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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 August 2012
The very natural wish for revenge after the war is considered against the reality of how most people just felt relief that it was over. Orwell did not write about the reparations demanded from Germany and the effect of the partition of Berlin (or if he did it is not recorded here), which is something of a disappointment. He wrote about the "Atom Bomb" as it was called back then, and this essay is illuminating only on the notion of what are "good" weapons (those of the medieval age, that anyone could use) and "bad" weapons - tanks and the bomb which are expensive as well as conducive to control by cold war.

Orwell's writing about literature, when not in a political vein, is instructive. He loves the stories of Jack London and mourns their popularity, while admitting they are extremely variable in tone. The problem with these stories is their extreme cruelty - indeed London's Iron Heel predicts the rise of fascism. His greatest works have the theme of the cruelty of nature.

In his essay on The Prevention of Literature Orwell is most exercised by the distortion and suppression caused by Communists and `fellow-travellers'. "There can be no question," he says, "About the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life. The kind of distortion he has in mind take in situations such as that which found "...very large numbers of Soviet Russians - mostly, no doubt, from non-political motives - had changed sides and were fighting for the Germans. Also a small but not negligible proportion of the Russian prisoners and Displaced Persons refused to go back to the USSR, and some of them were repatriated against their will. These facts, known to many journalists on the spot, went almost unmentioned in the British press, while at the same time Russophile publicists in England continued to justify the purges and deportations of 1936-38 by claiming that the USSR `had no quislings.' The fog of lies and misinformation that surrounds such subjects as the Ukraine famine, the Spanish Civil War, Russian policy in Poland and so forth, is not due entirely to conscious dishonesty, but any writer or journalist who is fully sympathetic to the USSR - sympathetic, that is, in the way the Russians would want him to be - does have to acquiesce in deliberate falsification on important issues."

Lighter pieces include Pleasure Spots which describes in scathing tones new ideas for holidays of the future. Interestingly these sound exactly like a Centre-Parks complex, even down to the continuous music in all covered areas. Oh please preserve us from musak!

One of Orwell's most famous journalistic pieces is called The Decline of the English Murder - and it is gruesome, though one does hear the satire not far beneath the surface. In one of his best pieces of work: Politics and the English Language, Orwell includes six rules for writing:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one would do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Strangely enough one of the best pieces of writing here is entitled: Some Thoughts on the Common Toad. On waking, Orwell notes, "the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent. His movements are languid but purposeful, his body is shrunken, and by contrast his eyes look abnormally large. This allows one to notice... that the toad has about the most beautiful eye of any living creature. It is like gold, or more exactly it is like the golden-coloured semi-precious stone which one sometimes sees in signet rings and which I think is called a chrysoberyl.

Later in this piece, which might be my favourite of all his writings, he asks: "Is it wicked to take a pleasure in Spring and other seasonal changes?... while we are all groaning, or at least, ought to be groaning, under the shackles of the capitalist system, to point out that life is frequently more worth living because of a blackbird's song, a yellow elm tree in October, or some other natural phenomenom which does not cost money..." He also remarks, "'Nature' in one of my articles is liable to bring me abusive letters." Mainly, it seems, because he has gone off the political track and is being "sentimental" about his surroundings.

There is much more to this collection, much of it important political writing, especially so with Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels, and Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool, as well as an excellent essay about Ghandi. Much of what Orwell has to say is very much involved with the politics of his own time, which are much more agonised than our own. This is because people, ordinary people, matter to Orwell. Political activity matters to him in a way it no longer does to us. I have no respect for the politicians of my day, but much respect for a man who tried always to tell the truth when all about him were liars, fools and fabricators.
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on 13 March 2008
You don't have to be a socialist to enjoy this little collection of Orwell essays. You just have to enjoy simple but bitingly precise use of the English language, and hold a forlorn affection for the English themselves. 'England is.. a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly,' says Orwell. And then adds, 'But in any calculation about it one has got to take into account its emotional unity..'

It is Orwell's combination of a sentimental attachment to the ordinary Englishman who doesn't hesitate in the face of Fascism, and a withering dismissal of English anti-intellectualism, that makes this book so beguiling. It feels remarkably contemporary as he observes 'England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality.' And touchingly prescient as he predicts in 1940 that 'in whatever shape England emerges from the war..the gentleness, hypocrisy, the thoughtlessness, the reverence for law and the hatred of uniforms will remain, along with the suet puddings and the misty skies.'

Towards the end he gets a little bogged down in his manifesto for change - and his belief in nationalisation now seems quaint. But the book returns to form at the end with a coruscating attack on the misuse of English.

Poor a slightly warm beer, look out over some interlocking hills, and enjoy.
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on 14 August 2013
This short book contains four essays dealing with Orwell's reasons for writing, his analysis of England in a time of war, a hanging and the ways people block out the horror of such an event, and the interrelationship between politics and the English language.

On the subject of his reasons for writing, Orwell provided four reasons why any writer might write, apart from the need to earn a crust. These four points were, sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. The last point acted as a good primer for the subjects of the other three essays.

His analysis of England, "The Lion and the Unicorn", attempted to define the essence of the English. This work was written after the British retreat from Dunkirk and before the D-Day landings. Orwell's essay describes people's expectation that there would be at least another three years of war, and he is very supportive of patriotism to England while at the same time promoting the improvement of the position of the common man.

"A Hanging" is a brief account of a hanging in India and it leaves little to the imagination.

"Politics and the English Language" deals with the way politicians, businesses and newspapers use the English language to say a lot while stating absolutely nothing. He proscribes six rules for the writing of plain English with the objective of actually communicating a message to the biggest number of people. These are:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, as scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I found this little book to be full of fascinating ideas and socio-political concepts, not to mention great expressions. My copy is full of under linings, margin notes and references scribbled on the inside back cover. Much of the content is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. We have different pressures today but they are presenting the same social problems that Orwell was discussing in these essays.

I was reading two other books around the same time I was reading this book and there was considerable overlap in relation to the language of politicians and people's tendency to ignore difficult issues that are staring them in the face. The other two books were Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan and Spy the Lie by Philip Houston.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing, and anyone who cares about social justice.
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on 19 October 2010
I bought this collection of essays to widen my knowledge of Orwell's intent behind his novels, and what I found was an assortment of concise works which give a unique twang to several political arguments. The initial essay delved into the difference between Fascism and Socialism, of which Orwell fervently believes, should be made aware to everyone. The context of these essays, written mid world war two are still undeniably relevant to the modern reader, despite the fact the threat of Fascism is no longer a major concern. `On Hanging' is a reflection of Orwell's time in Burma, witnessing a man take his last steps- and it provokes the argument at why we end a life of someone who is functioning perfectly, who has the concern of stepping round puddles on the way to the noose. The final essay is a quirky little number, displaying the decline of the English Language. Orwell delves into how many political phrases are simply meaningless metaphors, how foreign anecdotes illustrate ambiguity, and how embellished statements cover up the true, direct meaning of language. Read this petite bright idea, it gives the reader such an insight to why the man wrote what he wrote.
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on 17 February 2017
The title of this rare non-fiction by Orwell is deceiving; the book is a collection of four essays, with only one of the briefer ones dedicated to writing. Most of the others voice Orwell's views on politics, economy and society in England during WW2. Fortunately this topic intrigued me though I can understand some of the readers' frustrations who might have had different expectations. It is always interesting to read non-fiction by a master of fiction; 1984 and Animal Farm were such classics renowned for exploring themes in an implicit manner. Here however you will find Orwell frighteningly explicit and raw. Bear in mind this has been written around 80 years ago; all you need to do is read a newspaper dated a year ago to see how far-fetched and irrelevant most political/sociologial analysis or commentaries on a certain affair were compared with developments to date. So keeping an open mind, you will enjoy the brisk and straightforward manner of Orwell in this book. In some instances, you can't but feel uneasy especially when he toys around the possibility of Hitler winning the war. I was also surprised to learn about the extreme extent of Orwell's socialist beliefs; many of which seem ludicrous even for a North Korean ruling party member to voice in a meeting. When he addresses the issues of the British colonies, I was shocked to read that 'backward agricultural countries like India and the African colonies can no more be independent than can a cat or a dog'. His view on the decadence of the English language is also way too gloomy. The most entertaining part was the chapter on Orwell's viewing of a hanging of a prisoner in Burma; here you will see Orwell at his best, especially when he brilliantly describes the walk of the prisoner to his hanging rope, and how he casually avoids stepping on a puddle though he was facing his death in a couple of minutes. I prefer fiction-Orwell. Here you feel you can correct Orwell only because you're 80 years ahead of him and it just doesn't feel right; he is a brilliant writer and should always be remembered as such.
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on 10 November 2011
Reading Orwell's essay today is a real eye opener. If you overlay the known outcomes and political scenarios onto the book Orwell was bang on the money. A fascinating document of its day; no less readable today. I may be biased as my favourite book in Burmese Days but he does write extraordinarily well . I never tire of his precise insightful observations.
The description of a hanging in Burma, a shorter piece within the book, shows Orwell's innate humanity. A modest cover price seals the deal, buy this book - you won't be disappointed.
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on 25 June 2012
I love George Orwell. He gives it to you straight. Here are a few quotes from this fine little collection of his essays, several of which I have read and enjoyed many times before:

On patriotism: "Patriotism has nothing do with Conservatism. It is actually the opposite of Conservatism, since it is a devotion to something that is always changing and yet is felt to be mystically the same. It is the bridge between the future and the past."

On nationalism: "One must admit that the divisions between nation and nation are founded on real differences of outlook. Until recently it was thought proper to pretend that all human beings are very much alike, but in fact anyone able to use his eyes knows that the average of human behaviour differs enormously from country to country."

On class: "England is the most class-ridden country under the sun. It is a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and silly."

And on England: "A family with the wrong members in control - that, perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase."
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on 29 January 2014
Great to have this slim edition of a real book to carry around for bus journeys, waiting in the supermarket queue, being bored at train stations. Orwell's concise classic is portable bliss. I have a handful of the GREAT IDEAS series now, mostly philosophy, and love every single one for the same reason. Antidotes to the pile-up mess of modern city travel and work. Beautifully handleable too.
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on 25 February 2015
George Orwell was clearly opinionated. Some of these opinions were quite insightful and this makes interesting reading. It is just over 100 pages long, so is not a tedious series of essays on what he thinks of the world and how he would like it to be. I would imagine that if he lived today, the content would be altered accordingly to fit in with the current clamp-down on freedom of speech.
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on 24 January 2013
A very engaging book which captured the authors trademark economy with words married to a profound self-awareness. An excellent book
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