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Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) [Paperback]

George Orwell
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Aug 2008 Penguin Great Ideas

Beginning with a dilemma about whether he spends more money on reading or smoking, George Orwell’s entertaining and uncompromising essays go on to explore everything from the perils of second-hand bookshops to the dubious profession of being a critic, from freedom of the press to what patriotism really means.

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves – and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives – and destroyed them. Now Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization and helped make us who we are.

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Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) + Penguin Great Ideas : Why I Write + Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141036613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141036618
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 11 x 17.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,463 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George Orwell is one of England's most famous writers and social commentators. Among his works are the classic political satire Animal Farm and the dystopian nightmare vision Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell was also a prolific essayist, and it is for these works that he was perhaps best known during his lifetime. They include Why I Write and Politics and the English Language. His writing is at once insightful, poignant and entertaining, and continues to be read widely all over the world.

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in 1903 in India, where his father worked for the Civil Service. The family moved to England in 1907 and in 1917 Orwell entered Eton, where he contributed regularly to the various college magazines. From 1922 to 1927 he served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, an experience that inspired his first novel, Burmese Days (1934). Several years of poverty followed. He lived in Paris for two years before returning to England, where he worked successively as a private tutor, schoolteacher and bookshop assistant, and contributed reviews and articles to a number of periodicals. Down and Out in Paris and London was published in 1933. In 1936 he was commissioned by Victor Gollancz to visit areas of mass unemployment in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) is a powerful description of the poverty he saw there.

At the end of 1936 Orwell went to Spain to fight for the Republicans and was wounded. Homage to Catalonia is his account of the civil war. He was admitted to a sanatorium in 1938 and from then on was never fully fit. He spent six months in Morocco and there wrote Coming Up for Air. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard and worked for the BBC Eastern Service from 1941 to 1943. As literary editor of the Tribune he contributed a regular page of political and literary commentary, and he also wrote for the Observer and later for the Manchester Evening News. His unique political allegory, Animal Farm was published in 1945, and it was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which brought him world-wide fame.

It was around this time that Orwell's unique political allegory Animal Farm (1945) was published. The novel is recognised as a classic of modern political satire and is simultaneously an engaging story and convincing allegory. It was this novel, together with Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), which finally brought him world-wide fame. Nineteen Eighty-Four's ominous depiction of a repressive, totalitarian regime shocked contemporary readers, but ensures that the book remains perhaps the preeminent dystopian novel of modern literature.

Orwell's fiercely moral writing has consistently struck a chord with each passing generation. The intense honesty and insight of his essays and non-fiction made Orwell one of the foremost social commentators of his age. Added to this, his ability to construct elaborately imaginative fictional worlds, which he imbued with this acute sense of morality, has undoubtedly assured his contemporary and future relevance.

George Orwell died in London in January 1950.

Product Description

About the Author

Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell) was born in India in 1903. He was educated at Eton, served with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, and worked in Britain as a private tutor, schoolteacher, bookshop assistant and journalist. In 1936, Orwell went to fight for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War and was wounded. In 1938 he was admitted into a sanatorium and from then on was never fully fit. George Orwell died in London in 1950.

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Books, Cigarettes, and Other Vices 5 Aug 2009
By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
When George Orwell's diaries were released online as a daily blog, beginning about a year ago and still ongoing, I remembered how much I enjoyed his essays and how long it had been since I'd read any of them. I was reminded of The Road to Wigan Pier when I recently read The Road to Southend Pier: One Man's Struggle Against the Surveillance Society, about the recent proliferation of closed-circuit TV cameras throughout Britain. Very Big Brother-ish.

So when I saw Books v. Cigarettes on a display with others from the Penguin Great Ideas series, I grabbed it. Not only was I looking forward to reading the book-related essays of Orwell, but the design of the book itself is a delight. A smidgen taller and wider than a mass market paperback and considerably thinner, the cover evokes the old Penguins of the mid 20th century, right down to the price printed on the upper right hand corner : 3'/6. The cover is rough, not slick, with subtly embossed lettering. I love it.

There are only six essays here, 126 pages. Orwell gets off to a good start by taking to task those who complain that books cost too much. He compares the cost of the books he's bought over the years with the amount he's spent on booze and cigarettes, and finds that even with his above-average book consumption, books cost less than other vices. Essays about bookselling and book reviewing follow, then one about the British Left's lukewarm support for freedom of the press. According to Orwell, the Left's support of Soviet Russia made them overlook little things like censorship.

The final three essays are not really book-related at all.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise 2 July 2011
I'm not a big fan of Orwell's books, that is to say I dislike his style. They are of course good books but they all seem to follow the same rhythm, most ending in an inevitably depressing fashion that loses its power in its over use. However, this collection of essays where a joy to read. Reflective, brutally honest and a sign of a man who truly thought for himself. His condemnation of the useful idiots who blindly spouted the propaganda line of the soviet union and other hacks is a message still relivent to our time, and his reflection on his time at school makes interesting reading. On the topic of his time in public school, I couldn't help but draw comparisons (in the contrast) to Peter Hitchens' description in 'The Rage Against God'. While Hitchens seems to find no fault in his experience of education (a suspicious lack of criticism if truth be told, I suspect him to be one of those people who has forgotten all the problems of the past and is constantly comparing their fantasy of how things were to an overly negative version of today) Orwell gives a warts and all account of suffering the fate of being considered second rate in a elitist and hypocritical institution.

Well worth reading, and at the price its being offered you'd be mad not to give it a go.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended 2 Nov 2009
Excellent collection of essays from Orwell. It includes reminiscences from his youth as well as reporting of sorts of the then current political affairs, linked to literary creation. While the former benefit from the perspective accorded from looking back at them decades later, the latter, written as it were while things were happening provide a very interesting insight into the thinking of the time, unfiltered by the need to fit the experience / views into some pre-formed theories. Many of the musings would be considered valid and up to date even now, which is not an impression one gets by reading historical accounts of the period of ~1930-1946 reading other accounts. As good essays tend to, the author is not out to present a comprehensive analysis of the topics being written about - it is more a passionate, fairly one sided but still strongly compelling argument that is being presented but this is really done with some mastery. Highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Choose books every time! 16 Feb 2014
By Sam Quixote TOP 50 REVIEWER
Books v. Cigarettes is another fine collection of selected essays by George Orwell in the Penguin Great Ideas series, this one focusing on books, literature in harsh political regimes, patriotism, his time in a run-down hospital in France, and his memoirs of going to a private boarding school.

Books v. Cigarettes is a somewhat laborious essay where Orwell explains that working class people read fewer books and choose books over things like cigarettes, beer and gambling, not because the habit is expensive but because they’re not interested in it - contrary to their claims that it is. He mathematically works it out and, while I agree that he’s probably right, it’s a bit of a pedantic essay to read.

Bookshop Memories and Confessions of a Book Reviewer are definitely my favourite essays here as I’m a bibliophile. Orwell spent some time working as a bookseller and his observations from that time are very entertaining. He observes that few customers in the shop could tell the difference between a good book and a bad one, that their clientele were mostly foreign students haggling over cheap textbooks and “vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews”.

There’s even a line about a “dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover” that reminded me of Jen Campbell’s “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops” which shows how little people have changed in nearly 100 years.

It was interesting to find out the three most-read authors of the time were: Ethel M.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars For a slim tome it is insightful and feels good having the sense that...
Very moving and acerbic. For a slim tome it is insightful and feels good having the sense that he's on your side with views of the establishment and human behaviour.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Wc Shacklock
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good reading
Published 1 month ago by Adolf Van Steen
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, funny and somewhat dark in places
This handful of essays cover literature in various aspects, the public school system (a recurring topic of Orwell's) and how the NHS compares to his stay in a Paris hospital for... Read more
Published 3 months ago by enthymeme
4.0 out of 5 stars What a wonderful book
What a wonderful book. Seven essays - all of which are interesting, insightful and readable - and it definitely saves the best until last... Read more
Published 9 months ago by nigeyb
5.0 out of 5 stars Books v. Cigarettes
This slim volume contains six essays which may make you smile, possibly make you sad and will certainly make you think. Read more
Published 10 months ago by S Riaz
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting debate
Orwell puts forward a fascinating argument for the greater value for money of books than cigarettes! This article is only one of several collected here. Read more
Published 14 months ago by L. A. Witton
3.0 out of 5 stars No point in buying this if you already have Shooting an Elephant
Anthology of short stories, essays and criticism. All very amusing, easy read and lots of ideas - but it's missing some of his best stuff - other collections are better value.
Published 15 months ago by PeterS
4.0 out of 5 stars Explains the Man behind the Work
Orwell is a character that can be examined through his work but this book dives right into the background of the person.
Published 18 months ago by Alex Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars Papers from the forties
Life in the forties was different but detailed expositions of the daily grind of the book reviewer or the observations of labourers are food for thought. Read more
Published 22 months ago by KNM
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic
Worth it for the first essay alone - it's a great perennial concept and Orwell, as ever, gives it a good going over. Well recommended.
Published 24 months ago by Adam Monaghan
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