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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice sample of Orwell's essays, October 31, 2008
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George Orwell is unavoidably associated with 1984, as well he should be. And if that's what it takes to keep the man's reputation going through another generation, then by all means let that be his main claim to fame. Orwell should be almost as famous for Homage To Catalonia, his heartbreaking report on the Spanish Civil War. Like many Europeans and some Americans (Hemingway among them), Orwell was on the losing side, fighting the fascists and losing much of his idealism along the way.

Most of the essays in Facing Unpleasant Facts come after Homage to Catalonia, so they all have a realist and rather bleak view of the world. The message throughout is that we all know certain facts about the world, but that somehow people have just avoided saying them; hence the title of the collection. Elsewhere, in his famous essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell notes that the language itself has become impoverished and calcified; without someone to sandblast off the rubbish, it will be impossible to talk straightforwardly about the way the world actually is.

Orwell honors that goal in Facing Unpleasant Facts. He is the master of the common English sentence. He tells stories about British colonialism that are devastating and to the point, as in "Shooting an Elephant" -- a perfect little gem of an essay, in which Orwell recounts killing the beast just so that he won't look like a fool before his Burmese subjects. In this sort of essay, the story doesn't spin very far from Orwell himself; he lets the audience draw its own inferences about the nature of colonialism. In others -- quite a few others -- he's more impersonal but just as concise: "England, Your England" is a series of flicks of the knife directed at the British government. The acid bubbles:

And yet somehow the ruling class decayed, lost its ability, its daring, finally even its ruthlessness, until a time came when stuffed shirts like [Anthony] Eden or [Lord] Halifax could stand out as men of exceptional talent. As for [Stanley] Baldwin , one could not even dignify him with the name of stuffed shirt. He was simply a hole in the air.

Beneath it all is a visceral sadness for the suffering of mankind. Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War because he wanted to help people. In "Clink," he gets liquored up and tries to get arrested, so that he might document the viciousness of the police. (Perhaps to his dismay, they weren't all that vicious.) In "How The Poor Die," he recounts a few weeks he spent recuperating in a public hospital for the poor in France; the doctors hardly noticed that the sacks of flesh they were working on were human beings. In "Such, Such Were The Joys," we get a Roald Dahlish taste of the barbarity of British schools. Orwell sees great potential in the world, and much suffering; those further up in the hierarchy, whether deliberately or not (mostly deliberately) force those below them to suffer.

Facing Unpleasant Facts also contains some trifles not really connected to the collection's title. For instance, there's a little essay on how to make a proper English cup of tea. There are a few pages in defense of British food. There's a charming essay on the return of spring; I have to imagine that essay rescued a few London moods at the height of the Blitz. A man can't argue the virtues of socialism all the time. I think it's safe to say, though, that socialism is where Orwell's heart lay; the springtime merely paid the bills.

Facing Unpleasant Facts is a fun, quick read. Its staying power lies in understanding Orwell more than it lies in understanding Britain, or socialism, though it's valuable on those as well. It's most valuable to budding essayists, who want to study at the feet of a master.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I doubt we will ever have a more lucid essayist /novelist in this century or any other., December 29, 2011
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These essays are as good as his novels; because you get to see things close-up in his mind ... a treat if there ever was one. George Orwell lets you in on it all, and tells the screeching posers what they don't want to hear.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A broad collection depicts Orwell's breadth and depth as well as his single-minded integrity., October 21, 2013
This review is from: Facing Unpleasant Facts (Paperback)
Facing Unpleasant Facts does precisely that, acting as a fingerpost to the values and ideals of one of the 20th century's premier essayists. Writing from the 1930s when colonialism was still entrenched and fascism and communism were either waxing or waning, Orwell certainly had much to face that was unpleasant. To his everlasting credit, the man rarely blinked in the face of unpleasant truths, consistently criticizing Colonialism, Fascism and Communism.

Homage To Catalonia is an heartfelt pean to the Spanish Republic and an excoriating criticism of both communist and fascists. Shooting An Elephant and A Hanging are not merely a knee jerk condemnation of Colonialism's exploitive nature--they also examine it's corrosive effect upon the humanity of its practitioners who try to play the part of sahib or bwana. All three are excellent.

Equally fine is his look at his native land in England, Your England wishing it were otherwise but accepting the fact it is like a dysfunctional family wherein all the wrong family members--rich uncles and censorious old maids--are leading the pack. It's quite delightful. If everything is seen through the rose-tinted lens of Democratic Socialsm, I say so what.....there are far worse political philosophies to subscribe to.

A few essays are, unsurprisingly, less engaging than others. His diary regarding the war is uneven, and an essay about making a cup of tea is of no interest if one doesn't like the beverage. Looking back on the body of work presented though one gets a strong sense of Orwell's integrity and decency. One also suspects he was well on his way to becoming a curmudgeon and a crank. Had he lived surely he would have been yelling at kids for ringing his doorbell or stepping on his lawn
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Orwell Finds Meaning in Ugly Reality, October 11, 2013
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This review is from: Facing Unpleasant Facts (Paperback)
This collection of essays by George Orwell is part of a two-volume compilation. (The other volume is called All Art Is Propaganda: Critical Essays.) Both volumes comprise essays collected by George Packer. This volume includes an introduction by Packer in which he explains the focus of the volume: essays that tell a little story to illustrate a larger point.

One of these essays, for example, "A Hanging," relates an incident that occurred when Orwell was serving as a colonial police officer in Burma. He had to witness the hanging of a Hindu man. The crime for which the man is being executed is never named. Thus, we are forced to concentrate on the act of hanging a human being, rather than the execution of a criminal. Orwell writes, "I saw the mystery, the unspeakable wrongness, of cutting a life short when it is in full tide" (p. 25).

In "Shooting an Elephant," he tells of another incident during his service in Burma. An elephant has gone rogue and killed a man. When Orwell arrives on the scene with his rifle, thousands of villagers flock around him in excitement waiting for the white man to kill the elephant. But by this time the elephant has calmed down and is placidly feeding on grass. Orwell wants to wait for the elephant's owner to come and claim it, but the surging crowd wants to see a kill. Feeling pressured, Orwell inexpertly shoots the elephant, and the beast dies a slow, agonizing death. The point of the story: even a colonial ruler is not free to act wisely and justly. He shot the elephant because that is what the villagers expected of him in his role. "...when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom that he destroys" (p. 34).

"In Front of Your Nose" relates a number of incidents in which people act in ways that seem to defy logic. Orwell cites such diverse events as the British refusal to make use of immigrant labor to solve a labor shortage in the coal mines, the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, the failure to undertake military conscription in preparation for oncoming war, etc., to illustrate this point: "that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right." Furthermore, we are capable of carrying on such self-delusions almost indefinitely, except that, he notes chillingly, "sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield" (p. 212).

In "Why I Write," Orwell tells about his early experiments in writing. He says, "I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts, and I felt that this created a sort of private world in which I could get my own back for my failure in everyday life" (p. 224). This sense of failure, as he explains in more detail in "Such, Such Were the Joys," was drummed into him as a very young boy while he was a student at a boarding school. Somehow he overcame this brain-washing exercise and went on to become one of England's greatest and most influential writers. This collection of essays gives one a taste of Orwell's facility with words and his ability to examine and find meaning in unpleasant facts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Facing Unpleasant Facts: Essential Reading, May 10, 2013
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Orwell's personal essays have never really been sufficiently accessible for American readers before this anthology. Facing Unpleasant Facts is the best possible introduction to Orwell, particularly for providing a balanced sense of his overall achievement. His most famous novel, 1984, is almost unreadably grim, but these essays are various; some of them are even quite funny for those who appreciate "black humor." Also, Orwell is, probably correctly, widely regarded as an atheist saint, but these essays reveal a man who was very human - and quite likable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT ESSAYS, March 24, 2013
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George Orwell's essays are so well written, they really are a pleasure to read - and still fresh today (70 years on)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth time and time again, September 6, 2012
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What orwell wrote decades ago still holds so true to thiis very day. A must read for an insight into the future. The worst is yet to come, especially in the USA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars This book is not Unpleasant, September 6, 2014
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Great book by a great writer. I don't always agree with Orwell but his writing is a pleasure to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, August 27, 2014
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Great collection of essays from a great essayist and thinker!
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11 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Orwell's Narrative Essays, December 21, 2008
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You have to like Orwell quite a bit to buy his non-fiction work. I do like him quite a bit, and I happen to be writing a bunch of creative non-fiction essays about my own life growing up in America. So I purchased the volume that contains his narrative essays to see how he makes his own personal life universal.

I've read most everything he's written. My favorite fictional work is his first: _Burmese Days_. It's rather bleak, and so are some of his essays. "Shooting an Elephant" may be one of the best essays ever written about the effects of colonialism on the colonizers. I highly suggest it as bedside reading for any budding neo-conservative.

Not all of the essays in this volume are great, but they give you a nice glimpse into the mind of a true English leftie. Orwell lived a full but short life, and this book chronicles how he lived what he wrote--from living in "spikes" (what we would call homeless shelters) to fighting in the Spanish Civil War. I don't think Packer needed to put his war-time diary in the the book--a section that I basically perused. And I could care less about how Orwell likes his tea or his defense of English cooking. But Orwell lovers won't be disappointed with this volume.
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Facing Unpleasant Facts
Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell (Paperback - October 14, 2009)
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