- Paperback: 224 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (September 11, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465030505
- ISBN-13: 978-0465030507
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 85 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,869 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Why Orwell Matters Paperback – September 16, 2003
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"Not only a fine defense of Orwell's politics, but also the most stimulating introduction available to almost every other aspect of his work."―The Sunday Telegraph (London)
About the Author
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, Slate, and The Atlantic, and the author of numerous books, including the international bestsellers God Is Not Great, Hitch-22, and Arguably.
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It helps to read Hitchens book in tandem with Homage to Catalonia, Orwell's account of the Spanish Civil War. It is a stark description of the conditions at the front, and the "riots" in Barcelona. This is followed by the treachery of the Stalinists.
The European Left turned a blind eye to the horrors of Stalinist Russia, until Orwell produced 1984, and Animal Farm. After that he was persona non grata among the orthodox Leninists and Stalinists, and misunderstood by the right wing "anti-communists". Not a great novelist, but an important one. An honest man in a maelstrom of lies.
In fact, Orwell even invented the phrase ‘Cold War”. But Hitchens points out that Orwell used it as a prophetic warning of geopolitical peril to come. On another occasion, Orwell prophesied the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union due to totalitarian excess. And this is precisely the picture that Hitchens paints of Orwell: A person of extraordinary intellectual and moral honesty who also had keen insight and curiosity into human affairs.
Orwell first developed a life-long aversion to colonialism and imperialism after a youthful posting to India in the early 1920s as a police lieutenant. Then he deliberately chose to live with the destitute in the slums of London to understand their predicament, despite the discomfort it brought to his upper class upbringing (he was a graduate of Eton, the most elite of English private schools.)
Orwell was very determined to become a good writer – to penetrate the veil of propaganda and euphemism that blinded people to injustice. He quickly became a great essayist but had trouble writing a good novel. Yet he knew that fiction could reach a far greater audience, if he could only find the right model, the right formula, to display his perception and outrage. He kept trying and eventually succeeded, despite social awkwardness and repeated periods of self-doubt.
So how did Orwell come to understand Stalinism long before most others? Once again he exposed himself to danger and deprivation. He volunteered to fight Franco and the fascists in Spain in the late 1930s. He barely escaped death – twice, yet Hitchens downplays his heroism. Once Orwell took a bullet in the neck. Then he fled Spain just before being seized to be “purged” in a Stalinist-type show trail. Thus he experienced totalitarian terror first hand, culminating in his masterwork “1984” just before his death form tuberculosis in 1950.
However I would recommend a good overview of Orwell’s life, such as the Wikipedia article, before this book. Hitchens’ book is not a biography and sometimes glosses over crucial elements. At other times he digs quite deeply into the politics and culture of the time in order to counter certain attacks and misrepresentations, using a high-brow literary British vocabulary, contrary to the transparency advocated by Orwell himself. Nevertheless, Hitchens is absolutely right that “Orwell Matters”, especially today, given the Orwellian proclivities of Donald Trump.
Hitchens is a huge fan and takes on all comers who criticize his man, and there are plenty that do, but in normal Hitchens style he bats them off with his arguments, and like or loath him Hitchens can argue.
Very entertaining, much more so than Orwell's novels which I find a bit depressing. Hitchens makes his arguments for Orwell on his essays not on the novels. Hitchens does not think Orwell a saint, more a candidate for beatification,which incidentally neither of them believed in anyway.
The best thing for me was reading this on a Kindle with the dictionary function. When you have a vocabulary that is rather bare when compared with the author it is a very handy tool.
First, we should CARE because his message is just as important today was it was in the 20th Century. His outlook about nationalism, race, power, and language is something we have to listen to and UNDERSTAND.
Hitchens holds nothing back. He reveals the meaning behind Orwell's writings - the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. Orwell was a amazing man but he was just a man and sometimes even he would say something that was not really fair.
But he was willing to look truth or fact right in the face and describe to us the details, like it or not. The failure of the press to report the events correctly. The failure of government to see events in the proper light or sometimes to lie outright to protect itself and its goals.
I would suggest the following books. First The Road to Wigan Pier by George_Orwell and then Homage to Catalonia. In those two books you can almost SEE the changes in his ideas about socialism, the press, and power slowly forming as he wrote the books. While I would also suggest NINTEEN EIGHTY-FOUR,signet classic ct311 (paperback) I would say that the novel has overshadowed some of the other great NONfictional works of his and I would, if I was you, try to expand on your knowledge of his ideas - as I am doing right now.