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George Orwell: English Rebel [Hardcover]

Robert Colls
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

24 Oct 2013
A journey through the life and thought of George Orwell, from public school satirist and imperial policeman to

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (24 Oct 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199680809
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199680801
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.5 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 167,752 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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An intellectual who did not like intellectuals, a socialist who did not trust the state, a writer of the left who found it easier to forgive writers of the right, a liberal who was against free markets, a Protestant who believed in religion but not in God, a fierce opponent of nationalism who defined Englishness for a generation.

Aside from being one of the greatest political essayists in the English language and author of two of the most famous books in twentieth century literature, George Orwell was a man of many fascinating contradictions, someone who liked to go against the grain because he believed that was where the truth usually lay.

George Orwell. English Rebel takes us on a journey through the many twists and turns of Orwell's life and thought, from the precocious public school satirist at Eton and the imperial policeman in Burma, through his early years as a rather dour documentary writer, down and out on the streets of Paris and London and on the road to Wigan pier, o his formative experiences as a volunteer soldier in the Spanish Civil War.

Above all, the book skilfully traces Orwell's gradual reconciliation with his country, a journey which began down a coal mine in 1936 to find its exhilarating peaks during the dark days of the Second World War.

An eloquent reminder that George Orwell loved his country rebelliously ... both timely and necessary. (Calum Mechie, TLS)

Full of learning and insight ... Colls is a lovely writer, who is fearless in a way that academics too often are not. He is happy to subvert clichés, make little speeches and is willing to permit useful generalisations ... There are several ways in which - quite apart from the success or otherwise of Colls' thesis - this book is a kind of Orwellian triumph. (David Aaronovitch, New Statesman)

This is an excellent, provocative addition to Orwell ... an exceptionally interesting book ... Colls is now entitled to consider himself a prime ornament ... of Orwell studies. (D J Taylor, The Guardian)

Colls is an honest and intelligent writer, interrogating a mind that he very much admires, about issues that he deeply cares about. (Roger Scruton, The Times)

Illuminating insights ... [a] thought-provoking study. (Yvonne Sherratt, Times Higher Education Supplement)

This is the most sensible and systematic interpretation of George Orwell's books that I have ever read ... This biography's achievement is to give us back Orwell the writer - neither a saint, nor an infallible sage, but a perverse, intelligent commentator on his time, and also, on occasion, a superb critic. (A. N. Wilson, The Spectator)

a stunning piece of work, well researched, tautly written and often funny ... It is the best book on Orwell to appear for several years, erudite and original. It catches the extent to which Orwell lived on his wits better than any other account of his life. It's up there with Crick, Gordon Bowker and DJ Taylor. (Paul Anderson, Tribune)

A compact intellectual biography with much political and social content ... There are useful critiques of Orwell's early "angry" novels, his gradual appreciation of the working class, and the political contradictions that he never fully resolved ... General readers will benefit from Colls's deft analysis of Orwell's writings and his attempt to pin down the author's politics. (Library Journal)

[A] lucid work of intellectual biography Colls's engaging style and frequent bursts of astringent wit make for lively reading suitable for any Orwell enthusiast. (Publishers Weekly)

Subtle, probing and refreshingly original study the closest and most intimate portrait of Orwell to date (John Gray, Literary Review)

Short, witty and intelligent performing a valuable service by situating Orwell in the context of interwar history. (Robin McGhee, Prospect)

There have been many books written about George Orwell but this is surely among the best. Rob Colls has taken on the man's Englishness, his personality, warts and all, and the elusive notion that he was a rebel in his own land. It's full of zesty prose, fine insights and a freshness of interpretation which made it a pleasure to read. It's a major achievement and a major work on George Orwell. (Melvyn Bragg)

Colls identifies and analyses a strand of Orwell's authorship the importance of which has been consistently underestimated: Orwell's highly problematic relations with his English inheritance By showing how this concern changed its shape over time Colls has changed our view of Orwell's life and work, and offered a fresh perspective on a pivotal period in English intellectual and political history. (John Gray, author of Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals)

This book should interest both informed general readers and serious students of Orwell's work, for it represents a judicious and all-too-rare example of being an absorbing intellectual biography undergirded by scrupulous literary scholarship. (John Rodden, editor of The Cambridge Companion to George Orwell)

Colls has written a highly entertaining book in the good plain jargon-free prose style so valued by its subject it has much for the general reader and student, and will ruffle a few ideological feathers which, as Orwell well knew, is always a good thing. (Spokesman)

Thought-provoking and illuminating. (London Magazine)

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Refreshingly vibrant and all round excellent book ... (David Marx Book Reviews)

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Careful Research and Lots of Opinion 23 Dec 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you're interested in what Orwell might have been thinking at almost any stage of his life or what would have happened if he hadn't died in 1950 then this is the book for you. For example we are encouraged to wonder what he would have thought about the life of a shelf-stacker, or how far he would have taken his suspicion of left intellectuals. You get the impression that Colls doesn't particularly like Orwell if you judge by the prejudicial language he occasionally falls back on. 'International Brigade Communists had been street-fighting Franco in Madrid while Orwell had been safely tucked up in his grocery' gives an indication of the style, of which there are other examples. So I conclude here that we're somewhere in the battle to reclassify Orwell post hoc as something that he wasn't, and given the distance since his death and a speculative approach almost anything is possible. It is worth remembering that Orwell wrote 'every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it' and 'I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be anti-Fascist while attempting to preserve capitalism'.

It is clear that a lot of research has gone into the writing of this book. Of the 330 pages almost 100 are taken by the Notes and the Index.

On my copy of this book the back cover includes praise from John Gray and in the book the final paragraph includes 'Today the major exponent of prime Orwell political writing (...) is John Gray'. I think Orwell would have appreciated that.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting biography 15 Dec 2013
By markr TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting biography which tries to identify the trend of George Orwell's philosophy over his lifetime, and to project how he would have viewed events since his death over 60 years ago. An Old Etonion, who maintained close relationships with other Old Etonions throughout his life, Orwell liked to claim that he was a socialist, and in support of this view are his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working class and poverty afflicted life in two of his earliest books 'Down and Out in Paris and London' and 'The Road to Wigan Pier', and in his volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's forces,where he was wounded.

He was certainly not of the hard left though, and his most famous books,'Animal Farm' and '1984' are of course strong polemics against communism and totalitarianism.

The author suggests that Orwell was almost a Tory in some respects of his thinking, but fails to produce much in the way of evidence to support that view despite the extensive research which underpins this book. He does however successfully show how Orwell was at heart very English, and how his Englishness shaped much of his thought, and his joy at returning to the country of his birth after his times overseas.

Although quite academic (the author is a university professor) this is also a very enjoyable book, which I read happily over just a few days.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell and good. 10 Nov 2013
There are many books on the English socialist icon George Orwell, but none that really describes and gets inside the man like this book by Robert Colls does. It has been brilliantly researched, as you would probably expect from a man with an academic background, but is also very well written and easy to read, a feat that does not always go together. What is also is fairly unique for me is it shows Orwell in quite a new light, in that he was a man of many contradictions who disliked the right as well as the left of the political divide, taking up viewpoints you would not normally associate with him.

If you want to buy one book on Orwell you couldn't go far wrong in choosing this one
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.5 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rebel With A Cause 7 Jan 2014
By Christian Schlect - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A sharp, insightful, and interesting analysis of the writings and political thinking of George Orwell.

While this book follows the arc of Orwell's life, this is not a conventional biography. Little is said about his family or friends. Instead, one is given an intelligent tour of Orwell's development over time, through the means of his published works and the topical political events and social realities he confronted.

Professor Colls firmly places Orwell within a specific English context and deftly explains the trouble with any attempt to politically pigeonhole this great writer.

Readers may also be interested in a book released in 2013: "George Orwell: A Life in Letters." For any serious student, "The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell" (1968) is indispensable (and enjoyable).
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Actually I Just Ordered It, But ... 30 May 2014
By reading man - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I think the review by Mr. Ravitch misses the point of a book like this one. It assumes you've read one or more of the many good biographies of Blair/Orwell. (Note that D.J. Taylor, who praises it in a blurb attached to the description page, wrote a full-dress bio of the subject in--I think--2003, which is one of the best of them.)

Anyone who isn't interested in Orwell's Englishness isn't really interested in Orwell. After all, one of his favorite novelists was George Gissing, who epitomizes the British novel of the 1890s. He wrote a splendid essay about how to make the perfect cup of tea, surely something most Americans are indifferent to.

Seriously, Orwell was English to his toenails. Writing about him as an "international" author would only distort this essential fact.

Given D.J. Taylor's recommendation, I'm looking forward to reading this book as soon as it arrives, and I think if you care for Orwell, you too should buy it and learn more about one of the greatest prose writers of the 20th century.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing 31 May 2014
By Mark Pressman - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Overly critical of Orwell without supporting most of his criticisms; gives little insight into Orwell the man or many of his greatest works; overlooks almost all the essays Orwell wrote--Colls singles out only "The Unicorn and the Fox" for comment. (Colls makes one negative comment about "Politics and the English Language" -- and says nothing else about that classic essay, which is still read by high school students across the U.S.) Read Meyers' book: Orwell, Life and Art.
1 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for Americans, surely! 15 Jan 2014
By N. Ravitch - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Americans knew of Orwell as the British leftist who, among few others in Britain or America on the Left, saw the evils of Stalinism very early on. 1984 and Animal Farm were books that young Americans in the 1950's were raised on.
There are many books on Orwell. This one is particularly self-defeating. It concentrates on the "Englishness" of Orwell, perhaps something of interest to some Englishmen but not many others. It is an intellectual biography, about ideas, and nothing about Orwell's personal life at all. You cannot discuss a man's ideas without discussing his life. I cannot see what contribution this book makes. The English emphasis is particularly wrong since England is obvious kaputt! Orwell has more to say than about England.

The book is hard going. Very repetitious. With no useful index despite its length. The Oxford University Press has outdone itself in failure. It shares with the late Christopher Hitchens an esoteric love of Orwell which is not the Orwell we can profit from. Trying to figure Hitchens out is like trying to find God in godlessness. To figure Orwell out is like trying to figure out his every reaction to events he could sometimes anticipate and sometimes could not. His tragic life, an early death, is depressing. But the author of 1984 and Animal Farm will live forever, thank the Lord.
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