Winner of the 2001 Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Thanks to this wonderful book, Boswell is reborn as a craftsman, a brilliant storyteller..." Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman
"While the pathos of Boswell's life lingers, Sisman's study will appeal largely to Boswell and Johnson aficionados." Publishers Weekly
"Sisman draws inspiration from Boswell, exposing for the reader the inner mechanism of a masterpiece creation, and never hesitating to provide lurid details about Boswell himself." Kirkus Reviews
"Writing with immense assurance and suavity, Sisman has fashioned his own work of art in telling the story of Boswell's." Ray Olson, Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
Adam Sisman is the author of A. J. P. Taylor: A Biography, which The Times (London) called "so good as almost to constitute unfair competition." He lives near Bath with his wife, the novelist Robyn Sisman, and their two children.