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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.
12 of 12 people found this review helpful
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!
2 of 2 people found this review helpful