The Best Books On George Orwell

Robert Colls Author Of George Orwell: English Rebel
By Robert Colls

The Books I Picked & Why

The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell

By George Orwell, Sonia Orwell, Ian Angus

The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell

Why this book?

This is a four-volume collection. First, because the first thing you should read about Orwell should be by him. Second because by getting away from the more famous stuff - Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm especially – the essays, journalism, and letters get you closer to the life he lived. The inside cover says I bought them in January 1973. I remember reading out extracts to my girlfriend in bed in wintry Leyton. Make of that what you will, but the three of us are still together. Sonia Brownell was Orwell’s second wife. Ian Angus is an Orwell scholar, librarian, and founder of the Orwell Archive at UCL.


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George Orwell: A Life

By Bernard Crick

George Orwell: A Life

Why this book?

Although he instructed that no one should write his biography, Orwell has had many superb biographers including Taylor (2003) and Bowker (2003), and his close friends Richard Rees, Fugitive from the Camp of Victory (1961), and George Woodcock, The Crystal Spirit (1966).  John Rodden has written widely on Orwell’s reputation. However, the best full-scale biography remains the first, by Bernard Crick. Sonia commissioned it, then rejected it, but I like it because Crick knows more about politics than the others and, in the end, Orwell was a political writer.


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Darkness at Noon

By Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon

Why this book?

Sometimes you get a better view of Orwell if you come at him side-on, in a work not by him but, in a way, for him. While fighting in Spain, he came across blood and terror on both sides but it was the inexorable logic of terror on his own Communist side that distressed him most. In this dark fable, Koestler - who was also to become a close friend - writes about Rubashov, an old and heroic Bolshevik who, though innocent of the charges against him, assents to his own execution.


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The Orwell Mystique: A Study in Male Ideology

By Daphne Patai

The Orwell Mystique: A Study in Male Ideology

Why this book?

The title says it all. I choose Patai’s withering account of Orwell’s irredeemable misogyny not because I think she is right but because I think she onto something in him and in his life and times. After Koestler, another dark corner.


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Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951

By Ross McKibbin

Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951

Why this book?

If you are going to read Orwell you need to know something about what Mckibbin calls the “fundamental mentalities and structures” of English social and political life. This is the best, covering Orwell’s life-span. These were the years when England first began to see itself as ‘democratic’, and yet, “the great mass of the English people was unmoved, or unmoved directly, by the cultures of the country’s intellectual elites”. Enter George Orwell.


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