Book Review: Essays (George Orwell)

Essays, by George Orwell

This book is nearly 1400 pages long and contains a variety of essays collected over the career of George Orwell, including book reviews, political editorials, and various miscellaneous writings, some of which are fragmentary.  Whether or not you will enjoy reading this will depend on how relatable the author is to you and how willing you are to put up with the author’s strident anti-religious and leftist worldviews.  My own view of the man and his thinking is somewhat ambivalent–his socialist worldview is idiotic (by definition) as is his hostility to godly morality, but he is remarkably clear-sighted about the cant and errors of the political orthodoxy of the left that he was associated with through his career.  If he is idiotic when making predictions or talking about what is desirable, he is at least acceptable as a critic of other leftists whose dishonesty and lack of consistency he accurately but fiercely skewers.  If this is something you can get behind, then this book will be of at least some value given its massive length.  There was a lot that I disagreed with in the book, but there is much from these pages that remains relevant to contemporary political analysis given the leftist bias of many who consider themselves to be thinkers.

This book is divided chronologically and represents a selection of the author’s nonfiction prose writing from 1928 to 1949.  The early writings contain a lot about the Spanish Civil War and book reviews and the author’s defense of his political decisions .  Eventually the author’s hostility to authoritarian politics comes out, and by 1943 the author is writing a column of personal essays called “As I Please,” which is pretty much the dream assignment for any writer, to get paid to write as one pleases.  The author explores other writers from the point of view of a peer and has a lot of comments to make about the dishonesty of leftists seeking to appeal to working class voters by promising them that socialism will improve their standard of living when it will only lower it to the horrific global norm.  As the book continues on there are more and more political commentaries and fewer and fewer book reviews, but towards the very end there are some writings about Ezra Pound and a fragementary defense of Evelyn Waugh that are both very interesting materials.  Only someone with a high degree of intestinal fortitude is going to tackle all of this book, but by picking and choosing among titles of essays that sound interesting someone could amuse themselves without spending weeks reading this book as I did.

This book represents the maximal sort of insight that can be expected from someone who reasons from the wrong premises regarding politics and religion and builds upon a faulty worldview.  Yet there are still insights to be found here.  The author notes that already in the 1940’s fascist a useless term of abuse because of the ambiguity of what it refers to, and leftists still use it today to diminishing returns as a term of abuse for anyone who is less insane and wicked than they are.  Likewise, the author has some intriguing comments to make about the relationship between politics and the writer and some thoughtful discussions of his own life, including some abusive experiences in education.  A great deal of the work is written trying to navigate between his patriotism, his leftist politics, and his fears and longings regarding this world and his total lack of belief in the world to come.  The book also dwells long on the subject of reading and writing, and there are some hilarious comments here related to his book reviews and the cost of a book habit as opposed to a drinking or smoking habit.  With so much material here, a reader who likes reading about a leftist but Nathanish person writing about writers and readers and politics will find something to appreciate even with serious disagreement concerning the author’s perspective.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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