Boswell's Presumptuous Task

Boswell’s Presumptuous Task

The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson

  • Paperback
  • ISBN 9780142001752
  • 368 Pages
  • Penguin Books
  • Adult


James Boswell’s The 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 has generally been considered little more than an idiot and condemned by posterity as a lecher and drunk. How could such a fool have written such a book? With great wit, Adam Sisman here tells the story of Boswell’s presumptuous task-the making of the greatest biography of all time. Sisman traces the friendship between Boswell and Samuel Johnson, his great mentor, and provides a fascinating account of Boswell’s seven-year struggle to write The Life of Samuel Johnson.

Boswell's Presumptuous Task

Boswell’s Presumptuous Task

Adam Sisman


National Book Critics Circle Award – Winner


“Extraordinarily gripping…Sisman skillfully takes us into the biographer’s workshop.” —The New York Review of Books

“Smart and very readable…a highly affecting portrait of Boswell the writer.” —The New York Times Book Review

“[A] sparkling, companionable, and intelligent account…Sisman’s approach is attractive and stimulating to anybody interested in the ethics of biography writing.” —The Atlantic Monthly

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations


Author’s Note


Part One: Life Lived

1. Immaturity
2. Forwardness
3. Subordination

Part Two: Life Written

4. Independence
5. Collaboration
6. Anger
7. Discretion
8. Application
9. Rivalry
10. Bereavement
11. Humiliation
12. Struggle

Part Three: Life Published 

13. Despair
14. Posterity

List of Abbreviation Used in the Notes


Select Bibliography