The Life of Samuel Johnson, By James Boswell

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The Independent Culture

No, you won't read this majestic new edition of the grandaddy of all biographies by next week, or even next year. What you may well do, mightily assisted by editor David Womersley's notes, is cherish it for ever as a source for dips, browses and rambles around an inexhaustible life.

Boswell collated memories, dialogues, letters and extracts to make an encyclopaedia of a great man's deeds, thoughts and friends. Read it as a 75-year soap opera packed on every page with character and chat. Or else skim regularly: Johnson preferred reviewers who "write chiefly from their own minds" to notices by "duller men" who "are glad to read the books through".

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