iUniverse presents Great Biographies, Part One

iUniverse has already offered tips on writing biographies, and we now follow by celebrating some very notable works in this genre. Beginning with the classic Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell, iUniverse will take you through several recognized biographies and discuss what makes them unique and successful.


James Boswell

Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791, is about the most prominent literary figure of the 1700s. In addition to writing the first comprehensive English dictionary and editing an entire edition of Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson also wrote The Lives of the Poets, a novel, and numerous essays and reviews. He was regarded as an authority on literature throughout Great Britain.

As for Boswell himself, he also lived in the 1700s and was a close friend of Johnson. What makes Boswell’s biography special is that it records a wealth of conversations with Johnson for over 20 years of both of their lives. While the book does cover many facts relating to Johnson, its key strength is that it illustrates what it felt like to know Johnson, have dinner with him, and talk with him. Few biographers have known their subjects so closely, and have presented them so vividly.


Dr. Samuel Johnson

Boswell kept a journal in which he recorded, from short-hand notes or memory, the conversations which Johnson had with his friends. It should be also noted that Johnson’s companions were also men of high standing in politics, art, theater, and literature. The biography gives intimate insight into what it was like to sit at a table with some of the best minds in England.

The Life of Samuel Johnson is thus a much more “personal” kind of biography. In our next instalment, iUniverse will look at the more common types in this genre – i.e. biographies written after the subject has died.


We’ll be back with Part Two. In the meantime, what are some of your favorite biographies?

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