I've never read anything by George Orwell except Animal Farm and 1984 but these essays and letters were absorbing. The period between the Wars must have been politically very exciting with a wide range of points of views available to be read. Orwell is so easy to read and was prepared to involve himself in amazing life styles to research his books - eg. living as a tramp and staying in miners' homes before writing Down and Out and Road to Wigan Pier.
I got this book because it was said the George Orwell is the BEST writer and anyone who wants to be a writer should read him. Since that was surprising news to me, I wanted to give it a go. But because it's essays and letters, and not a novel or stories, I haven't been able to appreciate it as much as I'd like. I'm keeping it though, to put in the bathroom or keep by the bed.
This is an excellent collection of essays, letters and journalism by one of the greatest ever writers of prose. I have had this book for over 30 years (as the Penguin price of £1.35 for over 600 pages would suggest!).
Although the period covered is nominally 1920 to 1940 only a handful of pages cover the first decade, since for the majority of this period Orwell was serving in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, and was writing only very rarely. The political backdrop for the majority of the essays, etc is therefore the Spanish Civil War (in which Orwell went to fight at the end of 1936) and the subsequent preparations for World War II.
Orwell's commentary on events is extremely interesting, even given the fact that his writing is now referring to events of over 70 years ago. His descriptions of how British governments of the day first acquiesced to totalitarian dictators (Franco and Hitler), and then eventually engaged in war (Hitler) bears some uncanny resemblance to recent events.
My particular favourites of the essays included are; Dickens - an extensive analysis of Dickens' unique appeal (covering all classes of society), and Orwell's view that Dickens was primarily in favour of moral reform rather than reform of the (capitalist) system per se; The Spike - an account of his experiences living as a tramp in casual wards (later revised and included in his classic book Down and Out in Paris and London); A Hanging - an account of a hanging he experienced whilst in Burma, which brutally demonstrates the inhuman treatment, and minimal value placed on human life, of such events; Shooting an Elephant - where, against his initial wishes, Orwell (as an Indian police officer) is coerced into shooting an elephant on the loose; The Road to Wigan Pier Diary - where he charts some of his time in Wigan and Sheffield and his experiences of living with working coal-miners and the inhuman conditions suffered by them (later revised and included in his book of the same name); Inside the Whale - where he critiques Henry Miller's The Tropic of Cancer and concludes that Miller's rejection of political writing is something to be respected given the detrimental effect such writing had had on the overall quality of literature in the pre-war decade.
Many of these essays have been included in other Orwell publications/compliations - they are all well worth reading.