Top critical review
11 of 12 people found this helpful
An excellent essay in a poor edition
on 28 February 2013
This essay is not perfect. It is certainly true that 'the great enemy of clear language is insincerity', and it is as much of a problem today as it was in the 1940s, perhaps more so. Still, I wonder whether Orwell pushes the point a little too far. 'Political language', he writes at the end, 'is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind'. That is true far more often than it ought to be, but even so, it strikes me as precisely the kind of oversimplification that is the logical conclusion of Orwell's call for clarity. Politics is often complicated, and good political writing (like many other genres) needs to find ways in which to express that complexity. All the same, this is the sort of essay that is worth reading even if you are not entirely convinced by the argument, because you benefit from thinking it through. Four stars, then, for the essay.
Given Orwell's passionate call for writers to use language with care and precision, it is a terrible shame that this publication has been put together so carelessly. Some original text has been digitally scanned in a fairly clumsy fashion that has introduced numerous typo errors into the text. I counted six in twenty short pages from one reading, and there are probably more. The worst is 'turmng-away' [sic] on p. 7. These things happen, and even careful checks cannot eliminate every mistake, but at least six in the course of an essay is too many. In the old days, they would just have printed a facsimile of the original, but I assume that the digital scanning has been done to facilitate the production of the Kindle edition, which I have not seen but probably contains the same errors. It would be a shame to have so many mistakes in any book of this length, but given the subject of the essay, I found it especially disappointing. Moreover, this edition is a rather strange thing in itself. I do not see any logic behind the inclusion of the short review of 'Mein Kampf', though it is interesting to read. Neither am I quite sure of the logic behind publishing this essay alone, when it can be found in a more substantial collection, such as 'Why I write', or even the Penguin collection, 'Essays', which contains many other gems (and fewer mistakes, I would expect, though I have not double-checked). One star for the edition.
Overall, two stars. I strongly recommend the essay, but not this edition, unless you are a political writer, in which case perhaps you should keep it on your desk permanently as a reminder of pitfalls to avoid.