Alrighty then- three days ago we all established on here that it was a-okay to write non-fiction reviews, which is what I’m gonna do today! I got this book that had the non-fiction works of Orwell, so rather than review each work in individual posts, I decided to do them all in one (yay timesaving!!)
Since these are, for the most part, political works, there will be no way to avoid the subject- you have been warned!
Down and Out in Paris and London
Now this one is really hard to sum up, but actually pretty easy to read. Essentially in this book Orwell went on a jaunt as a poor person. An interesting social experiment, no doubt, but my more cynical side kind of overtook me at points. I will be blunt- I found a lot of it made me think of the song “Common People” (“if you called your dad you could stop it all”). This is definitely one of those books where I can see why other people love it, even if I didn’t.
Rating: 3/5 bananas
Some excellent quotes:
“Fear of the mob is a superstitious fear”
“What do the majority of educated people know about poverty?”
“an educated man can put up with enforced idleness, which is one of the worst evils of poverty”
“The man who really merits pity is the man who has been down from the start, and faces poverty with a blank resourceless mind”
The Road to Wigan Pier
I did massively prefer this, even if the very partisan arguments at times felt like a manifesto to encourage a certain type of activism. I had my issues with Orwell’s argument:
- “Socialism is such an elementary common sense that I am amazed that it has not established itself already”- this is an optimistic view, but if you’re not a socialist, it’s not a very sensible assertion. In fact there is often a view in left wing circles that everyone secretly wants to be a socialist and anyone that’s not feels guilty about it- a foolish stance to take because not only is it a touch arrogant, but it is fundamentally naïve and if you view the world in this binary manner you will never be able to accept other points of view exist (let alone acknowledge their validity).
- “the worst advertisements for Socialism is its adherents”- ah the “no true Scotsman” fallacy rears its head again. I feel like every ideologue says this- but maybe, just maybe, it’s the ideologies that are flawed…
- “Socialism means justice and common decency”- again how often do ideologues argue that their ideology “just means x”? As charming as this statement is, it’s not even true on a dictionary definition level.
- “The only possible course is to examine the Fascist case, grasp that there is something to be said for it, and then make it clear to the world that whatever good Fascism contains is also implicit in Socialism”- if you reverse this argument it undoes his point- whatever is negative about an ideology (particularly authoritarian ones) is also present in all other ideologies.
Nonetheless, the book was insightful at times, with notions about simple compassion and most powerfully when Orwell talks about the universal principles of liberty and justice. And made some excellent points:
- Orwell highlights the hypocrisy of bourgeois left winger: “All his opinions change into their opposite at the first brush of reality”.
- “writers of genuine talent are usually indifferent to Socialism”- this to my mind is because writers have to exist beyond the ideological in the universal world of stories
- “Marxists as a rule are not very good at reading the minds of their adversaries”- this reiterates my point about left wing views of what conservatives are thinking
- “if you give me to understand that in some way I am an inferior person because I have never worked with my hands, you will only succeed in antagonising me.”- this is such an important point because so many people think it is a good idea to accuse people of something they cannot help- and the end result is only to lose support.
Despite my criticisms of Orwell’s arguments, I did get a lot out of this book.
Rating: 4/5 bananas
Homage to Catalonia
I had trouble finding some of his recollections interesting, but I did find this picked up in his essay Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War.
The book directly contradicts the idea that history is written by the winners. It explains how the concept to believe that everything is all relative came into existence- in a case of delicious irony (given the sorts that currently hold this position) Orwell explains how the notion of moral relativism was founded on fascist principles: “Nazi theory specifically denies that such a thing as “the truth” exists”.
Unfortunately the consequences now are that objectivity has gone out the window and the pretence of truth seeking has gone. I could not help but find how true this rings: “Everyone believes in the atrocities of the enemy and disbelieves his own side”.
Ultimately I found this the most interesting and the one which rang most true:
Rating: 4½/5 bananas
Some brilliant quotes:
“People forget that a soldier anywhere near the front line is usually too hungry, or frightened, or cold, or, above all, too tired to bother about the political origins of the war”
“War is evil, and it is often the lesser evil”
Okay everyone that read all of that deserves a banana for sure!! And while we’re at it, I probably owe you all bananas for being so absent this week!
Have you read Orwell’s non-fiction? Are you interested in reading it? Let me know in the comments!