There must be more books about Dr Samuel Johnson than any other figure in English letters apart from Shakespeare. And the first one written remains the best. Nevertheless, Henry Hitchings’s contribution is a worthy addition, a sprightly companion and guide, full of enjoyable surprises and learned digressions even for those who think they know all there is to know about the great man.
There have been dozens of books in the last few years on how various famous authors, from Proust to Aristotle to Joyce, can ‘change your life’. There has even been one assuring us that a study of the works of Adam Smith can bring fulfilment and happiness, which seems a trifle unconvincing.
But Dr Johnson – now you’re talking. This was a man who struggled with colossal daily adversity in all shapes and sizes, from poverty and obscurity to depression and debilitating sloth, from hypochondria and a constant dread of death and hellfire to a sort of general, food-spilling, bearlike,