The Club
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.

The Club Details

TitleThe Club
Author
ReleaseMar 26th, 2019
PublisherYale University Press
ISBN-139780300217902
Rating
GenreHistory, Nonfiction, Biography, European Literature, British Literature, Art

The Club Review

  • Fern Adams
    January 1, 1970
    The Club was a group of polymaths who met in an inn once a week in the second half of the 1700s. Made up of actors, artists, intellectuals and writers, many of the members were people who remain well known to this day; Johnson, Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith amongst others. I was expecting this book to be about the meetings themselves and what they entailed and discussed during these however rather it was a book of biographies of the members. Damrosch tak The Club was a group of polymaths who met in an inn once a week in the second half of the 1700s. Made up of actors, artists, intellectuals and writers, many of the members were people who remain well known to this day; Johnson, Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith amongst others. I was expecting this book to be about the meetings themselves and what they entailed and discussed during these however rather it was a book of biographies of the members. Damrosch takes each club member and provides information on their lives, work and idiosyncrasies as well as giving the reader information on the social, cultural and political history of the time. The book uses a range of sources including the club members journals, work, letters, quotes and Johnson’s own definitions of words within the dictionary he compiled. Damrosch has researched well and places the sources, events and people themselves into context for the time thus providing an extra layer that biographies often miss out and lead to the misinterpretation of information. Furthermore the paintings, drawings and cartoons that are peppered throughout the book really help to give the reader a mental picture of both the club members and the historical setting. I found this a fascinating read. Damrosch is clearly a skilled biographer. He is able to present the information in a very readable and clear manner and while the book is fairly long it does not read so. While I would have preferred a bit more balance between the members of the club (there is a large focus on Johnson and Boswell) and mentions of Rousseau and Voltaire who were not part of the club take up far more page space than many of the members this nevertheless was incredibly insightful. A perfect read for people who have knowledge of the club members and want to find out more about them or equally know very little but would like to begin researching. A book I am sure I will reread. Thank you to Net Galley and Yale University Press for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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  • Peter Tillman
    January 1, 1970
    Joseph Epsein's rave review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-club... [paywalled. Ask if you would like a copy]."What historical era produced the greatest aggregate of human intelligence? Fifth century B.C. Greece provided Socrates and Plato, Pericles and Phidias. In 18th-century France there were the philosophes, among them D’Alembert, Diderot, Voltaire, Helvétius. The founding generation of the republic—Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Adams—would be America’s entry. My own choice would be for Joseph Epsein's rave review: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-club... [paywalled. Ask if you would like a copy]."What historical era produced the greatest aggregate of human intelligence? Fifth century B.C. Greece provided Socrates and Plato, Pericles and Phidias. In 18th-century France there were the philosophes, among them D’Alembert, Diderot, Voltaire, Helvétius. The founding generation of the republic—Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Adams—would be America’s entry. My own choice would be for middle- and late 18th-century London, where Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, Edward Gibbon, Joshua Reynolds, Oliver Goldsmith, James Boswell, David Garrick, Charles James Fox, Adam Smith, David Hume and Richard Brinsley Sheridan walked the streets. These men knew one another well and, with the exception of Hume, belonged to the same club, which met on Friday evenings at the Turk’s Head Tavern, at 9 Gerrard Street, off the Strand. Here was a club that even Groucho Marx, who claimed he wouldn’t care to belong to any club that would accept him as a member, could not have resisted joining."I like well-crafted reviews, Epstein's is wonderful. Read it, even if you don't read the book.
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  • Brian Willis
    January 1, 1970
    This book is a vital survey of the intellectual and literary circle of luminaries who came to intersect their interests in an informal meeting called "the Club" at a local tavern called the Mitre. Ostensibly, it also spotlights many of the socio-cultural personas of the late 18th century in Britain: Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Edward Gibbon.Alongside his previous 2 books, a biography of Jonathan Swift and an artistic biography of W This book is a vital survey of the intellectual and literary circle of luminaries who came to intersect their interests in an informal meeting called "the Club" at a local tavern called the Mitre. Ostensibly, it also spotlights many of the socio-cultural personas of the late 18th century in Britain: Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, Joshua Reynolds, and Edward Gibbon.Alongside his previous 2 books, a biography of Jonathan Swift and an artistic biography of William Blake, Leo Damrosch is on a roll. This is a book that certainly fills a niche, enlarging and expanding the spotlight that usually falls on only one of these leading lights of the age. The book does focus more heavily on Johnson and Boswell, but without marginalizing the other subjects. One reviewer complained that Adam Smith only receives 8 pages but it is not an Adam Smith bio; this book is an intellectual biography and at that it succeeds marvelously. Required reading for students and enthusiasts of the 1760s-1800s.
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  • Brian
    January 1, 1970
    In the second half of the eighteenth century a remarkable group of men met weekly in the Turk’s Head Tavern in London. Known simply as The Club, the group included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon. This book traces the fortunes of those men as well as some of the talented women who were their friends and supporters like the writers Fanny Burney, Hannah Moore, and Charlotte Lennox, and the woman In the second half of the eighteenth century a remarkable group of men met weekly in the Turk’s Head Tavern in London. Known simply as The Club, the group included Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon. This book traces the fortunes of those men as well as some of the talented women who were their friends and supporters like the writers Fanny Burney, Hannah Moore, and Charlotte Lennox, and the woman on whom Johnson came to depend more than anyone else, Hester Thrale.Leo Damrosch is the Ernest Bernbaum Professor of Literature Emeritus at Harvard University but this is not a book for a closeted academic readership. With an eye for the telling detail and the emblematic anecdote, Damrosch brings the world of eighteenth century literary London vividly to life. It's a world populated by brilliant but flawed individuals beset by all the difficulties of class, sex, age, religion, and health, whose impact upon society is still felt today, and the author succeeds in making them wonderfully recognisableCompelling reading for the intellectually curious, The Club is entertaining, vividly drawn and often genuinely moving.
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  • Angie Boyter
    January 1, 1970
    An intellectual history of the late eighteenth century through the lives of some remarkable menEighteenth-century England was a lively place! Captain Cook was exploring the South Seas. Playwrights like Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith were writing plays we still enjoy, and David Garrick was acting in them. Adam Smith was inventing modern economics. And so on. Despite the breadth of the innovation, exploration, and accomplishments in that era, though, the cast of characters who played major An intellectual history of the late eighteenth century through the lives of some remarkable menEighteenth-century England was a lively place! Captain Cook was exploring the South Seas. Playwrights like Richard Sheridan and Oliver Goldsmith were writing plays we still enjoy, and David Garrick was acting in them. Adam Smith was inventing modern economics. And so on. Despite the breadth of the innovation, exploration, and accomplishments in that era, though, the cast of characters who played major roles all seemed to know one another! The Club focuses on one small remarkable group of men who gathered for camaraderie and stimulating conversation and uses their lives to open the door onto the big picture of the intellectual life of the period. It is amazing how such a small group could have so much influence in their own time and later. These are practically all names we remember: Samuel Johnson for his dictionary and literary criticism, James Boswell for biography, Edmund Burke for his oratory, Edward Gibbon for his history, Adam Smith for economics, Sir Joshua Reynolds for painting, David Garrick for acting, and even Joseph Banks, who traveled with Captain Cook and later was president of the Royal Society. Damrosch’s primary emphasis is on Johnson and Boswell, and he devotes about a third of the book to a description of their lives before the Club is formed. The other members each get a chapter, and even in those chapters there is a lot of description of their interaction with Boswell and Johnson. The activities of the Club itself take up only a fairly small part of the book. No matter who or what the subject is at any time, though, Damrosch gives the bigger picture as well, on subjects like religious controversy, matters of class, and similar social issues. There are a lot of a lot of interesting detours. For example, the chapter on Johnson’s early career includes a section on his friendship with several women writers, Elizabeth Carter, whose translation of Epictetus was still being reprinted as late as 1910, and Charlotte Lennox, whose novel The Female Quixote may have been Jane Austen’s inspiration for Northanger Abbey (Austen acknowledged that she loved the book.). There is interesting history of the emergence of the modern magazine during this period and the difficulty of making a living as a writer (Some things never change.).The Club provides a vivid narrative picture, so it is only fitting that it should include illustrations provided by the art of the day. Damrosch describes the many artworks that are shown in the book, which was very helpful, because he explains the significance of small details in the pictures that the reader could miss or not understand and also because, in the Kindle edition at least, the details were not legible, even when I enlarged the picture to full-screen size. , e.g., fig. 6 is a picture of Edward Cave holding a letter addressed to him at St. John’s Gate, a significant location.At its best The Club is a fascinating broad sweeping portrait that also teems with delightful factoids and sidebars. It quotes extensively from sources contemporary to (and some earlier than) the Club members and from sources contemporary to Damrosch. At its worst it is annoying or confusing, as Damrosch cannot help sharing his genuinely encyclopedic knowledge of history. For example, when Damrosch describes Johnson’s friendship with writer Charlotte Lennox he tells us that Johnson organized a party for her when her first novel was published in 1751 at the Devil Tavern, which had been a favorite of Ben Jonson, who died in 1637. He then goes on to quote Ben Jonson’s friend Drummond about Jonson’s fondness for drink. Why are we talking about Ben Jonson? In another section he discusses how Boswell’s journal shows his early skill at bringing social events to life and says he “happened to meet a retired attorney at a dinner party [who] sings Tarry Woo with the English accent”. Damrosch then tells us that Tarry Woo is one of the few songs that Sir Walter Scott was willing to sing in company. I thought “Was Scott an attorney? I thought he lived later than that”. Scott was not born until 1771. So why was he mentioned here? When I see detours like this I then look to see how they tie into the subject, but often they are simply Damrosch sharing his love of information.Readers who expect a tightly focused history of The Club based on the book title may be disappointed. If you want to enjoy it, I recommend that you approach it as Damrosch does his description of the artwork in the book: there is a lot going on, and sometimes you need to see the little details in order to get the big picture. My thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for an advance review copy of this book.
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  • David
    January 1, 1970
    An entertaining book for difficult times.It hits the middle overlapping region of the Venn diagram where the two circles are labelled “About an Interesting Group of Historical Figures” and “Not Depressing”. If you have only a vague idea who Johnson, Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, et al., were, the book might be easier going if you skim through the Wikipedia entries for the main characters first. Even the slightest previous acquaintance with these characters will be enough for you to dive An entertaining book for difficult times.It hits the middle overlapping region of the Venn diagram where the two circles are labelled “About an Interesting Group of Historical Figures” and “Not Depressing”. If you have only a vague idea who Johnson, Boswell, David Garrick, Edmund Burke, et al., were, the book might be easier going if you skim through the Wikipedia entries for the main characters first. Even the slightest previous acquaintance with these characters will be enough for you to dive right into this book. For my part, long-ago university lit courses on some members of this group were more than enough.“The Club” as it actually existed was not really a cohesive and consistent enough group to support a unified narrative by itself, so the book tends to go off on tangents based on the careers and personalities of its members. One narrative doesn't have too much to do with another, and the book doesn't really build to a unified theme. However, the individual characters are fascinating and their era is as well, and the writing is good, so I think the author should be given a pass on the unified theme issue.A completely ill-natured grump might point out that not only Johnson and Boswell, but also Goldsmith, Sheridan, and many of the others in “The Club” were some of the finest writers in the English language. If you wanted to read about them, you actually could read any one of a dozen or more great books written by them – why read a popular history about them instead?Because sometimes – if you are an average person with limited reading time and the normal amount of distractions – original writings from this period are often filled with too many mystifying references to contemporary events and personalities to be enjoyable. If you have access to one of the few remaining high-quality bookstores or (somewhat more prevalent) university libraries, you may be able to take down competing editions of the authors in question and see which one has the best footnotes, but sadly most of us are not in this position.In my case, I got distracted looking at free public-domain books for direct Kindle download on evening and allowed myself to download a completely unfootnoted version of Boswell's travel book concerning a trip that he and Johnson took through Scotland. Boswell's book was full of commentary about contemporary personalities and also about a book that Johnson himself wrote on the very same topic many years before (which I had sadly not read). I gave up on the book a quarter of the way through.In this book, Chapter 14 covers the same period, and is an excellent way to understand and appreciate this episode if you lack the background knowledge of a scholar. It makes the trip fun to read about and calls Johnson's book on this trip “a pioneering essay in geography and sociology, pondering for example why mountain people often resist control from the outside, fragment into competing tribes or clans, and sustain endless feuds.” This sounds like it covers, at least in part, the same territory as contemporary historian and academic James C. Scott, particularly The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia, only 200 years early. Could be interesting – I'll probably be satisfying my cheapskate reading fix by downloading the Johnson travel book soon.Thanks to Yale University Press and Netgalley for a free electronic advance review copy of this book.
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  • Alvaro de Menard
    January 1, 1970
    There's not much to say about the titular Club, certainly not enough to fill 400 pages. Damrosch's strategy is to write about the lives of its members, and the general milieu they lived in. So, rather than a history of the club this book is mostly a series of independent biographies.Adam Smith gets one chapter (8 pages!), Joshua Reynolds gets one chapter, Edmund Burke gets one chapter, and so on. Johnson and Boswell get a few each, and some about the two of them together.There are two problems w There's not much to say about the titular Club, certainly not enough to fill 400 pages. Damrosch's strategy is to write about the lives of its members, and the general milieu they lived in. So, rather than a history of the club this book is mostly a series of independent biographies.Adam Smith gets one chapter (8 pages!), Joshua Reynolds gets one chapter, Edmund Burke gets one chapter, and so on. Johnson and Boswell get a few each, and some about the two of them together.There are two problems with this strategy: 1) the book never really congeals into a unified whole, it's just a series of independent chapters far too short to adequately cover their subjects, and 2) the focus on Johnson and Boswell puts Damrosch up against Boswell. Naturally, he can't compete. Who could compete with the greatest biography of all time?The book is at its best when Damrosch is quoting his subjects, and luckily he does so prodigiously. They are after all extraordinarily interesting people, and this is a great collection of anecdotes about them. I also appreciated the visual material, Damrosch seems to have tracked down every painting he could find, and it really helps to bring the characters to life.Received review copy through NetGalley.
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  • Cristie Underwood
    January 1, 1970
    The author's painstaking research and attention to detail is obvious in the writing of this book. There were many facts that I only discovered after reading this!
  • Phi Beta Kappa Authors
    January 1, 1970
    Leo DamroschΦBK, Yale College, 1962AuthorFrom the publisher: 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 tavernIn 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 Leo DamroschΦBK, Yale College, 1962AuthorFrom the publisher: 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 tavernIn 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.
    more
  • Teresa Grabs
    January 1, 1970
    Damrosch's book covers the life and times of The Club, a group formed by eight men in 1763 that met in the Turk's Head Tavern. The story begins with events that led to the first meeting and ends with the death of James Boswell. The Club continues today under the name London Literary Society. Damrosch blends illustrations and photographs/etchings to bring the story to life. While the book is dense and dry at times, it was a very educational and entertaining read.Thank you NetGalley and Yale Unive Damrosch's book covers the life and times of The Club, a group formed by eight men in 1763 that met in the Turk's Head Tavern. The story begins with events that led to the first meeting and ends with the death of James Boswell. The Club continues today under the name London Literary Society. Damrosch blends illustrations and photographs/etchings to bring the story to life. While the book is dense and dry at times, it was a very educational and entertaining read.Thank you NetGalley and Yale University Press for the opportunity to read an advance reader copy.
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