistic power in presenting an understanding of Literature as vital to Life.

He is certainly one of English Literature greatest 'characters' and 'creators' as this work makes abundantly clear.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REVIEW OF W. JACKSON BATE'S SAMUEL JOHNSON BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, February 23, 2005
By 
John W. Chuckman (Citylights, Ontario) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Paperback)
Samuel Johnson was a brilliant critic, perhaps the greatest English writer after Shakespeare, a fascinating eccentric, and a genuinely heroic man. The great merit of Mr. Bate's biography is that he succeeds in the magical illusion of bringing Johnson alive again, giving us a vivid sense of what it might have been like to know him.

The highest praise for this book is the regret you will feel when the pages end and Johnson's great figure bows out. The biography is that rare item, a genuinely inspiring book.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the Quickest 600 Pages You'll Ever Read, March 13, 2004
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This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Paperback)
This biography has everything: meticulous scholarship, incisive literary criticism, and a prose style that recalls the days when professors could actually write a beautiful sentence.
The weaknesses are very few. At times Bate's analysis can "sprawl," as he once put it, especially when he tries to apply Freud while discussing Johnson's "self-demand" (an intriguing concept that never really explains Johnson's indolence satisfactorily). Also, Bate tends to defend the Thrales even when they come off poorly, which is surprisingly often. Finally, a bit more on Johnson's relationship with Edmund Burke would have been welcome, for these two geniuses were all too aware of each other's greatness.
But these are only minor quibbles. Altogether an inspiring achievement, and a testament to the heights that only the humanities reach.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read on JOhnson, June 27, 2014
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This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Hardcover)
A good read on JOhnson, tho when Bates starts a literary analysis of JOhnson , it can bog a bit. JOhnson's life and the anecdotes are the core of the book, and that makes it a winner.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very glad to have located a hardback of this highly entertaining biography., August 2, 2013
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This review is from: Samuel Johnson (Hardcover)
Using Amazon as the middle-man to locate this out-of-print hardback was very easy. This is a work that I am pleased to own in hard-back rather than as as an e-book. The antiquarian book dealer gave an accurate description of condition.
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Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson by Walter Jackson Bate (Paperback - June 1, 1998)
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