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A Collection of Essays [Paperback]

George Orwell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

October 21, 1970 Harvest Book

George Orwell's collected nonfiction, written in the clear-eyed and uncompromising style that earned him a critical following


One of the most thought-provoking and vivid essayists of the twentieth century, George Orwell fought the injustices of his time with singular vigor through pen and paper. In this selection of essays, he ranges from reflections on his boyhood schooling and the profession of writing to his views on the Spanish Civil War and British imperialism. The pieces collected here include the relatively unfamiliar and the more celebrated, making it an ideal compilation for both new and dedicated readers of Orwell's work.

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Editorial Reviews Review

Imagine any of today's writers of "creative nonfiction" dispatching a rogue elephant before an audience of several thousand. Now, imagine the essay that would result. Can we say "narcissism"? As part of the Imperial Police in Burma, George Orwell actually found himself aiming the gun, and his record--first published in 1936--comprises eight of the highest voltage pages of English prose you'll ever read. In "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell illumines the shoddy recesses of his own character, illustrates the morally corrupting nature of imperialism, and indicts you, the reader, in the creature's death, a process so vividly reported it's likely to show up in your nightmares ever after. "The owner was furious, but he was only an Indian and could do nothing.... Among the Europeans opinion was divided. The older men said I was right, the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie, because an elephant was worth much more than any damn Coringhee coolie."

This essay alone would be worth the cover price, and the dozen other pieces collected here prove that, given the right thinker/writer, today's journalism actually can become tomorrow's literature. "The Art of Donald McGill," ostensibly an appreciation of the jokey, vaguely obscene illustrated postcards beloved of the working classes, uses the lens of popular culture to examine the battle lines and rules of engagement in the war of the sexes, circa 1941. "Politics and the English Language" is a prose working-out of Orwell's perceptions about the slippery relationship of word and thought that becomes a key premise of 1984. "Looking Back on the Spanish War" is as clear-eyed a veteran's memoir of the nature of war as you're likely to find, and Orwell's long ruminations on the wildly popular "good bad" writers Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling showcase his singular virtues--searing honesty and independent thinking. From English boarding schools to Gandhi's character to an early appreciation of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, these pieces give an idiosyncratic tour of the first half of the passing century in the company of an articulate and engaged guide. Don't let the idea that Orwell is an "important" writer put you off reading him. He's really too good, and too human, to miss. --Joyce Thompson

About the Author

GEORGE ORWELL (1903–1950) was born in India and served with the Imperial Police in Burma before joining the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was the author of six novels as well as numerous essays and nonfiction works.

Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 21, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156186004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156186001
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
109 of 112 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Stuff, Mostly May 21, 2004
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Note that all the essays in this collection are available online, most of them at multiple sites.
This sample of Orwell's essays is representative but perhaps a little too small. At least two other essays, "A Hanging" and "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool" should have been included.
"Such, Such Were the Joys" is a moving reminiscence of boarding school, where Orwell had a miserable time as a frail student on "reduced fees".
"Charles Dickens" is a long piece of literary-social criticism. It is insightful on Dickens the man and his politics, and how they relate to his work. Orwell notes the class limitations on Dickens's outlook, but feels that in spite of them, Dickens is a "free intelligence".
"Rudyard Kipling" is an essay in the same style. Orwell admits Kipling's faults but feels that despite them, he produced better poetry than most of his contemporaries. This is put down to his writing about/for a class with a sense of responsibility.
"The Art of Donald McGill", "Raffles and Miss Blandish" and "Boys' Weeklies" are essays that analyse public sentiment through a survey of popular literature and art. These essays are the best in the genre, and definitely among Orwell's best essays.
"Inside the Whale" is an essay about contemporary (1920-1940) serious literature. Parts I and III praise Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer; part II reviews literature between the wars. The image of a transparent whale (inside which Henry Miller sits) is arresting, but this essay is not otherwise a very good one. Orwell says several obvious or false things about 1920s writers, misrepresents the Auden group, and is somewhat hyperbolic about Henry Miller.
"England your England" is an essay about the English national spirit, and is very revealing about Orwell's own patriotism.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Value for money June 2, 2000
If you want to find out about Europe in the first half of the 20th century, this is the book you should book. These 300 pages offer excellent value for money; Orwell writes about the most diverse aspects of life: elitist literature and pulp magazines, the horrors of boarding schools or what it felt like to be a colonial officer in Burma. What he writes is full of insight and first-hand experience. You will find yourself telling others about what you have learned from this collection.
Orwell's style is not just transparent "like a window pane"; it is just beautiful in its rhythms and deadpan humour. - My personal recommendation is the essay on "Boys' Weeklies". These magazines did not only inspire Rowlings' Harry Potter, but seem to have been an early form of the theatre of the absurd as well...
The only setback of this edition is that it does not say where the essays where first published.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The insights of a truly first-rate mind March 27, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I picked this book up on the recommendation of someone whose thinking I really respect. As I began reading, I had no idea what to expect. Pretty early in the book, I dog-eared a page because it possessed a really penetrating insight. By the time I finished reading, the upper corner of the closed book was substantially thicker than the rest because of all the dog-eared pages. The thinking laid out in this book is that good; that clear; that unique.

Orwell wrote most of these essays in the 1930s and 1940s, but his thinking and insights read as if they came from someone looking directly at our world today. Aside from that, these are clearly the writings of a balanced thinker, someone who could mentally stand apart from the times he lived in and the popular thought of his day. Orwell sees through and beyond the surface motivations of society and more interestingly, of himself, and comments clearly and precisely on what he sees.

Reading these essays dropped me right into the times in which Orwell lived and simultaneuosly displayed an absolutely timeless thought process. If you enjoy clear, detached thinking and writing, these assays are a must for you. Very highly recommended.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political, but not in conventional ways. June 19, 1999
By A Customer
Orwell was anti-fascist as the last reviewer wrote, but he was also anti-communist,having seen it first hand in Spain. His life as an author was quite dymnamic. You can see a change in his politics from book to book. His early death leads you to wonder what Orwell would have written about the space age. This book is so well written that you will find enjoyment in subjects that you care nothing about. His Essays on Dickens and Kipling were more insightful than the semester in college I spent on 19th century English Literature.
His reflections on Ghandi expose the flaws that most Ghandi fans ignore or hide. He then goes on to celebrate the man for his virtues.
His look at Henry Miller was amazing. Orwell saw through the shock value of Miller's 1930s autobiography and recognized great writing when his contemporaries dismised the work as pornography.
Orwell's easy language coupled with genius-level insight make this a book to read again and again.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Touchstone May 4, 2001
This is one of the four or five books which, of all the books I've read, have become indispensable to me. Orwell's fiction is sometimes clumsy, but his non-fiction is unerring. In this form, he is better than the people he praises. He is thorough without being boring (better than Huxley), insightful without being abstract (better than Eliot), instricate without abstrusion (better than Joyce), and honest without over-stating the obscene (better than Miller). He is always aware that there are two sides to a debate, and he is skilled at addressing both while furthering his own arguments. He is, for me, one of the defining authors of the human condition, especially regarding what it means to be human in Western society in the current age.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite part was learning about Orwell's childhood days at
my favorite part was learning about Orwell's childhood days at, I believe, the Catholic school and his observations on the other children.
Published 1 day ago by marci j batchelor
4.0 out of 5 stars None
Always enjoy reading Orwell's non-fiction. " The Road to Wigan Pier" while set in a different time and place from 21st century America still gets the spirit of such an... Read more
Published 2 months ago by ja in va
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Love all things Orwell
Published 7 months ago by Jae Y Mcdaniel
3.0 out of 5 stars average
I love Orwell's work. Many of these essays are no exception. The reveal his thoughts about a variety of subjects. Read more
Published 8 months ago by ldaoutdoors
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 9 months ago by Roger A Newton
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's Essays are the best -- a classic of English literature.
I bought this collection for my grandson, but then decided to keep it because I'd somehow lost my copy from my college days. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Lee E. Terry
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Man is brilliant.
Published 10 months ago by Lauren M Riepl
3.0 out of 5 stars Orwell wrote other things besides Animal Farm and Nineteen...
There is a telling letter written by George Orwell during his work on 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' in which he responds to an offer of employment by Richard Usborne, editor of the Strand... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Paul-John Ramos
4.0 out of 5 stars OrwellEssays
Very good for review my previous readings of this author
Published 12 months ago by Thomas A. Oliphant
5.0 out of 5 stars Better insight into Orwell the
If you only read his novels, you would be missing several dimensions of the man. The first essay sets the tone with an amusing and critical appraisal of his schooling experiences... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Isaac S. Kohane
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More About the Author

GEORGE ORWELL (1903-1950) was born in India and served with the Imperial Police in Burma before joining the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was the author of six novels as well as numerous essays and nonfiction works.

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