In The Club, the American literary scholar Leo Damrosch brilliantly brings together the members’ voices ... Beginning with the friendship between Johnson, the moralist, and Boswell, his promiscuous future biographer—a connection that was initially forged outside the Club—Damrosch breathes life into 'The Friends Who Shaped an Age' (in his subtitle’s phrase). 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 ... Resonating beyond the well-documented links among these leading lights, The Club captures their distinctly individual voices and invites us to feel the pulsations of contact over a period of 20 years ... The best historians...invite readers to accompany them 'behind the scenes.' Damrosch does precisely that here ... a book that sustains a shared conversation, a terrific feat in keeping with that of the Club itself.
...in his engaging and illuminating The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age, Leo Damrosch makes no attempt to describe [the club] as a coherent entity, or to follow its development and endow it with a specific part in 'shaping an age.' Instead, he uses the Club to give a fresh slant to the more familiar story of the friendship between Johnson and Boswell ... Concerned that we should see, as well as hear, these groups, Damrosch includes a superb array of color plates and black-and-white illustrations ... Damrosch is a crisp guide to everything from rhetorical styles to the gallows at Tyburn, where prisoners from Newgate were executed. Like a benign lecturer fixing his audience with a stare over his glasses, he alerts us to crucial points with a nod ... He wears his learning lightly, and his sympathetic enjoyment is infectious ... While Damrosch’s insights into the characters and achievements of Johnson, Boswell, and the leading Club members are astute, he is also generous in his acknowledgment of other commentators. These evoke a body of readers over time that includes some unexpected voices ... on Damrosch’s stage, we are transported back to a world of conversations, arguments, ideas, and writings.
The whole would be more than the sum of the parts, the Turk’s Head’s private upstairs room a crucible of collaborative thinking far stronger than any solitary effort of individual genius. Did it turn out that way in practice? That’s the story Damrosch wants to tell, but he meets some obstacles along the way. One is the awkward fact that we don’t have a great deal of detail about what went on in the Turk’s Head ... Even if there’s a risk of overstating the Club’s importance as a way of unleashing the creativity of its members, it certainly provides a good basis for a study of intersecting lives. Damrosch sketches the lives adroitly, with an eye for anecdote[.]