Boswell's Presumptuous Task by Adam Sisman
The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson

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Synopsis

A heroic, brilliantly detailed portrait of the biographer as artist.

James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson is the most celebrated of all biographies, acknowledged as one of the greatest and most entertaining books in the English language. Yet Boswell himself was regarded by his contemporaries as a man of no judgment and condemned by posterity as a lecher and a drunk. How could such a fool have written such a book?

Boswell's "presumptuous task" was his biography of Johnson. Adam Sisman traces the friendship between Boswell and his great mentor, one of the most unlikely pairings in literature, and provides a fascinating and original account of Boswell's seven-year struggle to write the Life following Johnson's death in 1784. At the time, Boswell was trying -- and failing -- to make his mark in the world: desperate for money; debilitated by drink; torn between his duties at home and the lure of London; tormented by rival biographers; often embarrassed, humiliated and depressed. Boswell's Presumptuous Task shows movingly how a man who failed in almost everything else produced a masterpiece.
 

About Adam Sisman

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Adam Sisman is the author of A. J. P. Taylor: A Biography. He lives with his wife, the novelist Robyn Sisman, and their two children.
 
Published August 1, 2001 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 400 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Boswell's Presumptuous Task

Kirkus Reviews

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Deconstructing Boswell’s classic Life of Johnson, former publisher Sisman reveals the process of making of this unique book and addresses fundamental questions about the nature of biography.

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The New York Times

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When James Boswell's ''Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.'' was published in 1791, it almost immediately became both a best seller and an object of puzzlement.

Aug 19 2001 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

The Guardian

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everywhere it relies on the unsung Boswell scholars who, over half a century, have made the Yale edition of the Boswell papers one of the great editorial achievements of modern times.

Nov 11 2000 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

The Guardian

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Boswell's Presumptuous Task Adam Sisman Hamish Hamilton £17.99, pp416 Buy it at BOL In the last decades of the 205 years that have passed since James Boswell's death, his stocks have risen on the literary market while those of the great lexicographer and critic Dr Samuel Johnson have fallen.

Nov 05 2000 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

Publishers Weekly

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Aged 45, health waning from alcoholism, beaten to the press by rivals quick to exploit the death of literary icon Samuel Johnson in 1784, James Boswell finally began his ambitious biography two years later, in June 1786.

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AV Club

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In the late 18th century, when James Boswell wrote The Life Of Samuel Johnson, his famous biography of the London gentleman, distinguished...

Apr 19 2002 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

AV Club

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In the late 18th century, when James Boswell wrote The Life Of Samuel Johnson, his famous biography of the London gentleman, distinguished...

Apr 19 2002 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

BookPage

Sisman demonstrates that "The story of Boswell's life as he wrote the epic Life of Johnson is itself an epic: in the process Boswell experienced an extraordinary degree of exhilaration and depression, pride, humiliation, confidence, doubt, satisfaction, hurt, loneliness, disillusionment and grief."

Sep 15 2014 | Read Full Review of Boswell's Presumptuous Task: ...

London Review of Books

‘His mood,’ Hitschmann writes, ‘fluctuated from wild optimism and elation to abject despondency … Whereas previous generations have damned him as a self-regarding fool and supported Johnson’s dictum that one should not openly discuss one’s mental afflictions, Boswell has found a new audience in o...

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