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. The titular club, which began meeting weekly at the Turk’s Head Tavern in London in 1764, was first proposed by painter Joshua Reynolds, as much to raise Johnson’s frequently depressed spirits as to provide a place to wine, dine, and, above all, converse until the wee hours of the morning. Over the next 20 years, its membership would come to include political philosopher Edmund Burke, actor David Garrick, playwright Oliver Goldsmith, historian Edward Gibbon, economist Adam Smith, and other luminaries. Damrosch (Jonathan Swift: His Life and His World) doesn’t provide a fly-on-the-wall account of the Club’s meetings but rather crisp, colorful portraits of its members, illuminated by quotes from their lively, sometimes contentious interactions with each other. Boswell, agreeing with Reynolds about Johnson’s love of debate, observed, “He has no formal preparation, no flourishing with his sword; he is through your body in an instant.” This effervescent history shines a light on the extraordinary origins of a club which still exists to this day. With 31 color plates. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME. (Apr.)
A magnificently entertaining book.”—Michael Dirda, Washington Post“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“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 TimesA New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Books of 2019A Publishers Weekly’s Best Book of 2019A Kirkus Reviews’ Best Book of 2019Featured 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 reviewA “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“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“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“Damrosch gives us a sense of the dynamism and grandeur of the period by his expert use of sources and with a generous selection of paintings, portraits, and sketches. . . . He relies on the Thraliana to check the accuracy and motives of other observers throughout the book. While this is the biographer’s task, it is an infrequent pleasure to see it done so well and so seamlessly. It’s one of the things that makes Damrosch worth reading.”—Timothy D. Lusch, Chronicles“This fascinating history will likely prove one of the most engaging, enlightening, and delicious books you’ll come across in a long time. . . . With unforgettable anecdotes and quotations, Damrosch shows that The Club did indeed shape an age. . . . Theirs was an age of ‘words, words, words,’ to quote Hamlet, a love of which, as Damrosch shows, often superseded partisan politics and favored philosophies. As if all this richness were not enough, The Club excels in color photos and black-and-white drawings Damrosch integrates into his text. This is, simply put, a marvelous and memorable book.”—Joan Baum, WSHU Public RadioShortlisted for the 2020 Christian Gauss Book Award, sponsored by the Phi Beta Kappa SocietyFinalist for the 2019 Julia Ward Howe award for non-fiction category, sponsored by The Boston Authors ClubWinner in the PROSE Awards Biography and Autobiography category, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers Finalist in the L.A. Times Book Prize, biography category, sponsored by the L.A.Times.“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
Memorable portraits of members of a London club who met weekly to discuss literature, politics, and life.
From 1764 to 1784, a group of men met once a week in a private room at the Turk's Head Tavern in London for conversation and, in varying degrees, camaraderie. They called themselves, simply, "The Club," and they included some of the most prominent personalities of the time, including Edward Gibbon, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Sheridan, and, most significantly, Samuel Johnson and his acutely observant biographer James Boswell, who take center stage in this masterful collective biography. Like Jenny Uglow did in The Lunar Men (2002), Damrosch (English/Harvard Univ.; Eternity's Sunrise: The Imaginative World of William Blake, 2015, etc.) 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. It was a world confronting upheaval: noisy agitation in Britain's American Colonies, bloody rebellion in France, debate over slavery, and domestic economic stress. Between 1739 and 1783, Damrosch notes, Britain was at war for 24 years, at peace for 20. In 1776, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Edward Gibbon's The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire both spoke to national preoccupations: Smith, to inequality and the consequences of industrialization; Gibbon, to fears about maintaining the empire. Besides illuminating the salient issues of the day, Damrosch characterizes with sharp insight his many protagonists: abstemious Johnson, who likely would be diagnosed with depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder today; womanizing, hard-drinking Boswell, an unsuccessful lawyer with "unquenchable confidence," intelligent, but "no intellectual," whose mood swings indicate that he may have been bipolar. Although Damrosch emphasizes the men and their works, he does not neglect the women in their lives: memoirist Hester Thrale, for one, who offered Johnson "crucial emotional support" as his confidante and therapist and novelist and diarist Fanny Burney.
Late-18th-century Britain comes brilliantly alive in a vibrant intellectual history.