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on 13 April 2002
Quite how Orwell can manage to make the price of groceries in pre-war England compulsive reading is a little puzzling, but this essay compiled on a protracted journey around this country's northern industrial towns is once again a shining example of Orwell's uncomplicated and conversational style. Though the reportage is characteristically charged with Orwell's socialist dogma, it should have appeal far beyond the socialist reader for its vivid renderings of these towns and their inhabitants. The passages describing the work and living conditions of these people are particularly enlightening and Orwell really colours the north of the past for those who - like Orwell at the time - rarely stray beyond the Watford Gap. The essay, while only really a record of the past, still manages somehow to be an eye-opener, and is tinted with that irresistible darkness, present in so much of Orwell's pre-war work of a world and a society teetering on the brink of a disastrous but necessary changing of the order.
Perhaps predictably, Orwell never arrives at the symbol of escape from the difficult lives of his characters, Wigan Pier.
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on 27 September 2015
This wonderful book deserves all the accolades heaped on it, the first half being such a tour-de-force I think it should be compulsory reading for every 18 year-old. I learned that pregnant women were strapped into harnesses to pull wagons filled with coal along the pitch black tunnels of the mines, a practice that mercifully had ceased by 1936 when this book was published. I learned that families of eight lived in two rooms (if they were lucky) with only two beds covered with coats and sacks for bedding, the walls crumbling from damp, no hot water and sometimes no running water at all, one toilet 100 yards up the street for ten houses running with bugs and rats. The second part of the book identifies the differences between the working and middle classes and salutes Socialism as the only way to level the playing field. The unemployed are not scroungers or layabouts but the victims of an unfair and unjust economic system, a cry that finds many parallels in Britain of 2015.
(Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa by Pauline Butcher)
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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 16 March 2014
Just realised the review I just posted for "Down and Out in Paris..." would have been more appropriate to TRTWP. Never mind most of the same comments apply, although its TRTWP which has the political second half and not DAOIPAIL. Almost anything by Orwell That I have read has been beautifully written and very, very interesting and this is no exception. Despite Orwell's left wing leanings he is never blind to the weaknesses and faults of socialism as practised , or come to that communism. Not only was Orwell as well informed as anyone about the way communism was implemented in Russia , he wrote two of the most damning criticisms of it.

Despite this he is also well aware that capitalism as practised in the UK and the west is equally damnable.

A must read for anyone under the age of sixty who will find it hard to believe the poverty, disease , and hardship which were part of life for the majority of Britons in the 1930s and 1940s , not that long ago.
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on 26 January 2016
A detailed look into the lives of working class people in Northern England at the end of the industrial revolution.
Orwell sets out to live a fully immersive experience amongst these people, and minutely analyses every agonizing detail of their harsh existence.
The detailed descriptions, the wonderful writing, the humour, the breadth of vocabulary make this book a very easy, even if emotional read.
It is hard not to cringe at some of the accounts of miners lives that Orwell writes about, but the way in which it is written helps reinforce the importance of these accounts in how they shaped that generation of British working class men and women who were a part of this generation.
Overall this is my favourite Orwell book, I have had the joy of reading all his classics and on a personal level (as all literary critiques should be regarded) I find this one to be the most genuine, brilliant work of this great author.
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on 23 January 2015
Well, the first half is (much as you might expect) an interesting insight into the ways of the Northern industrial workers in the 30's - and that is basically what the book was originally commissioned to be. But the second half is what made the book so controversial in its day (1937) - being basically an analysis of the nature of true socialism and the influence of class structure. I love 'Socialism is the absence of tyranny' - meaning the absence of abuse of one indidual by another - and you have to say that probably is as good a definition of pure socialism as any. You can clealry see where Animal farm and 1984 fit into his thinking. Incidentally, apart from the title Wigan pier only gets mentioned once - to say that it had long since been demolished and nobody was sure where it had been (but don't tell that to the Tourist Board...).
An interesting but rather unexpectedly cerebral read.
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on 5 December 2013
Part one is more interesting that part two for me. A middle class writer claiming to be working class and trying to prove it reviewing the working conditions in various parte of GB. Part two is more of a political philosophical view of socialism and fascism which his sponsor was reluctant to include it the book.
Orwell claims to be a member of the bourgeoisie but economically working class and claims that large sections of the middle class are being gradually proletarianised but do not adopt a proletarian outlook. This philosophical argument is surely dated reflecting the pre 1950’s. Unfortunately some of the arguments are politically emotive rather than practical. E.g. the obvious danger that large sections of the middleclass will make a sudden and violent swing to the right. In doing so may become formidable and that socialism is needed to keep out fascism. It is a view of its time.
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on 18 April 2015
I am a huge fan of George Orwell's books - a very western view of socialism and communism exploring its flaws and problems in a way it is not seen in any eastern European literature of the time.
The Road to Wigan Pier is very different to 1984 or the Animal Farm. It has helped me to understand and appreciate more the society and means of living in the North of England through the description of community and life in the early 20th century. Orwell, having spent time and effort to learn these communities, provides a very thorough description of the situation of the North. The second part of the book is all about English socialism - comparatively heavier read to the first part of the book including plenty of autobiographic references and bitter criticism of the society of the era.
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on 7 December 2014
Great analysis of class. Relevant even now. Reminds us that extreme poverty was not that long ago. I am a little surprised that Orwell did not go to the Pub or a football match to see how the miners lived off duty. Otherwise very good.
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on 2 December 2013
I gave this book four stars because it was a recent social history book told from real working class peoples lives. Not coming from this type of background the author has to be commended for actual going and living amongst the people he chose to write about. He related his findings with sympathy, understanding and sometimes with humour which made one want to read on. Being brought up in the North of England just after the war I could readily identify with what Orwell was describing and recommend this book to all those readers who want a trip down memory lane and all those young readers who think they have a tough time now and perhaps do not believe their older relatives stories of " now when I was a child....."
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