The Club

Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age

Leo Damrosch

View Inside Price: $20.00

March 17, 2020
488 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2
31 color + 93 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300251784

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Prize-winning biographer Leo Damrosch tells the story of “the Club,” a group of extraordinary writers, artists, and thinkers who gathered weekly at a London tavern

In 1763, the painter Joshua Reynolds proposed to his friend Samuel Johnson that they invite a few friends to join them every Friday at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London to dine, drink, and talk until midnight. Eventually the group came to include among its members Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell. It was known simply as “the Club.”  
In this captivating book, Leo Damrosch brings alive a brilliant, competitive, and eccentric cast of characters. With the friendship of the “odd couple” Samuel Johnson and James Boswell at the heart of his narrative, Damrosch conjures up the precarious, exciting, and often brutal world of late eighteenth-century Britain. This is the story of an extraordinary group of people whose ideas helped to shape their age, and our own.

Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Emeritus at Harvard University. His previous works include the National Book Critics Circle Award winner Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World, and Eternity’s Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake. He lives in Newton, MA.

“A magnificently entertaining book.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

“The Club is a stimulating and delightful work. The portraits of Boswell, Gibbon, and Burke are extraordinary condensations granting us accurate visions of complex personalities. Leo Damrosch has addressed himself to common readers with authentic gusto.”—Harold Bloom

“Brilliant, lucid, and enjoyable . . . With perfectly chosen anecdotes, The Club vividly evokes the period.”—Norma Clarke, author of Dr Johnson's Women

“Leo Damrosch’s book is an extraordinary achievement. A lively and engaging account of the coming together of a group of famously gifted individuals—the Club, a virtual microcosm of the vibrant world of mid-to-late eighteenth-century London.”—William C. Dowling, Rutgers University

Featured Among Publishers Weekly’s“Most Anticipated Books of Spring 2019”

“This look at Samuel Johnson, his biographer James Boswell, and their social circle delightfully captures the bonds of friendship and competition which joined some of the late 18th century’s greatest minds. . . . Damrosch [provides] crisp, colorful portraits of its members, illuminated by quotes from their lively, sometimes contentious interactions with each other. . . . This effervescent history shines a light on the extraordinary origins of a club which still exists to this day.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

A “masterful collective biography. . . . Damrosch offers incisive portraits of individual members, highlighting their relationships and interactions with one another to reveal ‘the teeming, noisy, contradictory, and often violent world’ they inhabited. . . . Late 18th century Britain comes brilliantly alive in a vibrant intellectual history.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Damrosch's account reminds readers why this circle of creativity continues to fascinate. . . . Enriched with well-chosen color plates and black-and-white illustrations, this is an excellent introduction to Johnson and his world for the novice and a pleasant retelling for the initiated.”—Joseph Rosenblum, Library Journal

“If Samuel Johnson is your man, prize-winning biographer Leo Damrosch’s atmospheric new book, The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, should be on your radar. In clear, engaging prose, Damrosch ushers us into ‘the club,’ i.e., the Turk’s Head Tavern in London, where members like Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Edward Gibbon, and James Boswell joined Johnson for food, drink, and, perhaps more than anything else, intelligent talk.”—Fine Books & Collections Magazine

“Impeccable scholarship at the service of absolute lucidity. . . . Learned, penetrating, a pleasure to read. . . . [A] splendid book.”—Joseph Epstein, Wall Street Journal

“Damrosch brilliantly brings together the members’ voices. . . . As this stellar book moves from one Club member to another, it comes together as an ambitious venture homing in on the nature of creative stimulus. . . . The best historians . . . invite readers to accompany them ‘behind the scenes.’ Damrosch does precisely that here, . . . [in] a book that sustains a shared conversation, a terrific feat in keeping with that of the Club itself.”—Lyndall Gordon, New York Times Book Review

“Beginning in 1764, some of Britain’s future leading lights (including Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke and Edward Gibbon) met every Friday night to talk and drink. Damrosch’s magnificent history revives the Club’s creative ferment.”—New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice

“An entertaining and absorbing journey to another century, when the art of communication and the spirit of thoughtful engagement attracted men and women of acute sensibilities.”—Thomas Filbin, Arts Fuse

“Engaging and illuminating . . . Damrosch is a crisp guide . . . He wears his learning lightly, and his sympathetic enjoyment is infectious. . . . In The Club, as the actors appear one by one, surrounding Johnson and Boswell on Damrosch’s stage, we are transported back to a world of conversations, arguments, ideas, and writings. And in this vibrantly realized milieu, words rarely fail.”—Jenny Uglow, New York Review of Books

 “[. . .] A very readable introduction” – Emily Jones, Financial Times

“Savoring the pages of The Club, one comes close to experiencing the exuberance described by Boswell in his account of a few hours spent with his mentor at the home of Mrs. Hester Thrale, Johnson’s closest female friend: ‘I was kindly welcomed. In a moment [Johnson] was in full glow of conversation, and I felt myself as if brought into another state of being. I shall ever recollect this scene with great pleasure.’ Many readers will feel the same way about this book.”—Aram Bakshian, Jr., Washington Times

“Such luminous configurations are rare.”—A.W. Lee, Choice

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