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The Road to Wigan Pier Paperback – Bargain Price, October 18, 1972

4.2 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Paperback, Bargain Price, October 18, 1972
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Although George Orwell grew up in the relative comfort of the English middle class, his socialist convictions and general sense of fairness led him to hate his country's deeply ingrained class structure. That perspective permeates this book, but the most striking elements are the quotidian details of life that Orwell observes in his first-person account of the lives of coal miners and others in the poor north of England. Wigan Pier is almost too realistic at times, as Orwell brings his unparalleled powers of observation to portray the wretched conditions of the working class. That Orwell may have slanted his reporting to make things look worse than they were is a question that does not lessen the book's interest.


True genius ... all his anger and frustration found their first proper means of expression in Wigan Pier -- Peter Ackroyd The Times --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (October 18, 1972)
  • ISBN-10: 0156767503
  • ASIN: B002CMLRE2
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,330,772 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
It's worth knowing that this book was originally commissioned by the Left Book Club, a Socialist book club in the UK, and when the manuscript arrived they realized Orwell had delivered more than they'd bargained for. In part one, Orwell brilliantly reports on the atrocious living and working conditions in northern England in the 1930s. His chapter covering his visit to a coal mine has been often anthologized, but the entire section consists of equally vivid portraits. In part two, Orwell discusses Socialism with such a jaundiced eye that it had the editors of the Left Book Club wondering if they could get away with printing only the first half of the book! Orwell did not fully believe in Socialism until he fought in the Spanish Civil War after "Wigan Pier" was printed, and contrary to the right-wingers who have claimed him as one of their own, Orwell was a dedicated Socialist to the day he died, but a skeptical one. Read "Wigan Pier," and for more information, read Orwell's diary he kept during his trip to the north in Volume 1 of the Collected Essays.
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Contrary to my expectations, this is Orwell's most personal book. He bares his soul to us. At least I think he seriously tries to be perfectly honest, if not complete.
After his success with Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell got commissioned by the influential Left Book Club (Victor Gollancz one of the editors)to write a book about unemployment in the industrial and empoverished northern part of England. This was the mid 30s, the recent depression had led to high unemployment and endless misery in England as elsewhere.
GO went there and dug in and lived with workers and in boarding houses and crawled through mines (though he was about twice as tall as a miner should be) and talked to people and read statistics and reports.
The outcome is an oddity. Part 1 is a solid piece of investigative reporting and journalistic sociology. Chapter 1 is along the lines of Down and Out, an account of life in a boarding house in the North. Start with chapter 2 if you are squeamish. The hygienic conditions are worse than anything in Down and Out.
The following chapters in part 1 give us decsriptions of the life of miners and work in the coal mines, of the miners' leisure time, health, work safety, accidents, the housing conditions in the fearful northern slums (worse than the slums in India and Burma, says GO, because of the cold dampness), of unemployment and malnutrition, of food and fuel, of the uglyness of industrial countries at the time. The strongest chapter in this part, in my opinion, is the one on unemployment and its psychology. This subject is timeless. Even if the slums have changed, the essential condition of unemployment is surely unchanged.
So far so good and in line with the job description.
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What a valuable examination! As other reviewers have pointed out, the Left Book Club of UK nearly three quarters of a century ago (!) commissioned Mr. Orwell to write on the condition of the coal miners in North Yorkshire. The first half of the book shows Orwell's observations of the squalor and struggles of those working people. However, Orwell continued with a whole second essay. In that second portion of the text, he criticized the left for its arrogance, its being out of touch with that which it claimed to want to remedy.
Orwell raises issues that could as easily apply today pertinent to those dedicated to "change" the conditions of those of whom they have little grasp. That's the only depressing thing about the book: so little has changed in so much time.
Some observations on the then-growing fascist movement in Europe are eye-openers too.
Read it and weep? Or read it and LEARN!
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England in the 1930's had staggering poverty and unemployment and was still reeling from World War I. Socialism was enjoying interest from those who wanted to do something to fix the wrongs. The Left Book Club commissioned George Orwell, who had stirred attention with DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON to write a book about the working poor in the coal mines in Lancashire. He did that, but he also chose to go beyond the terms of his contract and assess the potential for Socialism to solve problems. His conclusions did not especially please the editors of the Book Club but to not publish the book would seem narrow-minded, so it went to press in 1937 as is tempered with a forward by Victor Gallancz, taking issue with Orwell's evaluation and vision.

The first half of the book stands as a remarkable piece of journalism revealing untold squalor. Coal was the oil of its day and people wanted it in quantity and they wanted it cheap and they did not want to know what it took to produce it. It is difficult to decide what is grimmer, the work beneath the earth or the housing to which the miners returned at night. Especially mean is the fact that the privilege of a family of eight living in two leaky, barren rooms, two hundred yards from an outdoor privy, extracted most of the household wages. Orwell's urgent prose does not let anyone look away.

Orwell then turns to a discussion of class differences, the bourgeois and Socialists. He portrays a culture saturated in a class system that will be difficult to eradicate any time soon, one in which the different classes have different values, fears and perspectives that obstruct understanding and reconcilation. Socialism, which had both its bourgeois and proletariat adherents, had yet to get its act together.
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