The centenary of Orwell's birth has brought a number of books about the author, including two new biographies (by D. J. Taylor and Gordon Bowker). While the other books might have varying value for whatever revelations of the man and his life that they contain, Crick's book remains the best biography of Orwell because of its analysis of his politics -- a key component (if not THE key component) of both his reputation and his legacy. To this analysis Crick adds a probing examination of Orwell's life, accepting none of the man's accounts of it (as presented in his many works) at face value. Throughout the book Crick deflates the many exaggerations and debunks several of the myths that Eric Arthur Blair used when constructing the public image of George Orwell. The combination makes for a first-rate examination of both the man and the legend.
I don't understand why everybody got excited about this book: Crick moves quickly, makes too many assumptions, and is naively biased to assume that everything Orwell did was for the best: he repeatedly characterizes Orwell as a "gentleman" because he was reserved in some situations, while skipping over the hard drinking and sexual boasting in other situations. Crick's writing is florid and sometimes confusing, making vague literary references that he does not explain, and his own atttempts at creative turns of phrase. I read this because Orwell is fascinating, but the book leaves one with the feeling that one has not received the true story.
Every couple of years "The Economist" (a weekly magazine/newspaper that analyses world events and trends) reviews one or more books related to George Orwell. I have been reading The Economist for over 15 years now and it has consistently come to the conclusion that Crick's biography of Orwell is the best. That's why I read it. I found it excellent and truely difficult to put down when I should have been sleeping. Who can not wonder about what George would think about the how widely read (and variously interpreted) his writing has become.
An excellent book. Certainly one of the best reads I have had for years and, in my view, the best biography on Orwell. The joy of the book is that it is one of those that you cannot put down. It is informed, well-researched, enjoyable and sympathetic whilst also acknowledging Orwell's flaws. Crick examines Orwell's writings and life within the historical, political and literary context of the inter-war years and the 1940s to great effect. If you have to read just one book about Orwell make it this one - you won't regret it.
Bernard Crick’s biography of George Orwell (first published in 1980) is one of the most detailed, engaging and straight-talking that I have read – probably alongside Peter Ackroyd’s account of the life of that other great British author, Charles Dickens. Crick also gives it to us 'warts and all’ – painting a picture of a man of mercurial temperament, whose appreciation of nature tended to usurp his views on humanity, but whose work ethic and desire to write took precedence over everything else in his life (marriage, friendships, etc). And, indeed, although eventually Orwell became, during the latter years of his tragically short life, a consistent advocate for democratic socialism, Crick is very open about the transitions and development of Orwell’s political thinking – shaped, among other things, by his ‘privileged’ upbringing (including his time at Eton), time spent in India and involvement in the Spanish Civil War, his initial pacificism and thence his vehement stance against both fascism and (Soviet) communism.
It is also clear that Orwell was very modest about his own literary abilities, being frequently scathing about his early novels (in particular), and not being satisfied with his fictional efforts until the period of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four (curiously enough, not 1984). Crick also contrasts Orwell’s ‘traditionalist’ views (as illustrated by much of his essay-writing – cups of tea, murder stories, comic postcards, etc., with his championing of ground-breaking literature (by the likes of James Joyce and Henry Miller) and intolerance of literature without some form of underlying political conviction. Of course, Orwell’s final years – a mix of time spent in the rural idyll of Jura and that in institutions for treatment of his tuberculosis – including the sudden, tragic death of his first wife Eileen make for a very poignant and sad conclusion to the man’s life and leaves one with an abiding feeling (even after his two final novels) of potential not fully realised.