Samuel Johnson Paperback – June 1, 1998
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- Publisher : Counterpoint; 1st Counterpoint pbk. ed edition (June 1, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 672 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1887178767
- ISBN-13 : 978-1887178761
- Item Weight : 2.2 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.51 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,005,516 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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But I was sometimes frustrated when the author attempted to psychoanalyze Johnson. The author avoids modern medical terms to describe Johnson’s most common physical and mental afflictions. Johnson suffered from Tourette syndrome, obscessive-compulsive disorder and depression/despair. Yet these medical terms are never used. Instead the author spouts vague Freudian terms like “self-demand” and “superego”. Throughout his life Johnson struggled against what he called “scruples” but the author repeatedly leaves the reader puzzled as to what Johnson meant. Only once, buried in a foot note, does the author identify scruples as acts of obsession and compulsion.
Johnson once referred to writing as the “epidemical conspiracy for the destruction of paper”, probably referring to Grub Street writers. This book does NOT fall into that category. Highly recommended.
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.
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.
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.