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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars


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on 23 August 2013
My bias is that I have been a long time admirer of George Orwell both as a writer and a socialist/humanist. At school in the late sixties both Animal Farm and 1984 were required reading. Even at 14, we got the politics of Animal Farm. Later in my early teenage years, it was Homage to Catalonia and Road to Wigan Pier that resonated. Lately it has been re-reading articles, essays and reviews for the enjoyment of his writing clarity and analysis. So I was not expecting Mr Hitchens' book to increase my thinking about Orwell. But it did. Yes, there was an initial salvo of bombast but this is a well constructed appreciation and test of Orwell as a writer, political person and human being. It is informative, critical thought at its best! Through this emerges Eric Blair, with flaws but a mighty heart and appetite for thought and people. Although it would be expected that George Orwell might well be a historical anachronism by now, he still remains relevant, if only by demonstrating the value of having a mind that tests orthodoxy and calling the unacceptable-unacceptable and telling you why. After reading this I went back and read Animal Farm and will revisit George Orwell's novels.
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on 4 February 2013
I am a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens and of his idol, George Orwell, but this book does neither justice. Indeed, this book doesn't answer the eponymous question of its title: 'Why Orwell Matters'. Instead, it becomes an over-argued defence of Orwell against his detractors. That said, apart from Raymond Williams, the detractors Hitchens takes issue with are little-known academics who are battled in a surprisingly uninteresting way. I mean, given Orwell's oeuvre, is it of paramount importance to quote lines of forgotten correspondence to prove a feminist academic no-one has ever heard of wrong on a point which is of little interest even to the most diehard Orwell enthusiast?

Hitchens considered himself an authority on George Orwell and it shows here, almost self-consciously so. At times it feels like Hitchens is showing off, proving how much more he knows about Orwell than the detractors (and us for that matter). It's a shame because I have seen / heard Hitchens speak about Orwell on YouTube and he is so much better - he really makes you want to read Orwell. Sadly, this book neither explains why Orwell matters or makes me want to read Orwell. It is over egged and over cooked and the result is a bit stultifying.

I think Hitchens is better suited to shorter essays, rather than this long (200 page) essay book which gets bogged down in the detail of its own argument. I also think, very occasionally, that Hitchens was a bit too literary and floral in his use of language, which is counter to the clarity he so admired in Orwell's writing. At times sentences and paragraphs become hard work and this makes the book a bit of drag.

That said, Hitchens knows Orwell as well as any biographer and this book highlights that.
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on 13 May 2009
Great book, but be warned; it is the same publication as 'Orwell's Victory" Pub Penguin. Without checking, I bought both. Never mind...maybe it I was a victim of "double-speak".....

As for the negative reviews here, mmmmm, Hitchens is uncomfortable at times, and I think that is why I like him. Like Orwell, he challenges our pre-conceptions and sloppy thinking. You can learn a great deal from thinkers like Orwell and Hitchens without liking or agreeing with everything they says. Is he a warmonger and an unquestioning freind of the pro-Iraq war? Or is he asking awkward questions about our knee-jerk reactions to the issue. I think the war is wrong, but I am glad a "lefty" like Hitchens challenges me to concider why I might be wrong.
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on 21 February 2012
Hitchens spends relatively little time addressing his book's title - if you need that question answered then you probably just need to re-read 1984 - instead, he answers Orwell's critics. A short book which invites us to see Orwell as a decent, principled and insightful man, albeit with flaws most notably in relation to his homophobia.
A short, light read: ideal for anyone with a passing interest; but would also be great as a starting point for new students of the author.
I loved it. I give four instead of five because I'm keen to reserve that fifth star. The book could have answered its own title more fully, though admittedly it would have dated faster, and could have been more substantial for the price.
I recommend this book unreservedly to anyone.
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on 22 December 2010
Am I alone in finding Christopher Hitchens' account of George Orwell's life and
works somewhat disappointing? It is partly Hitchens' literary style - a bit dense and sometimes elliptic - and partly that I am not quite sure whether Hitchens really does provide an answer to the question "does Orwell matter?"

Both Hitchens and I believe that he does. Hitchens does a good job in showing how Orwell's uncompromising belief in liberty and equality (expressed very clearly in "Animal Farm" and "Nineteen Eighty-four") offended those on the left who refused to accept that Stalin's USSR violated those ideals big-time. And he also shows that while right-wing thinkers endorsed (some of) Orwell's principles, they could not claim him as one of their own. Orwell remains a towering figure on the libertarian left, despite some odd foibles such as his slightly questionable attitude towards Jews and gays.

Orwell's significance is that he understood the nature of totalitarian dictatorships and how such regimes trample on history, language and culture to make people conform to a stereotyoped image of how human beings should behave.

Hitchens is very good on this, but I think does not altogether succeed in bringing out the relevance of Orwell to modern political developments. The fall of Soviet-style communism, and the extraordinary juggling act of the Chinese communists in trying to allow more economic liberty in their vast diverse nation while keeping the lid on political freedom, would have fascinated Orwell. What exactly would he have made of these titanic changes? I think Hitchens could have provided us with an answer.
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As a cussed member of the New Left, Hitchens shares much with Orwell, not least brilliance as an essayist. Here he makes a defence of Orwell, especially those on the Stalinist Left (this matters as the Trotskyite POUM were killed by the Communists in the Spanish Civil war, although putatively on the same side). Hitchens forensically examines what Orwell did and what he wrote, then what has been said about this. What I found interesting is the way in which a wedge opens between Hitchens and erstwhile comrades on the Left, especially Chomsky but to a lesser extent Edward Said also. Hitchens also dissects Raymond Williams's little Fontana 'Orwell' with especial venom. (I cannot quite see why but there is probably a sectarian reason here). This is a crisp, well argued piece - he worked part time as a lecturer in Literature at New York's New School, so he is no slouch at it - worth reading in case anyone around you derides Orwell for giving his List of Communist sympathisers at the BBC to his bosses. As with Alger Hiss in America, it transpires that just because people were paranoid didn't mean that the Soviets weren't dangerous and DID send spies out. This is a necessary book, an easy read and well worth learning from. Orwell assuredly DOES matter.
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on 21 June 2013
There are few more cogently written books that I have come across that also deal with the core of modern political ills and do so so gracefully. Any lover of good writing, of compelling argument and important subject matter will revel in this book.
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An argument for George Orwell's work. It's not a biography of Orwell though there are some tantalising snippets of information about the man and his politics. Orwell hated being a policeman (in Burma) and resigned rather abruptly, maintaining a distrust of police generally for the rest of his life, as well as a dislike of colonialism. For this he seemed ahead of his time except for a dislike of homosexuality. The book is loaded with great observations: 'Conquering nations use racism as a way of pushing exploitation beyond the point that is normally possible by pretending that the exploited are not human beings.' It's interesting to note when he worked at the BBC the room where editorial meetings for the Eastern Services were held was Room 101. The lengthening shadow of Nineteen Eighty-Four was everywhere: 'Totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere' he says, having taken a bullet in the neck fighting the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. In a 1947 essay Orwell concluded: 'A socialist United States of Europe seems to me the only worthwhile political objective today'. Oh dear, not since the 2016 Brexit vote. 'England was a family with the wrong members in control with rich relations who are horribly kowtowed to, and poor relations who are horribly sat upon' he said.
In May 1946 he wrote something quite pertinent for today's Jeremy Corbyn Labour Party: ' The main danger from any Communist-led split in the Labour movement was that it could hardly result in a Communist controlled government, but it might bring back the Conservatives'.
An interesting read.
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on 13 April 2014
I'm a big Orwell fan - Hitchens obviously is too. Some useful insights into Orwell in this book although I'm surprised at the number of obscure words Hitchens choses to use - I had to read it with a dictionary handy. Was he delibrately flouting one's of Orwell's rules for good writing? "Long words don’t make you sound intelligent unless used skillfully. In the wrong situation they’ll have the opposite effect, making you sound pretentious and arrogant. They’re also less likely to be understood and more awkward to read."
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on 2 March 2007
Ignore what is painfully obvious. This book is not a diatribe about the folly of the Iraq war, it is a re-evaluation of a much maligned, much misunderstood, frequently hated icon, who after his death was subjected to a tug-of-war competition between the Right and the Left as to who should own him. This short book aims to correct the incessant harping of the 'Orwell was anti-women, anti-Semitic, anti-everything' Brigade. Such criticisms deserve an answer, not an excuse, and they are provided amply in this book. If you really do wish to uncover the myth of what some people believe is a well-worn topic, you should definitely give this a read.
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