Why Orwell Matters

Why Orwell Matters

Book - 2002
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"Hitchens presents a George Orwell fit for the twenty-first century." -- Boston Globe
In this widely acclaimed biographical essay, the masterful polemicist Christopher Hitchens assesses the life, the achievements, and the myth of the great political writer and participant George Orwell. True to his contrarian style, Hitchens is both admiring and aggressive, sympathetic yet critical, taking true measure of his subject as hero and problem. Answering both the detractors and the false claimants, Hitchens tears down the façade of sainthood erected by the hagiographers and rebuts the critics point by point. He examines Orwell and his perspectives on fascism, empire, feminism, and Englishness, as well as his outlook on America, a country and culture toward which he exhibited much ambivalence. Whether thinking about empires or dictators, race or class, nationalism or popular culture, Orwell's moral outlook remains indispensable in a world that has undergone vast changes in the seven decades since his death. Combining the best of Hitchens' polemical punch and intellectual elegance in a tightly woven and subtle argument, this book addresses not only why Orwell matters today, but how he will continue to matter in a future, uncertain world.
Publisher: New York : Basic Books, c2002
ISBN: 9780465030507
0465030505
Branch Call Number: 828.912 Orwel-H 3558ad 1
Characteristics: xii, 211 p. ;,22 cm

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mrmousebender
Aug 22, 2018

Very good indeed. Hitchens nails it in the introduction when he writes about Orwell's lifelong determination to confront his own preconceptions by experience being at the root of his lasting value. I've always felt when reading Orwell that I wasn't in the presence of someone more intelligent or better educated, but more thoughtful and perceptive than I am, and Hitchens' comment makes it clear why that's so.

However, I think that Hitch is a little too inclined to ignore some of the discrepencies between what Orwell thought privately and what he wrote; he quotes some of Orwell's critics out of context; and there are some errors of fact.

This last one is easiest to be concise about. Hitchens' makes a huge, howling error in discussing Orwell's literary insight in his article about the weekly magazines, like "Gem" and "Magnet" published for preadolescent and adolescent boys. Orwell speculated that the stories, published under the name "Frank Richards" could hardly have been the product of one writer, given the forty-plus year run of both magazines. In order to achieve continuity, what was needed was a highly artificial, repetitive kind of style.

Hitchens claims that Orwell was proven right. But, no, he wasn't: Orwell's article was published in the April 1939 issue of "Horizon", which two issues later published a rebuttal by the writer, whose name really was Frank Richards. Furthermore, when his original article was republished in a 1945 anthology, he adds the footnote "I was quite incorrect about this." Ouch.

However, like both Orwell and Shakespeare, there is always more to praise than there is to censure.

f
Flatcoatsmith
Apr 06, 2017

A great author and intellectual illuminates his predecessor (and the sniping lesser detractors.)
I yearn for modern voices so articulate to take up the banner and shatter the black silence of the corporate/nation states.

l
lukasevansherman
May 03, 2015

"I knew that I had a facility with words and a power of facing unpleasant facts."-Orwell, 1946
Not to speak ill of the dead, but I always found the late Christopher Hitchens a bit irritating: arrogant, sardonic without being funny, and not as smart as he thought he was. He seemed to fancy himself an iconoclast and wrote about such strong minded individuals as Thomas Jefferson and Orwell, while bashing organized religion ("God is Not Good") and Mother Teresa. Whatever you think of the later, it's hardly sporting to attack a defenseless old lady who has devoted her life to others. And I do wonder just how iconoclastic you can be when you work for "Vanity Fair," a magazine devoted to flattering the rich, famous, and powerful. All that said, this is a fine, insightful book about one of my favorite writers and Hitchens admirably and convincingly shows Orwell's importance, as well as reclaiming him from both conservatives and liberals. Hitchens point is that almost everybody has an opinion about Orwell and often both the man and his body of work are lost. I'd advise reading the two volumes of Orwell's essays, "Facing Unpleasant Facts" and "All Art is Propaganda," after finishing this book.

Excellent review of some of the machinations during the Spanish Civil war and events during the cold war. Great insights into complex times and misunderstood political views of a man so dedicated to his philosphy that he gives up his wealth and his health because of his principles. A bit heavy going for the amateur historian but worth the trouble in the interest of ministry of truth.

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