150 of 153 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2002
This is quite simply the most comprehensive one-volume edition of Orwell's essays available. It includes the greatest hits one would expect ("Shooting An Elephant," "Such, Such Were the Joys," "My Country Right Or Left," etc.) and (amazingly!) well over two hundred others. Such inclusiveness almost belies the title "Selected Essays." Especially welcome are the many selections from Orwell's column "As I Please"--delightfully informal excursions that range in gravity from meditations on totalitarianism to quirky reviews of then-contemporary literary phenoms. Thankfully, they're all unabridged and are based on the unexpurgated texts issued by Secker & Warburg just a few years ago. John Carey provides a lengthy and nuanced introduction, and there's even a rather full Chronology that puts Orwell into a useful historical context. All of this is offered in a surprisingly compact edition with a readable-but-elegant typeface and very good paper--no mean feat for a book of over a thousand pages!
One's only real regret is that there isn't an index, not even of titles. Fishing through the table of contents for old favorites is cumbersome, and the failure of the publishers to provide running heads on the pages means you can't really just flip through to find what you're looking for.
Nevertheless, this is a long overdue and wonderfully produced collection of one of our most readable, thoughtful, and unpretentious writers. If you're a fan of Orwell, no other collection can possibly do--and if you're not, this is the perfect way to get to know him. For me, at least, this will provide bedside reading for a long time to come.
156 of 162 people found the following review helpful
on June 29, 2004
It's a little unfair to try and assign a grade to a life-spanning collection of essays like this one. By its very nature it has to run the gamut from Orwell's five-star smash hits like 'How the Poor Die', 'Politics versus Literature', and, of course, 'Politics and the English Language', through light, whimsical pieces such as 'Good Bad Books' or 'A Nice Cup of Tea', all the way to mechanical hackwork or tedious, failed conceits. (In the latter case I am thinking particularly of Orwell's 'Imaginary Interview' with Jonathan Swift, a style which has never, to my knowledge, been well done.) One can't very well assess the book as a whole, because it isn't. On the other hand, there is this to say: when Orwell is good, he is very good, and even when he is bad, he remains highly readable.
The collection, as a collection, is not as good. I do not want it thought that I am saying this is not a worthwhile book: it is. Simply by being an easily obtainable hardcover collection of Orwell's short and medium-length prose, it does a valuable service. Before this book came out, the only way to get a comprehensive collection of Orwell's essays in hardcover was to find a set of the four-volume "Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters" on the second-hand market, and the price demanded for that grows more exorbitant every year.
However, there are three major problems with the compilation. One is only slightly irritating, but the other two genuinely harm the utility of the book.
1. No page headings- This has been mentioned by other reviewers. The page headers say only "Essays", where in most other collections they would make mention of the essay you are currently reading. (This is true even of other Everyman's Library titles.) Because most of the pieces are short, you can easily flip back a page or two to find the title, but this grows tiresome fairly quickly, all the more so for the fact that the omission is so pointless.
2. No index of titles- This, to be fair, is not a fault of this one book. Rather, it is common to all Everyman's Library prose collections; I own volumes by Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde, otherwise excellent, with the same problem. Because all the pieces are arranged chronologically, it is frustratingly hard to locate a specific essay; one has to guess where it fell in Orwell's career, turn to the table of contents, and run one's finger down the pages until one finds it. As the table of contents is seven pages long, this is inexcusably poor book design. My copy now sports Post-It notes sticking out the top for easy location of the major essays.
3. Footnotes- Orwell's footnotes have been converted into endnotes, and moved to the back of the book. This is not merely a case of editing for no good reason: it is plain wrong. Orwell's footnotes were invariably parenthetical, comprising asides from and elucidations of the main text; moreover, there are only thirty-eight of them in the book. There is no excuse for not putting them at the bottom of the page, where they belong. There they can be seen in the context of the essays, without requiring you to stop in mid-paragraph and flip to the back of a two-and-a-half-inch-thick book.
Other reviewers and the book's own publicity hype tout this as "the best one-volume collection of Orwell available". It is not, not by a long shot. It is certainly the most comprehensive. However, the _best_ one-volume Orwell is the "Collected Essays" which was first published in 1961 and has subsequently been reprinted many times. It is inexplicably hard to obtain in the U.S., but can be had from amazon.co.uk under the title "George Orwell: Essays". It gathers all of Orwell's major pieces without the ephemera; for the already dedicated Orwellphile, it is a delight to have all 80 numbers of 'As I Please' in one place, but for the reader new to Orwell, they are clutter.
Instead, this is the book you buy to keep on your bookshelf for the rest of your life and wear out with frequent consultation. It is a reference volume; the only time one might try to read it cover-to-cover would be on a very long flight. (I have done this, with great success.)
The most frustrating thing about this collection is how close it came to indispensibility. Had it been slightly better designed and edited, it would have been _the_ collection of Orwell's essays, required purchasing for every serious Orwell fan. (Save, perhaps, the manic completists who will settle for nothing less than the twenty-volume "Collected Works.") It is still worth your money, but so little effort would be required to make even more valuable that one must wonder why that effort was not invested.
Overall: A-, 9/10.
77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
on July 3, 2003
These three stars don't reflect my opinion of Orwell as an essayist. Anyone who has read Orwell's non-fiction knows that he is one of this century's greatest journalists/essayists. The poor rating targets the layout of the volume.
It's an insult to a writer of Orwell's stature to have put together such an extensive volume (1,424 pages!) of his best work so amaturishly. There's no index, no notes section and no specification of which essay you're on at the head of the page. The table of contents is practially useless, as most of the essays are numbered.
Physically, the book is beautiful: a matte cover, with a great portrait of Orwell, cream-wove paper, sewn binding and a sewn in bookmark. But it is in no way user friendly. If you're looking to dive into Orwell's essays and journalism check out the David R. Godine editions.
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2003
Building on the new 20 volume Complete Orwell (unaccountably still not available in an American edition), Everyman's Library does Orwell proud with this book, certainly the best single-volume collection of Orwell ever. Not only does it contain all of the major essays and many lesser pieces, it presents all 80 of Orwell's wonderful "As I Please" columns written for "Tribune."
Orwell's range and talent are ably displayed here, from his literary essays, his writings on politics, autobiographical writings (including the harrowing "Such, Such Were the Joys" about his youth spent in a third-rate boarding school), his musings on popular culture ("Boy's Weeklies" and "The Art of Donald McGill" are classics of the genre), and his lighter works (Orwell writes, for example, on how to make the perfect cup of [strong] tea and what his version of the perfect public house would be).
Reading this book should also prove a useful antidote for those who have been convinced by the usupation of Orwell by certain right-wing writers that Orwell really was a conservative of some sort. While Orwell deeply loved traditional values and firmly opposed Soviet communism, his hatred of imperialism, capitalism, fascism, the class system and mindless wealth are marked and consistent throughout and we can be assured that he would have written harshly of Margaret Thatcher had he lived long enough to see that era.
John Carey contributes a useful introduction; the book includes a good bibliography and a very helpful timeline of Orwell's life correlated to the literary and historical happenings of the era. Like another reviewer here, I miss an index, and running titles at the tops of the pages; I also dislike the way Orwell's footnotes have been shoved rather arbitrarily to the back of the book. Those are minor quibbles; this is a magnificent volume, the perfect gift for anyone who loves Orwell (especially for American readers who haven't had the chance to buy the Complete Orwell yet) and a timely reminder that liberal values can also be decent, patriotic, and honorable values.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2002
It has been said that Orwell was the greatest English essayist since Hazlitt, maybe since Johnson; and I wouldn't quarrel with that. As an Englishman two generations later, I find that his writing strikes a deep chord. I agree in my bones with much of what he says and the way he says it; and when I don't, I can see the historical circumstances that produced it.
On the one hand, Orwell's life and work will command respect, admiration, affection (you don't have to be British). On the other hand, much of the political climate that formed it is ancient history. The kind of democratic socialism he stood for is gone, probably for ever; history took a different turn. The totalitarianisms of right and left that he fought against are gone too. It's hard to think back to a time when these were matters of life and death. But they were, once. If they ever are again, I hope that we find an honest faux-naif to insist that, when the clever talk is all said and done, night is not the same thing as day.
It isn't all politics: not much, in the tunnel-vision sense. Read his original critiques of writers as diverse as Dickens, Wells, Kipling, Yeats, Koestler, Henry Miller, Wodehouse. Read 'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius'; 'The Art of Donald McGill', his appreciation of British seaside postcards; 'Politics and the English Language', which could stand reprinting in every issue of 'Social Text'; and many others, not least 'Thoughts on the Common Toad'.
The great and lasting thing about Orwell is that he was a tireless, clear-sighted, articulate enemy of 'humbug'. Feel free to substitute the stronger Anglo-Saxon word. One of his targets was that section of the intelligentsia, probably the majority in the thirties and forties, which went along with and even embraced Stalinism. There were reasons for that, of course - there always are - but Orwell saw through them; and he was a 'premature anti-Fascist' with the best. If he had lived as long as Wells or Shaw, he would have seen the triumph among the intelligentsia of our time of postmodern philosophico-literary theory, which, as we know, gives us the key to everything. At least it hasn't killed millions. What would Orwell have made of it? Read these essays and guess.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
What distinguishes George Orwell from every other political writer in history is his pitiless intellectual honesty. It is true that Orwell hated imperialism, fascism and capitalism, and that he spent the majority of his career stumping and scrapping for democratic socialism, but no political ideology ever swallowed more abuse from one of its own. For every positive word Orwell scribbled or spoke about socialism he threw in at least a paragraph of denunciation, insult and mockery; indeed, in THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER he so ridiculed the pimply, sniggering, ivory-tower intellectuals who were the public face of the movement that the Left Book Club, which had commissioned the book, added an introduction that basically disowned it. Orwell was quite simply something that doesn't exist nowadays: a man who didn't let his political opinions interfere with his observations. He spoke the truth, or what he saw as the truth, without any respect for the party line, and if he brassed off his own side in so doing, that was just too damn bad.
ESSAYS is not like the other Orwell books on the market, which featured pieces selected by an editor - THE ORWELL READER, A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS, etc. It is a massive, hardbacked, dumbell-heavy compendium of every single essay he penned in his entire career, spanning the period 1928 - 1949: letters to newspapers (some of them unpublished), BBC broadcasts, the innumerable "As I Please" columns, famous works like "Such, Such Were The Joys" and "The Lion and the Unicorn", innumerable book reviews...in other words, 1,360-plus pages of acid observation, scourging honesty and gallows humor, delivered by a master at the top of his form.
Obviously, you have to be a pretty hardcore fan of G.O. to lug this miniature telephone book out of the store, but it's a bargain at any price. Orwell's special genius was that he could tackle something completely ordinary - a ponderous scholarly work on political trends, a second-rate gangster novel, American comic books, magazines devoted to young boys, a government White Paper, even ordinary British postcards - and unmask the hidden, inner motivations which lurked behind them. His ability to see through dishonest arguments, expose hypocrisy, trace twisted motives to their roots, and draw timeless conclusions from seemingly trivial political and pop-culture events is rivaled only by his willingness to say the unsayable. Who but Orwell could get away with a such a brutally frank discussion of the motivations behind everything from anti-Semitism to pro-Communism, the allowance for the possibility that British Imperialism was worse than Nazism, or the statement that the root of Hitler's appeal was that Fascism was psychologically more sound than its alternatives, because it played into the fact that humans want struggle and sacrifice as much as pleasure and saftey? The answer is nobody; nobody else would have dared. Or would dare, now, when nearly every sentence written by politcos Left, Right and Center is either intellectually dishonest, partisan hackwork, or so filled with political, racial, and sexual correctness, with platitudes, with clichés and buzzwords, with stupidity and cowardice, that they essentially have no meaning?
In "1984", Orwell coined the term "duckspeak" to describe those who chatter unconsciously, unaware of the meaning of their own words but certain of their conformity to the party line. Well, you can love Orwell, you can hate him, or you can disagree with him to the middle of your bones, but one thing is absolutely certain: nowhere in the wrist-straining tome that is ESSAYS will you hear a single quack.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
I, like many, many other people the world over, read 1984 and Animal Farm and loved them. I first read Animal Farm my freshman year in college, and as soon as I was finished reading it I dove headlong into 1984. Powerful books, books that I still think about these many years later. But it wasn't until I read Orwell's essays that I got a really good idea of who the man behind those novels was.
Orwell's essays are really fascinating, for reasons he explained best himself. In the essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell puts forward six tips on writing, all of them hinging on the simple idea of clarity. Orwell is a small island of clarity and concreteness in what he--and I--came to see as a world flooded with vagueness and dishonesty. His essays are clear--he says precisely what he wants as simply as he can, and the ideas stick with you.
This collection of Orwell's complete essays is worth its weight in gold. The essays are arranged chronologically, and Orwell's output was so prodigious that, read straight through, this book could almost count as an autobiography. Here we have, with his masterful clarity, Orwell's thoughts on everything in the world between 1928 and his death in 1950.
George Orwell was a really fascinating person, and his essays continue to fascinate me. I don't agree with everything he says--on the contrary, I disagree with the great majority of it--but I an compelled to admire him as a writer and a thinker--his writing style and the wit with which he engaged his opponents certainly makes him one of the greatest writers of the last century.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2005
George Orwell, who in his later years had said: "what I most want to do is to convert political writing into an art," is known primarily for his two novels: Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. But apart from these two immensely popular books, he had written seven other complete books, poems, and numerous essays and journalisms.
In most of his essays, irrespective of the topic - and this volume has his essays on a variety of different topics - one can sense his strong predilection for democratic socialism over any other form of government. While serving in the Spanish civil war, he had first hand experience of the functioning of Communism, and he feared that the overthrow of Franco's Fascist government (which was supported by Hitler and Mussolini) would be replaced by an equally totalitarian regime if the Communists win the war.
Though he died at a young age of 46, he was an analyst who could discern the political realities of his time with uncanny accuracy. In "You and the Atom Bomb" he wrote: "the likeliest scenario in the future would be that the surviving great nations (who have the resources and technology to produce atom bombs) would make a tacit agreement never to use the atom bomb against each other, but would threaten to use it against people who are unable to retaliate." He went on to write: "The atom bomb would probably put large scale wars between great powers to an end at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a peace that is not a peace." He wrote this when US was the only country in the world with an atom bomb (USSR was to produce it after a few years) and subsequent events of the cold war (a term he is credited with coining) were to prove him correct.
He had famously described his own family as "lower upper middle class," but still reserved a special empathy for the working class people. In "Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War" he wrote: "Working class demands what others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. How right they are to realize that the belly comes before the soul not in the scale of values, but in point of time." He bemoaned the fact that there was hardly any depiction of the working class in English literature. In his essay on Dickens he wrote: "The ordinary proletariat, the people who make the wheels go around, are often ignored or portrayed as objects of pity or as comic relief." Out of the working class people, he had a special affection for the coal miners whose hardships he writes about in his essay "Down the Mine" in which he describes in detail the harsh and unforgiving conditions these miners have to work in to ensure that the wheels of civilization keep moving.
He also had a deep contempt for British imperialism and described it a Capitalist money making mechanism at the expense of the subjugated poor. Having served in Burma as a member of the Indian Imperial Police, he had witnessed first hand the hypocrisy and shallowness of imperialism. Two of his most powerful essays: "A Hanging" and "Shooting an Elephant" describe the ambivalence and confusion of a white man in the colonies. In "Shooting an Elephant" he expressed this ambivalence with the following sentence: "With one part of my mind I thought of the British Raj as an unspeakable tyranny, with another part I thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to drive a bayonet into a Buddhist priest's guts."
A lot of his essays are devoted to writing and books. In "Books V. Cigarettes," he argued that the hobby of buying books, over a period of time, costs less than the average amount of money people spend on cigarettes and beer in England. In "Good Bad Books," he talked about books with no literary pretensions but which remain readable when more serious productions have perished. In "Why I Write," he offered the reasons why someone takes to writing and likened writing a book to "a long bout of some painful illness." Towards the later part of his life, he tried to write less picturesquely and more exactly, though he did mention in this essay that if he were born in a more peaceful age, he probably would write "ornate or merely descriptive books."
In his essay "Tropic of Cancer" he wrote: : "Good novels are not written by orthodoxy-sniffers or people who are conscience-stricken about their own unorthodoxy. Good novels are written by people who are fearless." Orwell has often been accused of overstatement and exaggeration, but after reading this volume, one thing one can never accuse him of is of being afraid to write about what he believed in.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2005
There are a lot of Orwell readers out there that are full of clips from his novels. They leave you wishing you purchased just one of the novels rather than the reader. This Orwell collection though, by centering in on his essays, book reviews, communications, etc. really gives you a better feel for Orwell the literary heavyweight. You have here his criticisms on many of the most popular literary works in existence, plenty of discussion about socialism, notes on the spanish civil war, etc. For Orwell fans it doesn't get any better, and in general this is a wonderful book to have.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 31, 2011
Of course you'll find in these pages George Orwell's most important essays. His account of a hanging in Burma, his literary essays on Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling, and one of the most important essays I've ever read, his Notes on Nationalism.
The above are finished, well-polished essays. Orwell crafted them and carefully worked out their logic, correcting the minor contradictions that come from setting down one's thoughts too quickly. Orwell fans will find much of interest here as we are also treated to a large collection of less polished work, for instance many book reviews and 80 installments of his "As I Please" column written for the Tribune. While these reveal Orwell to be sometimes naïve, it also shows us how he clarified his initial thoughts and ideas into finished masterpiece essays.
Political and intellectual thought at the time decidedly favoured socialism as the way forward for mankind. Orwell was no exception to this trend. Laissez-faire capitalism had shown it was prone to collapse and that it could not prevent murderous wars. Socialism appealed to us on two levels. First it promised equitable distribution of wealth and second it promoted international understanding.
In theory, anyway.
As committed as he was to socialism and its ideals, Orwell was too perceptive, honest and courageous not to realize that things weren't going as expected. He also realized that as much as he disliked current British and American politics, they were better than the totalitarian fascist and communist regimes many of his intellectual counterparts favoured. During World War II he was no pacifist because he understood that pacifists were only free to express themselves when protected by their own military. These essays show he said so frequently and unambiguously.
All in all, a wonderful collection of essays that reveal the thoughts of the whole man; a must have for Orwell fans.
A word on this edition. I don't make it a point of collecting Everyman's Library editions, but when there's a book I want available from this collection, I am always satisfied at the quality of the physical book. Cloth bound, creamy acid-free paper, above average page layout. It looks and feels very nice in one's hands.
Vincent Poirier, Tokyo