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Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas) Mass Market Paperback – 7 Aug 2008

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141036613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141036618
  • Product Dimensions: 11.1 x 0.8 x 18.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 93,471 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 5 Aug. 2009
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. Paradise on 2 July 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sam Quixote TOP 50 REVIEWER on 16 Feb. 2014
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 1 Nov. 2013
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This slim volume contains six essays which may make you smile, possibly make you sad and will certainly make you think. Orwell muses on how much he spends on books, recollects his time working in a bookshop and on being seriously ill in a Paris hospital, considers the merits of book reviewing, the censorship of literature, patriotism and his joyless time spent as a scholarship boy at prep school.

Most of these articles were published in the late 1930's to mid 1940's, but they still have amazing relevance today. Is reading an expensive hobby? How does it measure up to other forms of entertainment? Is there still, as Orwell said, an rarity of `bookish' people? Certainly many book reviews or book prizes can be said to be judged by those who care little for what they are reading and censorship is still in place - a disturbing amount of books are banned worldwide each year. The longest essay concerns Orwell's school days and much that he found oppressive - bullying and cramming for exams, are still issues that concern many. These are refreshing to read, full of opinions and enthusiasm and are certain to provoke discussion if chosen by any reading group.
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