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Why Orwell Matters Hardcover – September 17, 2002

4 out of 5 stars 72 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Vanity Fair and Nation contributor Hitchens passionately defends a great writer from attacks by both right and left, though he also refutes those fans who proclaim his sainthood. George Orwell (1903-1950), a socialist who abhorred all forms of totalitarianism, was, as Hitchens points out, prescient about the "three great subjects of the twentieth century:" imperialism, fascism, and Stalinism. In all things, Orwell's feelings were every bit as visceral as intellectual, and Hitchens devotes some of his best writing to describing Orwell's first-hand experiences with empire in Burma. It was there that he learned to hate racism, bullying and exploitation of the lower classes. "Orwell can be read," notes Hitchens, "as one of the founders of... post-colonialism." Orwell's insights about fascism and Stalinism crystallized in Spain, while he was fighting in the Civil War. Hitchens offers an excellent analysis of the writer's women, both real (his wives) and fictional, to show that the feminist critique of Orwell (that he didn't like strong, brainy women) may be unfair, though Hitchens also points out what feminists have ignored: Orwell's "revulsion for birth control and abortion." Hitchens brilliantly marshals his deep knowledge of Orwell's work. Fans of Orwell will enjoy Hitchens's learned and convincing defense, while those unfamiliar with Orwell may perhaps be induced to return to the source. (Oct.) Forecast: Hitchens has made a splash with recent books (Letters to a Young Contrarian and The Trial of Henry Kissinger). Basic is banking on similar success with a 30,000 first printing.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Far from being an ordinary biography, this small volume is an in-depth investigation of the essential George Orwell-"the heart on fire and the brain on ice." Hitchens recognizes that Orwell was more than the author of 1984 and Animal Farm. He was a keen critic of Nazism and Stalinism and didn't soften his pictures of them to sell books. His analysis of the grave inequities of those two forms of government is sufficiently acute to apply to the early 21st century's political spectrum. While claiming that Orwell "requires extricating from a pile of saccharine tablets and moist hankies [as] an object of sickly veneration and sentimental over-praise," Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and the Nation, asserts that in contrast to his many contemporaries who wrote about the era's political issues (e.g., Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, and Cecil Day Lewis), "it [is] possible to reprint every single letter, book review and essay composed by Orwell without exposing him to any embarrassment"-a remarkable feat, indeed. The only problem with this study is that it assumes that the reader already knows that Orwell conscientiously overcame his early anti-intellectualism, his dislike of the "dark" people of the English Empire, and his squeamishness about homosexuality-all to become a great humanist. Thus, it is written for readers who have already done their homework. Recommended for large libraries with extensive political science holdings.
Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (September 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465030491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465030491
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (72 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,108,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of Letters to a Young Contrarian, and the bestseller No One Left to Lie To: The Values of the Worst Family. A regular contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly and Slate, Hitchens also wrote for The Weekly Standard, The National Review, and The Independent, and appeared on The Daily Show, Charlie Rose, The Chris Matthew's Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, and C-Span's Washington Journal. He was named one of the world's "Top 100 Public Intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Britain's Prospect.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Remarkably, as the 21st century opens George Orwell's shadow looms larger than ever over the world, undiminished by the end of the Cold War (a phrase which he probably invented). He is increasingly claimed by both Left and Right as one of their own. Two Englishmen now living in America, Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens, can best claim the mantle of Orwell by virtue of their clearsightedness and ability to cut through cant. Hitchens has written a short, bracing book on why "Animal Farm", "1984", and the collected essays are still essential reading. Orwell was a divided man. He was emotionally a conservative and intellectually a socialist. He was able to live out the contradiction and thus was blessed (or cursed) with the ability to see the big picture. Most of us in our own little lives are opportunists; our social and political views are shaped by what seems to us will allow us to rise in the world. Because of his awareness of his contradictions (and an unusual strength of will or character) Orwell could more closely approach "objectivity" (that noble dream) than most of us.
Hitchens claims that Orwell was right about the three big issues of the 20th century--imperialism, Fascism, and Communism: something almost no other of his contemporaries can claim. In the chapter "Orwell and the Left" Hitchens swiftly eviscerates those critics who see Orwell as a sellout (Including Edward Said, whose blurb approving of Hitchens' earlier work appears prominently on the dust jacket of this one.) In "Orwell and the Right" he establishes that Orwell did not advocate mindless aggression against the Communists.
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By A Customer on November 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
It's nice to see the Hitch, old attack dog that he is, back off on the usual invective and give himself over to a 210 page fit of uncontrollable gushing. He's persuasive, too. It's hard not to come away from reading the book with a newfound respect for Orwell, for his "power of facing", and his fireproof integrity.
I can't help but feel that Hitchen's warning not to think of Orwell as a saint is just a fig leaf. Obviously, it's a cannonization essay, it's just that Hitch is too embarrassed to admit he's written such a thing. But why shouldn't we cannonize Orwell? Why shouldn't we take our hats off in awe at the man who saw each of the historical forces that would shape the next 50 years with such amazing clarity, all without ever abandoning an ethical code that would only be vindicated by everything that followed? Orwell's insights remain fresh, the power of his ethical vision remains urgently relevant, and as a role model on personal integrity, an inspiration for those who want to "walk the walk", we could scarcely do better.
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Format: Hardcover
Having been encouraged from about the age of twelve to read the essays of George Orwell I read Christopher Hitchens' recent meditation on him with a sense of gratitude. I haven't read any other work on Orwell which so perfectly conveys his inexhaustibility.
Hitchens' real achievement here is a mastery of Orwell's tone. Orwell's essays keep a reader up until dawn and WHY ORWELL MATTERS did the same to this reader.
I can't say I agree with everything in the book, and have to say that sometimes I didn't grasp Hitchens' arguments. But, the book is brief, and we know what Shakespeare said about brevity. The chief pleasure of this book is its style; learned from one of the greatest defenders of expressed thought.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Christopher Hitchens
ISBN 0-465-03049-1
In a lifetime of reading, the writer whose books and essays have influenced my thinking more than any other is George Orwell. It is commendable that Christopher Hitchens singles him out as a writer that matters. But I am somewhat disappointed in this book.
The book is not a biography. Hitchens writes about Orwell's books and ideas rather than his personal life, but he includes so little about the latter that one has difficulty determining Orwell's circumstances. For example, Hitchens tells us that Orwell's father was a non-factor in his life, but he hardly makes clear why. Elsewhere, he informs us that Orwell, who he says was awkward with women, married twice. Again, a little background on the marriages might be helpful.
Hitchens sets out to defend Orwell against attacks by writers, politicians, and assorted adversaries. The book has too many such defenses. Hitchens devotes so much energy to these pursuits that in the end it is, it seems, the quality of the portrayal of Orwell's work, that is sacrificed. Not enough of the clear, unpretentious feel of Orwell's writing comes through in this book.
Hitchens does call attention a number of times to Orwell's fine essay , "On Politics and the English Language". In this essay, among other things, Orwell laid out some simple rules for straightforward, honest writing. One of these rules, for example, is "Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent." Although Hitchens may be Orwell's advocate, he seems not a practitioner of his writing guidelines.
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