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Facing Unpleasant Facts: Narrative Essays (Complete Works of George Orwell) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 13, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Best known for his late-career classics Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell—who used his given name, Eric Blair, in the earliest pieces of this collection aimed at the aficionado as well as the general reader—was above all a polemicist of the first rank. Organized chronologically, from 1931 through the late 1940s, these in-your-face writings showcase the power of this literary form. The range of subjects is considerable, from Shooting an Elephant to remembrances of working in a bookshop (The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence...); from recollections of fighting in the Spanish Civil War to culinary oddities such as a Defence of English Cooking and A Nice Cup of Tea; to the broad-stroke masterwork of boarding-school irony, Such, Such Were the Joys. New Yorker contributor Packer (The Assassins' Gate) keenly assembles and introduces this selection, bringing into high relief Orwell's range of experience and committed humanism, showing how, as Orwell put it, to make political writing into an art. (Oct. 13)
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"The edition is a national treasure" -- Michael Shelden Daily Telegraph "A scholarly edition of world class" -- Bernard Crick New Statesman "One of the great triumphs of late 20th-century publishing" -- D J Taylor Independent "The edition is a wonder" -- Bevis Hillier Spectator --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Series: Complete Works of George Orwell (Book 11)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (October 13, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151013616
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151013616
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #673,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen R. Laniel on October 31, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: 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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