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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 September 2012
I've recently read quite a few books by George Orwell (The Clergyman's Daughter, Coming Up For Air, and Keep The Aspidistra Flying), having previously read Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm and Homage to Catalonia, and am rapidly coming to the conclusion that he's one of my favourite writers. This was only the second time I've sampled his non-fiction.

Before I discuss my thoughts on the book I want to mention how much I enjoy Orwell's writing style. In his essay Politics and the English Language (1946), Orwell wrote about the importance of precise and clear language, and provides six rules for writers:

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

These rules seem to me to inform his style that I perceive to be simple and powerful.

Onto the book itself, in the first half of The Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell catalogues the poverty he encounters in the north of England during the depression of the 1930s. In the second half, and written whilst Fascism is on the rise in Europe, he outlines his Socialist solution.

Orwell appears to be unfailingly honest - both about what he encounters amongst the poor families of the north of England (his description of the Brookers' boarding house is powerful and evocative) and his own prejudices.

A word on his prejudices, he refers to homosexuals as "pansies" and discusses the "cranks" that gravitate towards Socialism which include - in his words - fruit-juice drinkers, nudists, sandal wearers, sex maniacs, Quakers, nature-cure quacks, feminists and vegetarians. He is honest enough, elsewhere in the book, to acknowledge the difficulty anyone encounters trying to escape their social background - these prejudices suggest to me he was, in some respects, a very traditional person. I think this self awareness makes him more endearing and probably more clear-sighted whilst also jarring with me, as I fall into at least two of his crank categories.

A lot of his thoughts and observations still resonated with me as a reader in 2012. Specifically his ideas on class prejudice and language. That said, I think he was also fairly naive when he wrote this book. His political education would continue in Spain, as documented in Homage to Catalonia, when he would fight a real war against Fascism, and where he encountered Russian propaganda and the rivalries between the various Republican factions. I would recommend reading the two books back-to-back.

I preferred the first half of the book, with its clear eyed depictions of poverty, which is more interesting than his political musings in the second half. The second half is interesting, but his tendency to repeat himself, his personal prejudices and his political naivety, undermine this half of the book. That said, it's well worth reading for anyone interested in the era, or in Orwell's writing - I find both fascinating.
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on 10 April 2012
Having lived and worked in industrial Lancashire for thirty years from 1975 it was lovely to be recalled to sights and sounds, and places, that were fading memories.
George Orwell was writing from a political prespective as well as from a social perspective, and it was fascinating to see how relatively slow social change has been in spite of national and political pressures to improve the industrial northwest.
"The Road to Wigan Pier" is by no means out of date amd still shows a strong cutting edge. Recommended reading for those who have a social conscience and feel there is still room for change in spite of the great improvements that have been made since the book was written.
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I think it pays to have a hard look at the cover of this book - the boy to the right of the picture is possibly still alive, and having lived through the depression of the 1930's, the oil shock, the recession of the 1980's and the GFC he may have a thing or two to say about the world.
The Road to Wigan Pier is a book that cannot fail to have an impact on the reader. The first half of the book is an account of the conditions experienced by working people in Yorkshire and Lancashire during the middle 1930's. The truly shocking conditions that these people lived in is described with little attempt at gloss. This is of course the reality of the "land fit for heroes" that many of the returning servicemen from the First World War encountered. This book is worth reading even if you pause at the end of Part 1.
Part 2 of the book is far more opinionated in nature and deals largely with Orwell's ideas on class, politics and economics - this section seemed much less relevant today than the first. Maybe I am out of touch, but the analysis of events based on class seems to be an echo from the past.
However, poverty, deprivation and lack of opportunity still seem rife in some communities, and while we may now explain their origin with different language, the impact on people remains the same.
This book remains relevant today, and comes highly recommended.
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on 12 November 2010
A very clearly written book, easy to understand even for someone not particularly politically minded. I was born into a mining society in 1943, six years after the first appearence of this book but I can still relate to some of the conditions described. The discussion on how society was reluctant to accept the development of machines and its effect on society is frighteningly parallel to the present day invasion of the computer, its advantages and disadvantages, and gives an insight to our own future.
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on 13 February 2015
Hey just finished this. It starts with a pretty grim description of the Yorkshire miners' work and life conditions but then it opens up to insightful considerations on the meaning of classes in England and on how they relate to each other, going deep into the core of Englishness.
Do you know he spent months living in a tramp dormitory to get rid of his class prejudices?
His view, at the time of writing, on Socialism has been made obsolete by history but not the analysis on the reasons behind fascist attitude within the middle (or upper-middle-lower) class.
What i find fascinating in Orwell is the way he is able to carve hard and clear truths out of what must have been a very confusing period, dominated by the rise of the Nazi-Fascism and the decline of the Empire. Also death to the stereotype!
Presented this way you will probably think this is a complete bore, but I really found myself laughing more often than not, as Orwell's no-frills prose is capable of delivering quality stand-up comedy lines.
If you love Orwell and have read already his major works, I would definitely recommend this.
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on 27 December 2015
I hadn't read this book since I was 12 or 13 when I had a George Orwell phase and read most of his published works. What prompted me to re-read it was a mention of it on a BBC Radio 4 discussion programme. I was interested in seeing how well the book had weathered the passage of time, in particular given some parallels between the socio-economic climate of England in the 1930s and England in the 2010s.

The first part of The Road to Wigan Pier was interesting - very dated of course, but interesting to see what had fundamentally changed since the 1930s when this book was written (living conditions, for example), but also what hasn't changed (attitudes towards people on benefits). The second part was sheer drivel. George Orwell rambling on in a way that showed some extreme prejudices. I was amused but also irritated at his derogatory remarks towards vegetarians, pacifists and Quakers, for example. The second part is much longer than the first part and in the end I gave up on it. It was just an ill-informed rant. I'd thought that George Orwell had more stature than that.
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on 25 September 2012
...back again. Re-reading this book makes me think that that's the way we are heading, in Britain at least. Pretty soon, as they push housing benefits down for single people, there'll be 'Guesthouses' full of unemployed folk, just like in this book.

Blair, not the most inconspicuous of fellows, tried his best to fit in, despite his accent, and talk to people, and the book is an excellent piece of journalistic writing which everyone should read, or re-read, as they should 'Down and Out...'.
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on 22 February 2009
As mentioned by other reviewers, the book is divided into two parts. Part one provides a journalistic style of social observation, when Orwell spends time visiting and most importantly living amongst mining communities in the north of England during the mid-1930s. Even though many years have passed since its writing, Orwell's descriptions are vivid and moving. Further, his analysis of the economic plight of the miners still rings true today for all exploited peoples. As well as the social and economic observations, Orwell captures the real sense of working down a coal mine; reminding the reader that the working day might involve 3 hours crawling or at best proceeding along in a crouched posture to between the coal face and the mine shaft elevator; or that the living conditions of some unfortunates was such that he says "The dirt and congestion of these places is such that you cannot well imagine it unless you have tested with with your own eyes and more particularly your nose." Overall, the first part takes the reader back in time and place to witness some of the economic and social realities of mining communities in pre-war Britian. However, I had to keep reminding myself that this was not the Victorian period or a Dickensian novel.

The second part of the book shifts gears entirely. Here Orwell let's loose his views on the "class system" prevalent at the time. From observations of other social histories I have read from this period, it would appear to be a very astute set of observations. In particular, I was struck by the deep honesty of Orwell's writing in this part of the book. He is not struck by sentimentality or political arm waving, athough his sponsors were apparently less than pleased with his comments. Rather, Orwell provides the reader with a look at the values and attitudes of Britain in the late 1930s on the eve of a war which Orwell seems to sense is coming. In particular, Orwell explores the failings of the then modern day Socialist movement and in particular its failure to offer a meaningful alternative to those individuals who can sense an unfairness in the capitalist system. Orwell express his fear that the lack of emphasis upon "justice" and "liberty" with too much emphasis upon economic and class differences could very well drive ". . . a middle class crushed down to the worst depths by poverty and still remaining bitterly anti-working-class in sentiment; this being, of course, a ready-made Fascist Party."

Orwell also expresses concern about the association in some people's minds between Socialism and technical progress. Orwell provides an interesting (particularly with the benefit of seeing how things have transpired technologically since the book was written over 70 years ago) summary of his view regarding the ultimate demise of technological progress; reviewing the thoughts of science fiction writers like H.G. Wells and their utopian ideals with the absurdity of some of their outcomes in terms of human fulfilment.

Yet Orwell is no traitor to the Socialist ideals. Rather his writing in the second part of this book is more a call to arms by people of various political persuasions to join together for the greater good in the fight against the rising tide of nationalism and fascism that was already sweeping Western Europe. A call that he himself was soon to act upon when he went to fight as a Republican volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.
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on 13 February 2014
In some aspects, This could be as relevant today as it was when it written.
A good insight to how the class system was viewed and to be honest, not much has changed!
Our governments would probably learn a lot if they read this but, with todays problems in mind!
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on 26 December 2012
a good read, although starts very well and seems to tail off towards the end. maybe It's because I was a miner and the first half of the book spends a lot of time in mining.
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