The first new biography for a generation of one of the great figures of English literature

Poet, essayist, biographer, lexicographer, critic, conversationalist and wit, Dr Johnson is one of the great figures of English literature, perhaps the most quoted English writer after Shakespeare. Our view of Johnson has been overwhelmingly shaped by James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791, the most famous biography in the English language. But invaluable as Boswell is as a source, he should not be the last word.

This new biography illuminates the Johnson that Boswell never knew: the awkward youth, the unsuccessful schoolmaster, the eccentric marriage, his early years in London in the 1740s scratching a living, the epic struggle to produce the Dictionary. Very much the outsider, rather than the supremely confident dispenser of robust common sense.

Using material unknown to previous biographers, Peter Martin describes the psychological knife-edge on which Johnson felt he lived, caused by his severe melancholia and his physical diseases. He explores Johnson’s role in the publishing and printing world of the time and he reveals how important women were to Johnson throughout his life.

The Samuel Johnson that emerges from this enthralling biography is still the foremost figure of his age but a more rebellious, unpredictable and sympathetic figure than the one that Boswell so memorably portrayed.