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Why Orwell Matters [Hardcover]

Christopher Hitchens
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Sep 2002
In a true marriage of minds, Christopher Hitchens takes on George Orwell and the value of one of the twentieth century's great independent thinkers.

In this brilliant and contemplative biographical essay, Christopher Hitchens assesses the life, the achievement, and the myth of the great political writer and participant George Orwell. The result is the perfect convergence of two kindred spirits. Hitchens has long regarded Orwell as a mentor and model, and in true emulative and contrarian style, he is both adulatory and aggressive, sympathetic yet critical, taking true measure of his subject as hero and as problem.

Combining the best of Hitchens's polemical punch and intellectual elegance in a tightly woven and subtle argument, Why Orwell Matters tears down the façade of sainthood erected by hagiographers and probes deeper to find the true George Orwell: gifted, flawed, and human. With lyrical and allusive prose, Hitchens examines Orwell and his perspectives on fascism, empire, feminism, and Englishness, as well as his outlook on America, a country and culture toward which he exhibited little curiosity but much ambivalence.

With his characteristic wit, Christopher Hitchens has written a book that addresses not only why Orwell matters today but how he will continue to matter in a future, uncertain world.

Hitchens on Orwell:
This is not a biography, but I sometimes feel as if George Orwell requires extricating from a pile of saccharine tablets and moist hankies; an object of sickly veneration and sentimental overpraise, employed to stultify schoolchildren with his insufferable rightness and purity.

This kind of tribute is often of the Rochefoucauldian type; suggestive of the payoff made by vice to virtue, and also of the tricks played by an uneasy conscience. What [Orwell] illustrates, by his commitment to language as the partner of truth, is that "views" do not really count; that it matters not what you think, but how you think, and that politics are relatively unimportant, while principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them.

Others on Hitchens:

"I have been asked whether I wish to nominate a successor, an inheritor, a dauphin or delphino. I have decided to name Christopher Hitchens." -Gore Vidal

"Christopher Hitchens's writing has sweep and flair. He is accurate where others are merely dutiful, unpredictable where the tendency is to go for the cliché. In short, brilliant." -Edward W. Said

"May his targets cower." -Susan Sontag

Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; First Printing edition (17 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030491
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.5 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 148,174 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthew's Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.

Product Description

About the Author

Christopher Hitchens is a popular columnist for Vanity Fair and The Nation. His books include Letters to a Young Contrarian, The Trial of Henry Kissinger, Unacknowledged Legislation: Writers in the Public Sphere, No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family, The Missionary Position: Mother Theresa in Theory and Practice, and For the Sake of Argument: Essays and Minority Reports. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
74 of 77 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars These reviews certainly don't matter 2 Mar 2007
By Justin
Ignore what is painfully obvious. This book is not a diatribe about the folly of the Iraq war, it is a re-evaluation of a much maligned, much misunderstood, frequently hated icon, who after his death was subjected to a tug-of-war competition between the Right and the Left as to who should own him. This short book aims to correct the incessant harping of the 'Orwell was anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-everything' Brigade. Such criticisms deserve an answer, not an excuse, and they are provided amply in this book. If you really do wish to uncover the myth of what some people believe is a well-worn topic, you should definitely give this a read.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, but be warned! 13 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Great book, but be warned; it is the same publication as 'Orwell's Victory" Pub Penguin. Without checking, I bought both. Never mind...maybe it I was a victim of "double-speak".....

As for the negative reviews here, mmmmm, Hitchens is uncomfortable at times, and I think that is why I like him. Like Orwell, he challenges our pre-conceptions and sloppy thinking. You can learn a great deal from thinkers like Orwell and Hitchens without liking or agreeing with everything they says. Is he a warmonger and an unquestioning freind of the pro-Iraq war? Or is he asking awkward questions about our knee-jerk reactions to the issue. I think the war is wrong, but I am glad a "lefty" like Hitchens challenges me to concider why I might be wrong.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Christopher Hitchens on George Orwell 22 Dec 2010
Am I alone in finding Christopher Hitchens' account of George Orwell's life and
works somewhat disappointing? It is partly Hitchens' literary style - a bit dense and sometimes elliptic - and partly that I am not quite sure whether Hitchens really does provide an answer to the question "does Orwell matter?"

Both Hitchens and I believe that he does. Hitchens does a good job in showing how Orwell's uncompromising belief in liberty and equality (expressed very clearly in "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-four") offended those on the left who refused to accept that Stalin's USSR violated those ideals big-time. And he also shows that while right-wing thinkers endorsed (some of) Orwell's principles, they could not claim him as one of their own. Orwell remains a towering figure on the libertarian left, despite some odd foibles such as his slightly questionable attitude towards Jews and gays.

Orwell's significance is that he understood the nature of totalitarian dictatorships and how such regimes trample on history, language and culture to make people conform to a stereotyoped image of how human beings should behave.

Hitchens is very good on this, but I think does not altogether succeed in bringing out the relevance of Orwell to modern political developments. The fall of Soviet-style communism, and the extraordinary juggling act of the Chinese communists in trying to allow more economic liberty in their vast diverse nation while keeping the lid on political freedom, would have fascinated Orwell. What exactly would he have made of these titanic changes? I think Hitchens could have provided us with an answer.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Hitchens' best 4 Feb 2013
I am a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens and of his idol, George Orwell, but this book does neither justice. Indeed, this book doesn't answer the eponymous question of its title: 'Why Orwell Matters'. Instead, it becomes an over-argued defence of Orwell against his detractors. That said, apart from Raymond Williams, the detractors Hitchens takes issue with are little-known academics who are battled in a surprisingly uninteresting way. I mean, given Orwell's oeuvre, is it of paramount importance to quote lines of forgotten correspondence to prove a feminist academic no-one has ever heard of wrong on a point which is of little interest even to the most diehard Orwell enthusiast?

Hitchens considered himself an authority on George Orwell and it shows here, almost self-consciously so. At times it feels like Hitchens is showing off, proving how much more he knows about Orwell than the detractors (and us for that matter). It's a shame because I have seen / heard Hitchens speak about Orwell on YouTube and he is so much better - he really makes you want to read Orwell. Sadly, this book neither explains why Orwell matters or makes me want to read Orwell. It is over egged and over cooked and the result is a bit stultifying.

I think Hitchens is better suited to shorter essays, rather than this long (200 page) essay book which gets bogged down in the detail of its own argument. I also think, very occasionally, that Hitchens was a bit too literary and floral in his use of language, which is counter to the clarity he so admired in Orwell's writing. At times sentences and paragraphs become hard work and this makes the book a bit of drag.

That said, Hitchens knows Orwell as well as any biographer and this book highlights that.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Answering Orwell's critics 21 Feb 2012
Hitchens spends relatively little time addressing his book's title - if you need that question answered then you probably just need to re-read 1984 - instead, he answers Orwell's critics. A short book which invites us to see Orwell as a decent, principled and insightful man, albeit with flaws most notably in relation to his homophobia.
A short, light read: ideal for anyone with a passing interest; but would also be great as a starting point for new students of the author.
I loved it. I give four instead of five because I'm keen to reserve that fifth star. The book could have answered its own title more fully, though admittedly it would have dated faster, and could have been more substantial for the price.
I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Hitchspeak
I'm a big Orwell fan - Hitchens obviously is too. Some useful insights into Orwell in this book although I'm surprised at the number of obscure words Hitchens choses to use - I had... Read more
Published 11 days ago by delwboy
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for the modern info on Orwell
Well written and informative. written by hitchens who has a dissecting essay style sometimes similar to orwell. Read more
Published 3 months ago by osian gruffudd
5.0 out of 5 stars A sound introduction to the thinking and times of Eric Blair
My bias is that I have been a long time admirer of George Orwell both as a writer and a socialist/humanist. Read more
Published 8 months ago by "Belgo Geordie"
5.0 out of 5 stars Urgent
There are few more cogently written books that I have come across that also deal with the core of modern political ills and do so so gracefully. Read more
Published 10 months ago by John Marks
4.0 out of 5 stars A fellow feeling.
As a cussed member of the New Left, Hitchens shares much with Orwell, not least brilliance as an essayist. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mr. G. Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell
Christopher Hitchins was a new name to me. His reviews persuaded me to buy the Essays. I am enjoying them.
Published 14 months ago by MR EDWARD LOWNDES
1.0 out of 5 stars A louse on a louse
One leftie icon idolises another leftie icon. Hitchens, the warmongering writer for rich Americans, has written what can only be described as a hagiography of 'Saint George'... Read more
Published on 9 Jun 2003 by William Podmore
1.0 out of 5 stars (What's) the Matter with Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens talks of Orwell in his invited lectures and at the New School in New York where he occasionally teaches, writes of Orwell in his books, and backs Paul... Read more
Published on 28 April 2003
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