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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless Overview
This volume used to be easily available up until the mid-80s and can still be easily purchased in most second-hand bookstores. I hope that Penguin decide to reissue it again as I think every essay contains certain timeless elements that add very much to many contempory events.

Both the left and the right like to claim Orwell as their own. As this book of essays...
Published on March 4, 2010 by Rodney J. Szasz

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2.0 out of 5 stars Declining quality
Of the four Penguin Great Ideas paperbacks published with George Orwell’s essays, Decline of the English Murder is by far the weakest collection.

If you scan the contents page, you’ll notice that a number of the essays here don’t make it into the larger essay collections and there’s a good reason for that: they’re not very...
Published 24 days ago by Sam Quixote


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless Overview, March 4, 2010
This volume used to be easily available up until the mid-80s and can still be easily purchased in most second-hand bookstores. I hope that Penguin decide to reissue it again as I think every essay contains certain timeless elements that add very much to many contempory events.

Both the left and the right like to claim Orwell as their own. As this book of essays proves, he belongs to no one and eschews all those stinking orthodoxies that via for the souls of mens. This is a recurring theme. In his long Essay on Dickens he reminds us that Dickens is particulalry great because of the things he DOES not do, rahter than what he describes and the moral tales he tells. Dickins is no social theorist. Dickens is a great moraliser where revolution has no place and people being decent to each other solves the majority of the world's problems.

There are some anti-imperial essays here. "How the Poor Die" is rather an indictment of French Culture or uncaring and "A Hanging" has as much dealing about Imperialism as it does with the general notion that "man can get used to anything" when they are exposed to it enough.

"Notes on Nationalism" could easily be called "Notes on Crooked Thinking." In this essay Orwell lays out the follies of ideology in general on peoples thinking processes... It should be read and re-read and quotes like "every nation that becomes a country thinks it necessary to depreciate all other foreigners." It may be cynical, but it is food for thought, such as when everyone is cheering their medals won in the olympics... Orwell doesn't stop at Nationalism. He locates the same diseased thinking in Marxism, Fascism, Orthodox Catholicism and Anglicanism. The tendancy for Trade Unionists to see nothing but evil in corporations and for capitalists to only see baleful influences in Trade Unionism. By extension there are the very disturbing debates we see in the US at the present time, when the so-called cultural wars are really just short-hand for people to think only in terms of ideological maxims -- the era of good old fashioned, even-handed common sense is truly in trouble in the US. A good read of this essay could help a lot of people.

The essay on Raffles and Miss Blandish tells the story of how the morality of characters changes within our heros over time. In reality this may be one of the first essays on the anti-hero. As such it is not important if anyone knows either of the above Characters (I think that only Raffles would be even vaguely known), it is far more important for a person to grasp the fact that writing tells us about the things we deem important, good or bad. For those who bemoan the tide of violence sweeping the world and the loss of good ol-fashioned morality this is an important essay.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Declining quality, June 15, 2014
This review is from: Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Of the four Penguin Great Ideas paperbacks published with George Orwell’s essays, Decline of the English Murder is by far the weakest collection.

If you scan the contents page, you’ll notice that a number of the essays here don’t make it into the larger essay collections and there’s a good reason for that: they’re not very good.

The title essay is a smarmy look at what elements Orwell believes would make for the ideal reading matter for newspaper audiences obsessed with crime - sex, death, money - that isn’t particularly interesting or clever.

Other dull subjects include Orwell’s love of junk shops in Just Junk - But Who Could Resist?, and the guilty pleasure of reading trashy books in Good Bad Books. And while he’s right that Uncle Tom’s Cabin (an atrociously written novel that has nevertheless remained in print since it was first published) would outlive George Moore’s work for being more memorable and powerful despite its artlessness, he was wrong that Virginia Woolf would disappear too.

Orwell returns to the subject that made his name, the poor, in two essays, Clink and Hop-Picking Diary, both of them revealing that Orwell’s slumming was done purely for his writing, not because he couldn’t avoid these degrading circumstances.

In Clink he gets himself arrested for no reason and writes about his time in the drunk tank for a couple days, alongside people for whom this wasn’t a respite they could call up mummy and daddy and escape from.

Hop-Picking Diary is essentially a b-side to Down and Out in Paris and London as Orwell joins tramps as they go fruit and hop-picking in the countryside and we get a glimpse into the harsh conditions that were, bizarrely, considered a holiday for the poor of London as well as immigrants and gypsies.

While these essays were dull and contained only a smattering of Orwell’s famed insight, what really irked me were the essays on Boys’ Weeklies and The Art of Donald McGill.

In Boys’ Weeklies, Orwell takes nearly 40 pages(!!) to say that he believes publications for children are intended to maintain the status quo and keep the poor from rising up. He spends the rest of the 30 odd pages tediously pointing out that these publications - like Gem and Magnet - use outdated references in their stories though it’s an ironic observation as these magazines have been out of print for decades, making his own essay’s references outdated as a result.

Women’s Twopenny Papers is an addendum to Boys’ Weeklies that says the same thing applies to women’s magazines.

The Art of Donald McGill is a humourless look at raunchy postcards from Britain’s beaches, written is such a strangely disdainful way that it’s unclear whether he’s for them or not. And why did he feel the need to intellectualise such a trivial subject?! Dumb postcards = a profound study into society? Nope!

A lot of Orwell’s work - fiction and non-fiction - is worth reading, like the novels Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, and a good selection of his essays too, which can be found in the collections Books v. cigarettes, and Some Thoughts on the Common Toad or even the larger books simply titled Essays; Decline of the English Murder contains his most forgettable and least remarkable pieces that aren’t worth reading as they add little to the Orwell canon that hasn’t already been written better elsewhere.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Typical Orwell, February 12, 2013
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Well written; giving one food for thought. It helps one to understand him and the time in which he lived.
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5.0 out of 5 stars George Among the Masses, August 6, 2011
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This review is from: Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas) (Paperback)
Please know that the previous three reviews were drawn in from a different Penguin edition of Orwell's essays. Both that and this take their title from "Decline of the English Murder," but this edition, part of a Great Ideas series that I suspect was only released in the UK, are fleshed out by a different collection of essays. Amazon's recommendation algorithm led me to this page. I ordered my copy from a seller, which turned out to be in new condition and delivered promptly.

This edition contains, in addition to the titular essay, "Clink," "Just Junk--But Who Could Resist It?," "Good Bad Books," "Boys' Weeklies," "Women's Twopenny Papers," "The Art of Donald McGill," and "The Hop-Picking Diary." Orwell deconstructs populist enthusiasms in such a way that discloses the culture between the wars, and just after, in conversational essays that are a pleasure to read. The first and last pieces, "Clink" and "The Hop-Picking Diary," follow his forays into the bottom classes, information that found its way into the terrific Down and Out in Paris and London.

Given the events of the last several weeks as I write this, it is ironic that the "News of the World" shows up so often in Orwell's observations. Penguin has repackaged these essays thoughtfully though without one editorial peep, which is surprising. From the copyright page, I deduce that the Hop-picking Diary appears here for the first time. That's big. The cover is quality: the title and the first paragraph or so of the titular essay fit into a reproduction of a page ripped from the News of the World and similar papers; the title information worked into the design as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A man who walks to the sound of his own drummer, February 17, 2010
Orwell writes in a number of different ways in these essays. To my mind the most powerful is the journalistic autobiographical essay on 'How Poor People Die'. This is his description of the time he spent in a public hospital when down- and- out in Paris. His descriptions of the barbarity of the medical practices, the pain and indifference suffered by the patients' make a moving cry against human cruelty. In the longest literary essay Orwell also moves in the realm of moral judgment. He reads the works of Dickens and sees in him not a practical reformer but rather a moralist crying out against human injustice. Orwell sees Dickens as a person of neither aristocracy nor proletariat but of the middle commercial class. He sees Dickens as one who is not a real revolutionary but rather as one who aims for some idealized and perfect version of a presently unsatisfactory status- quo. Orwell also writes about Kipling another of the most popular British authors in his own time. He argues that however objectionable Kipling's imperialism his sympathy for the clerks and soldiers of the Empire gave his work a strongly positive human quality. Orwell also writes a long essay of political philosophy in which he redefines the concept of Nationalism seeming to see it as any kind of chauvinistic, selfish collectivism. And he concludes the work with an essay explaining why he writes.
No matter what form he works in Orwell is a very clear and readable writer. However I find him to be far more convincing as journalist than as theorist. And this when the strong spirit of individual independence, of hearing his own drummer, of judging his own way pervades this fine work.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Analytical and balanced essays, and still relevant, November 22, 2008
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George Orwell was a master of the critical, analytical essay and this collection gives us ten of his best.

*Decline of the English Murder
*A Hanging
*Benefit of Clergy
*How the Poor Die
*Rudyard Kipling
*Raffles and Miss Blandish
*Charles Dickens
*The Art of Donald McGill
*Notes on Nationalism
*Why I write

The essay on Kipling stands as an excellent example of analytical criticism. It contains my single favourite line from the book. "A good bad poem is a graceful monument to the obvious." There's no question Orwell enjoys Kipling and admires his talent and his understanding of the world. At the same time, Orwell disapproves of Kipling and of Kipling's values. Orwell knows that Kipling is a British imperialist and that Kipling believes the British man superior to other races, but Orwell sees that Kipling also knows what it is to rule. Orwell also sees that Kipling, unlike many others who glorify military death, understands that the common soldier would perhaps prefer to run away rather than face bullets.

Death stalks many of the other essays, e.g. a Hanging or How the Poor Die, but the Art of Donald McGill is a pleasant enough examination of low-brow humour, and the essay on Charles Dickens explains much of what makes Dickens so enjoyable and instantly recognizable.

But by far and away, the most important essay in this collection is "Notes on Nationalism". It has coloured my own political thinking since I first read it in 1990 and hardly a month goes by without my thinking of it. Orwell defines nationalism as the state of mind for people who identify so strongly with a group that they are unable to admit any wrong if that wrong makes the group more powerful, and who could never admit the truth of their group owing something to another. He sees this form on nationalism in British colonial officials who could not accept "natives" ruling India for themselves, he sees it in Irish and Scottish republicans who could not admit they owed their freedom to the United Kingdom's protection. He sees it in Catholic writers who see the population oppressed in (Protestant) Britain but freed in Mussolini's (Catholic) Italy. Perhaps today Orwell would have used the word "fundamentalism" instead of nationalism.

Vincent Poirier, Tokyo
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Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas)
Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas) by George Orwell (Paperback - November 1, 2009)
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