What is a "Boswell" in this use?
July 19, 2016 4:27 AM   Subscribe

I did a Google, but I seem to be missing a large chunk of the context needed to tease out The New Yorker's meaning. That's probably intentional since I'm not their chosen audience ... Trump's Boswell.
posted by tilde to Media & Arts (8 answers total)
Boswell chronicled the life of Samuel Johnson.
posted by pmurray63 at 4:31 AM on July 19, 2016

Well, The Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell is a classic and Boswell is used as shorthand for "biographer".
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:33 AM on July 19, 2016

Best answer: James Boswell wrote a significant biography of his friend Samuel Johnson, and that biography is generally considered to be one of the main reasons Dr. Johnson remains so prominent in English cultural and intellectual history. It's commonly used to refer to a biographer, especially one who's chummy with his subject. In this case, that's used ironically, as Schwartz doesn't ever seem to have been particularly close to, or even fond of, Trump.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:33 AM on July 19, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks. They don't cover that at Ms Deever's Secretarial school for wayward young ladies.
posted by tilde at 4:52 AM on July 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: It struck me as a pretty egregious misuse. The young Boswell came to London as a great admirer of Dr. Johnson's writing and scholarship. His Life of Johnson was the result of a long friendship, published after the subject's death. Someone who was paid to ghost write a businessman's bio is no Boswell.
posted by Scram at 7:54 AM on July 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Scram, that's why I think the usage was ironic.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:11 AM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

that biography is generally considered to be one of the main reasons Dr. Johnson remains so prominent in English cultural and intellectual history.

Schwartz believes that his ghostwriting "The Art of the Deal", which involved no particular interview-based collaboration with Trump but rather Schwartz following the guy around and listening in on phone calls and so forth while notetaking, is directly responsible for Donald's subsequent career and cultural prominence in the US. The article provides some supporting evidence for the thesis. The use is not ironic.
posted by mwhybark at 10:28 AM on July 19, 2016

But, as Scram noted, there are some important differences as well. I would argue that Boswell's admiration (adulation) of Johnson is more essential to his Boswell-ness than the mere fact that he compiled his biography by observation rather than interview.

Johnson was already a prominent cultural figure by the time Boswell wrote his Life of Johnson. Boswell is responsible for Johnson's posthumous pseudodeification, but he was hardly "directly responsible for [Johnson's] subsequent career and cultural prominence", as Schwartz seems to think he is for Trump's*, for the simple reason that Johnson had no subsequent career - Boswell's Life was published seven years after Johnson died. (*Although whether Schwartz is actually responsible for Trump's prominence is another question altogether.)

I regard it as ironic because there's no way Tony Schwartz would call himself "Trump's Boswell" with a straight face unless he seriously misunderstands the relationship between Johnson and Boswell. Since the article is about the fact that Schwartz now (and at the time, apparently) regrets co-authoring the book with Trump, the remark clearly seems to have been added by the writer (or an editor) to provide an ironic comment on the souring relationship between Schwartz and Trump.

But really, this is a pretty big digression from the original question.
posted by kevinbelt at 1:06 PM on July 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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