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4.0 out of 5 stars
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4.0 out of 5 stars


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on 6 February 2016
I have reservations concerning this perspective. Well-researched, thoughtful and insightful, yet uncomfortable. Orwell has always remained one of my literary influences, a man to turn to for sense, stripped back prose and rebellion. Colls places these qualifications under the microscope and attempts to reduce the man to a confused, ill at ease searcher of Englishness and his place within it. Inevitably, for such a perspective, Orwell's politics are revealed as shallow, reversible and not what he is perceived to be. He is almost accused of being a Tory.

It is fascinating, hence my 4 stars. However, I cannot but feel that there was an agenda in its writing, and I cannot quite forgive the author for his conclusions. Orwell, despite his curtailed life, packed much into it. He was entitled to comment on those around him. The fact that he could never belong or really feel what it is/was to be working class should not be levelled against. Neither should his anti-intellectualism or anti-totalitarianism. Maybe they were obsessions, but with regard to the latter, who is not?
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on 22 December 2015
This is a suet pudding of a book - heavy going in parts but with enough good bits to justify the effort. At times the author ties himself in knots trying to decide if Mr O was a socialist, a lefty, or a mere pinko (my words...) as if the label is more important than the content of the man's thinking. Apart from this the book is at its best when reviewing O's written work and the underlying influences on it. Orwell's myopic view of "Life up North" which ignores the rich working class culture completely is justifiably criticised. Overall a valuable addition to any shelf of Orwelliana.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 15 December 2013
This is an interesting biography which tries to identify the trend of George Orwell's philosophy over his lifetime, and to project how he would have viewed events since his death over 60 years ago. An Old Etonion, who maintained close relationships with other Old Etonions throughout his life, Orwell liked to claim that he was a socialist, and in support of this view are his warm and sympathetic portrayals of working class and poverty afflicted life in two of his earliest books 'Down and Out in Paris and London' and 'The Road to Wigan Pier', and in his volunteering to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Franco's forces,where he was wounded.

He was certainly not of the hard left though, and his most famous books,'Animal Farm' and '1984' are of course strong polemics against communism and totalitarianism.

The author suggests that Orwell was almost a Tory in some respects of his thinking, but fails to produce much in the way of evidence to support that view despite the extensive research which underpins this book. He does however successfully show how Orwell was at heart very English, and how his Englishness shaped much of his thought, and his joy at returning to the country of his birth after his times overseas.

Although quite academic (the author is a university professor) this is also a very enjoyable book, which I read happily over just a few days.
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on 25 August 2015
This book is excellent. Robert Colls is a very perceptive writer and this is an excellent guide to Orwell's thinking and particularly the rather convoluted paths Orwell followed.Colls is an odd writer. I always think he has told me more than I can put into words and I'm not entirely sure this is a virtue. The style of the Orwell book is interesting; This isn't a biography, although it is chronological. He's interested in how Orwell found his sense of belonging, of being, at last, English. Identity and country is a theme Colls has tackled before but I think this is Colls best book. The need to keep to a clear focus on Orwell gives it a good structure. If you want to know about Orwell this is an excellent book to read.
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on 23 December 2013
If you're interested in what Orwell might have been thinking at almost any stage of his life or what would have happened if he hadn't died in 1950 then this is the book for you. For example we are encouraged to wonder what he would have thought about the life of a shelf-stacker, or how far he would have taken his suspicion of left intellectuals. You get the impression that Colls doesn't particularly like Orwell if you judge by the prejudicial language he occasionally falls back on. 'International Brigade Communists had been street-fighting Franco in Madrid while Orwell had been safely tucked up in his grocery' gives an indication of the style, of which there are other examples. So I conclude here that we're somewhere in the battle to reclassify Orwell post hoc as something that he wasn't, and given the distance since his death and a speculative approach almost anything is possible. It is worth remembering that Orwell wrote 'every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it' and 'I have come to the conclusion that it is futile to be anti-Fascist while attempting to preserve capitalism'.

It is clear that a lot of research has gone into the writing of this book. Of the 330 pages almost 100 are taken by the Notes and the Index.

On my copy of this book the back cover includes praise from John Gray and in the book the final paragraph includes 'Today the major exponent of prime Orwell political writing (...) is John Gray'. I think Orwell would have appreciated that.
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on 10 November 2013
There are many books on the English socialist icon George Orwell, but none that really describes and gets inside the man like this book by Robert Colls does. It has been brilliantly researched, as you would probably expect from a man with an academic background, but is also very well written and easy to read, a feat that does not always go together. What is also is fairly unique for me is it shows Orwell in quite a new light, in that he was a man of many contradictions who disliked the right as well as the left of the political divide, taking up viewpoints you would not normally associate with him.

If you want to buy one book on Orwell you couldn't go far wrong in choosing this one
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on 12 January 2016
Very good but potential buyers should be aware that this is not a straightforward biography but a wider consideration of Orwell's work and the times through which he lived.
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on 14 January 2016
A very good book,well researched and written but a third of the book is reference notes.
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on 19 January 2016
At once informative and thought-provoking.
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on 26 December 2015
good
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