The most celebrated English biography is a group portrait in which extraordinary man paints the picture of a dozen more. At the centre of a brilliant circle which included Burke, Reynolds, Garrick, Fanny Burney and even George III, Boswell captures the powerful, troubled and witty figure of Samuel Johnson, who towers above them all. Yet this is also an intimate picture of domestic life, which mingles the greatest talkers of a talkative age with the hero's humbler friends in a picture which is, before all things, humane. This is a new, corrected, rest and reprinted edition. At 14. 99 for the complete edition of the Life in 1344 pages, it compares with Penguin's abridged edition of just 300 pages of text at 6. 99 and OUP's World Classics unabridged edition printed on newsprint at 10. 99.
Boswell tried to crash through Johnson's defences when he first met him in Mr Dilly's bookshop and had got on his nerves ('Sir, I know of no reason you should speak to me of David Garrick.') But Boswell was an 18th-century stalker and kept after him, and finally they sat down and talked. There was a silence, and Johnson said to Boswell: 'Give my your hand. I have taken a liking to you.' As moving a line as any in English letters - from a book which is a cornucopia of the humane. All our reading has lacunae. Two years ago, increasingly unsatisfied at my lack of their acquaintance, I set out to reconstruct the journey Boswell and Johnson took to the western isles of Scotland in 1773. In the preparation I read for the first time this most famous of all biographies. What seems to me special about it is the fearlessness with which Boswell also put himself on show, so that we get the biographer and the subject, a gorgeous synthesis. I have since fallen in love with smelly, overbearing, half-blind, asthmatic, tender, wise, dear Johnson - and I even quite like gossipy, pox-ridden, social-climbing Boswell. Review by Frank Delaney, whose books include 'The Sins of the Mothers (Kirkus UK)