Read Orwell by D.J. Taylor Online


Winner of the 2004 Whitbread Prize for Biography"D. J. Taylor has written not only the best recent biography of George Orwell . . . but also one of the cleverest studies of the relationship of that life to the written word." -The Washington Post Book World In the last fifty years, Animal Farm and 1984 have sold more than forty million copies, and "Orwellian" is now a byworWinner of the 2004 Whitbread Prize for Biography"D. J. Taylor has written not only the best recent biography of George Orwell . . . but also one of the cleverest studies of the relationship of that life to the written word." -The Washington Post Book World In the last fifty years, Animal Farm and 1984 have sold more than forty million copies, and "Orwellian" is now a byword for a particular way of thinking about life, literature, and language. D. J. Taylor's magisterial assessment cuts through George Orwell's iconic status to reveal a bitter critic who concealed a profound totalitarian streak and whose progress through the literary world of the 1930s and 1940s was characterized by the myths he built around himself.Drawing on previously unseen material, Orwell is a strikingly human portrait of the writer too often embalmed as a secular saint. This biography is as vibrant, powerful, and resonant as its extraordinary subject....

Title : Orwell
Author :
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ISBN : 9780805076936
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 496 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Orwell Reviews

  • Susan
    2019-03-23 10:19

    I have never read a biography of Eric Blair (renamed for his career as a writer as George Orwell) before and so was deeply interested to read this, although I am not completely sure that – having finished it – I know much more about this enigmatic author than I did before I started. This tells the story of a life, from childhood, through his schooldays and career in the Burma police, then on to his career as a writer, his time in Spain, his relationships and his legacy. Of course, Orwell himself stipulated in his will that he did not want his biography written and you do wonder how much he did concern himself about the way his work and life would be viewed. So much of what we read seems to be part truth and part myth and, although the author is keen to always present the other side of possible events, it is never quite clear what the reality is. So, for example, we have Orwell’s time at prep school – the infamous St Cyprian’s, which he later savaged in print. The author suggests things were not quite as bad as Orwell suggested and points us in the direction of recollections by other past pupils of the school, but we are never really quite clear as to why his hatred was so extreme. What we do see is that Orwell was a man who was painfully honest, often quite vulnerable (his attempts to woo women are almost tragically comic), quite sentimental and yet detached. It is obviously difficult for any author to gain access to the real man behind the image that Orwell wanted to project – even to his own friends at times. I enjoyed reading about his work in the context of his life, but I still feel that I only know about the main events. It would be interesting to read more biographies about this fascinating author, as I do still feel that I know very little about the man himself. Perhaps this is a good starting point though and it is certainly a very readable account of Orwell’s life.Rated 3.5

  • Nigeyb
    2019-04-19 02:14

    Having read all of George Orwell's novels, and some of his essays and articles, I was keen to read a biography. This is the only biography I have read to date.I previously enjoyed Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940, also by D.J. Taylor. Click here to read my review. In common with Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940, Orwell is thorough, well written and insightful.A chronological approach is augmented by shorter chapters. One interesting chapter is entitled, "The Case Against Orwell" in which D.J. Taylor presents the evidence that Orwell's reputation is undeserved. Evidence includes: Orwell's novels are derivative, he was an unreliable reporter, he exaggerated, he was naive, deceptive, sent the names of 135 people he suspected of being "fellow-travellers" to the anti-communist Information Re-search Department at the Foreign Office, and was a serial adulterer. Whilst it is clear that D.J. Taylor likes his subject, admitting in the afterword that this did not change having completed the book, it is instructive to read such a compelling counter-argument. Another chapter looks at Orwell's alleged anti-semitism, and here the case against Orwell is pretty strong and, it seems to me, it was only towards the end of his life that he seriously realised how wrong these views were.Most interesting for me, is the extent to which Orwell constructed his own myth, and the differences between that and the real person, who despite living in the twentieth century is a remarkably opaque individual. D.J. Taylor has done a marvellous job in sifting through the evidence, such as it is, to allow the reader to make up her or his own mind. Orwell is a nuanced and balanced assessment of a frustrating and complex man. My sense is that those who have read all, or at least most, of his key works would get the most out of this biography. If, like me, you have an interest in the English literary scene in the 1930s and 1940s then you will find it even more rewarding.4/5

  • Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)
    2019-03-24 05:18

    A readable wide ranging biography of OrwellTaylor has his work cut out trying to put a readable account of Orwell’s life together. However, he does well telling the story from childhood, through his schooldays, career in the Burma police, writing career, Spain, as well as his relationships and legacy. The book does read at times like a novel especially where the author reconstructs whole episodes. This does leave the book open to criticism of fictionalising Orwell’s life, however I do think this method does work.A good read for any Orwell fan.

  • Haarlson Phillipps
    2019-04-19 09:21

    If you consider yourself a serious scholar of Orwell DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.If you are curious about Orwell, especially his time in Spain during the Civil War - DO NOT READ THIS BOOK.The book is riddled with inaccuracies, from simple errors to more subtle and deliberately misleading information which undermine Orwell's assessment of events during the Spanish Civil War.Simple error? Turn to page 135 - Orwell's poem On a Ruined Farm near His Master's Voice Gramophone Factory is incorrectly titled as On a Ruined Farm near His Majesty's Voice Gramophone Factory.A more serious error? Turn to page 149 where the author refers to "Stukas sweeping down over fleeing civilians at Guernica". Untruth. There were NO Stukas at Guernica. Piers Brendon, in The Guardian, referred to this as a "significant mistake".Another:On page 220 D.J. Taylor writes:"It was an odd state of affairs, Orwell reflected, that Barcelona, of all places, should turn out to be probably the only major city in non-Fascist Europe not to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Soviet Revolution."Orwell reflected no such thing.What Orwell actually reflected is rendered thus:"It was a queer state of affairs. Barcelona, the so-called revolutionary city, was probably the only city in non-Fascist Europe that had no celebrations that day. Homage To Catalonia, Chapter 9, page 116.No mention there of Soviet anniversaries!The official anniversary of the Soviet Revolution is November 7th , not May 1st. (In fact the Communists in Barcelona marked the birthday of the Soviet Union with three weeks of concerts, talks, films and other celebratory events in October and November, 1937!) I consider this to be the most serious error in the text because the author ascribes an erroneous reflection to Orwell, i.e. puts thoughts into his head.Orwell would most certainly have known that May 1st, International Workers' Day, has nothing at all to do with the founding of the former Soviet Union and was established by the then I.W.M.A. (the anarcho-syndicalist Internatonal Working Mens Association) now I.W.A. (International Workers' Association).To interpolate Orwell's reflections in such a way shows a lack of judgement and a lack of knowledge, or perhaps belies a deliberate attempt to distort. Elsewhere in the book D.J. Taylor refers to the Ramblas (actually 5 connected ramblas)as being a "principal thoroughfare". Nonsense. Taylor compounds the error when describing Orwell's deployment on the Ramblas. If, as the author suggests, the Ramblas was a principal thoroughfare then the reader could assume Orwell was deployed to guard a strategic highway. Incorrect. The Ramblas then was the frontline between communist influenced government dictat and the self-governed barrios of Poble Sec and the Raval where anarchists were the prevailing influence.And, remember, the author of this work, D.J. Taylor studied Modern History at St. John's College, Oxford!I could go on - and I do, over a series of posts, at my blog HERE:

  • Caterina
    2019-04-10 10:26

    George Orwell has always been a fascinating literary figure but I personally never knew much about his life apart from his political beliefs and his presence during the Spanish Civil War. The biography by D.J. Taylor sheds a light on many aspects of his tumultuous life; his upper-middle class upbringing, his studies at Eton ("on a scholarship", he always insisted to remind as a self-conscious Marxist!), the struggle to publish his works, his love affairs, his literary circle etc. This is a fairly readable biography, it almost reads as a novel, I should say, since the author sometimes reconstructs whole episodes from Orwell's life, which, I believe, is not a bad medium. I would recommend this awarded biography to any Orwell enthusiast out there, but also to anyone interested in the formation of a great mind, one of the greatest of the long 20th century.Thanks to Open Road Integrated Media and NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  • Ayu Palar
    2019-03-27 08:18

    I am not a biography reader. But since I am a huge fan of Orwell, I feel the necessity to read his biography. I stumbled upon this book at QB, and immediately bought it. This is a must for all Orwell's fans. And who said biography is boring?

  • Robert DePriest
    2019-04-10 07:12

    I finished reading a biography of George Orwell (aka Eric Blair). I have to say I'm kind of disappointed in him. Before I knew much about him, I thought he was some sort of literary and philosophical genius - especially about political philosophy. However, after reading this biography, I'm not so sure. The book paints a picture of a very bright child from a respectable family earning scholarship to Eton, and beginning a solid career as an Imperial servant in Burma, who decides that he wants to be a writer. To the surprise of his parents, he quits his job and lives a poor existence, basically almost up to the point of his death. He writes some ok novels that don't sell very well, and mostly makes his living in journalism as a book reviewer and columnist.In his adulthood he starts to pick up political viewpoints, and finds himself fighting in Spain, ala Hemingway, before escaping back to England, narrowly avoiding imprisonment amid the turmoil of the Spanish Civil War. That romantic swashbuckling episode over, he returns to a rather poor existence, his health continuing to deteriorate due to a life-long lung problem. His wife eventually dies while he is in Europe covering the end of WWII. About this time his first real success occurs with "Animal Farm". His health continues to deteriorate, to the point that he rushes to finish his masterpiece before he dies. At his death, the first reviews of "1984" were being published, and after he died his new widow (who he married on his deathbed) became wealthy due to this runaway best-seller.What disappointed me about him is that he just wasn't all that wonderful. Everyone has personal faults, and I won't bother to go into his here, but the professional faults are what really disappointed me. I read one of his first books "Down and Out in Paris and London" and a book of collected essays. Although I read these almost 10 years ago, I can still remember some of the passages describing the terrible conditions of the poor in Britain, the horrible working environments of the British coal miners in the north of England, and the terrible state of the public school system in the essay "Such, Such Were the Joys". The author of this biography points out that all of these works have a kernel of truth, but are greatly exaggerated. I find these essays now to be too close to a lie. For real historical accuracy, I have to discount all that I read of his non-fiction work.The happy exception, though are his fictional works "Animal Farm" and "1984". Since these works are ficticious, they are not subject to his eyewitness exaggerations. Growing up during the Cold War, I still have an interest in the workings of totalitarian societies. These don't really exist any more (or at least they currently don't exist), but for most of the 20th century it looked like the world was heading towards an authoritarian existence. I find them scary but fascinating, and wonder at stories of individuals coping in such a world, and finding ways to resist and lead some sort of independent life, even if only inside their head."Animal Farm" tells the story of a dictatorship arising out of a barnyard of animals, a not-so veiled critique of the Soviet Union at the time it was written. "1984", however, stands out as one of the classics of the dystopia genre, and is perhaps my most favorite book. Describing a world of three totalitarian superpowers who are continually at war with each other, it tells the story of an individual who fights to keep his individuality in a society where every move, every word is monitored, and the past altered to keep the party line.While reading it, you can't help but note some parallels to modern society. I won't go in to a full review here, but I will say it did put Orwell on the map, unfortunately after he died. I guess in summary, that's the theme with Orwell - unfortunate disappointment.

  • Palmyrah
    2019-03-28 07:16

    The moral of this story is that how happy or fulfilled you are has less to do with the incidents of your life than the temperament you were born with, or grew into. Orwell, as Taylor points out in a fine and unexpected chapter titled 'The Case Against', was a success in spite of himself, a man who actively and perversely courted failure all his life. He finally achieved his goal in the teeth of success, by dying just as the first fruits of wealth and fame were appearing on his plate.Orwell was contrarian in outlook, politically naive, impractical and self-neglectful in daily life, and hopeless with money. He was generally paranoid and fond of conspiracy theories. He seems to have been hopelessly misguided, even deluded, about human nature and what could be expected of people. In short, it is something of a miracle that he became, not merely a great writer and political commentator, but one of the principal intellectual figures of the twentieth century.D.J. Taylor paints an empathetic high-contrast portrait of his subject. Orwell comes through as a real and deeply eccentric human being, one who was simultaneously fascinating and hard to get along with. He seems to have needed a good manager of the modern rock-star type, a sort of combination of nursemaid, bank manager and Rottweiler. If he'd had one, he might have died rich, famous, happy – and self-betrayed. Whether that might not have been a better bargain with life than the one he actually settled for is a pointless question, and perhaps one it is better not to ask.

  • Val
    2019-04-07 08:25

    My first impression of this book was that it was commissioned and written to order, that the author did not have the true interest in the subject he claims. He is not a bad writer and the book is very readable, but it seems detached.Objectivity is not a bad quality for a biographer and Taylor does highlight some of the complexities and contradictions in George's (or Eric's) nature and writing. The idea of Orwell as complex and contradictory seems to be Taylor's main premise and the subject remains an enigma in the book, which makes it somewhat unsatisfying as a biography.

  • Edward
    2019-04-05 03:59

    IllustrationsAcknowledgements--Orwell: The LifeAfterwordAppendix I: Orwell and his publisherAppendix II: Dear Malcolm ... Yours GeorgeNotes and Further ReadingIndex

  • Daniel Elkin
    2019-04-09 06:15

    Very comprehensive. A little dry.

  • Dawnie
    2019-04-15 10:10

    I was interested in this book since I knew nothing about Orwell's life before reading this.And honestly? After reading it I don't know a whole lot more since j have no idea what really is true fact and what is something Taylor made up or interpretated.I do think that this book is a good start to Lear about Orwell and his life, it overs a nice overview, a good baseline of information and overview of orwells live from childhood to death.I would recommend this book for "hardcore fans" or people that really know a lot about his life already, but I think that others that are similar to me and really have no knowledge about Orwell at all will learn a few interesting things from this book.I do have to say that the writing the best for me personally, it felt a bit choppy and to me and I am not sure if that is because the author seemed to prefer to include a lot of shorter sentences, or if the overall writing tone and style of this author just is not for me. All in all this was okay, not the biography I ever read but also not the worst and as I said I think a good starting point for people new to orwells actual live.*thanks to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for giving me a free ecopy of this book in exchange for a free and honest review.*

  • Earl
    2019-04-07 08:19

    Orwell: The Life by D. J. Taylor is a difficult book to summarize. It is written quite well and is well-researched, yet the presentation of the person of Orwell seemed uneven. At times I almost felt that this was an attempt to minimize Orwell's work, life and legacy. At other times I felt there was a more even-handed approach. Having said all that, I would still recommend the book because of its wealth of information. Perhaps one of its strong points is that those who have read and read of Orwell are compelled to argue with the book. When so many biographies present one side or the other of a figure, Taylor tries to present all sides of Orwell, a task in itself. That many may feel it did not always succeed is not as bad as not having tried.I am hesitant to say too much, so I will offer a suggestion for any readers: stick with it even when you are most frustrated. There are many sections you will find enlightening and if the sections you disagree with drive you to seek confirmation of your conflict, that is a good thing. Reviewed from an ARC made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  • Andrewh
    2019-04-14 10:04

    This was a very well-written biography that clearly does not seek to unwrap the full enigma that was George Orwell but rather offers a vivid, impressionistic portrait of the wider arc of the man's life and the literary-political milieu in which he moved. Orwell was, it seems here, quite an odd fish - well-familied but not rich, he went to Eton then on to serve in the colonial police in Burma, where he grew to despise the Empire and then back to Britain to begin his vocation as a writer/novelist his 20s. His work was always quite journalistic, starting with Down and Out in Paris and London, and this book gives the reader the impression of an indefatigable journalist and reviewer above all, rather than a great novelist - in fact, the novels are mostly treated fairly briefly (and critically in the short chapter 'The Case Against'). He was certainly not the secular saint he is often portrayed as, either, but a more interesting figure for all that - interesting to ponder what he might have written had he lived into his 50s.

  • Christopher Brennan
    2019-04-09 02:11

    Taylor seems to have not read the same books I have. From Down and Out forward we see the horror of Imperialism, Colonialism, and Totalitarianism that are the hallmarks of Orwell's work. Taylor's claims about Orwell not becoming interested in politics until the Spanish Civil War seem to be drawn from a comment (which reads as an understatement) in Homage. Where he succeeds is in identifying some of the underlying traits which Orwell himself mythologized, such as in "Such Such Were the Joys," as being important not for their purely factual basis but because these moments defined a young Eric Blair. Orwell wrote with those lenses firmly in place and his view of himself certainly colored how he looked at the world and how he wrote about it.That he doesn't vilify Sonia Brownwell the way some have is a redeeming quality.

  • Daniel Kukwa
    2019-03-24 02:59

    The author tries very, VERY hard to makes this a readable biography...but his subject matter certainly doesn't make it easy. If there is one thing to take from this life story, it is the fact that George Orwell was not an easy man to get along with; he was full of irritating, negative characteristics that ensured that people wouldn't want to spend a great deal of time with him. This bleeds into the biography, as DJ Taylor moves heaven and earth to make Orwell's story a fluid, easy read. But the man is simply too frustrating, too single-minded, and too depressing a subject; Homer himself couldn't render Orwell into poetry. This is a book that is informative, fascinating, and a useful research tool...but I won't be re-reading it for pleasure any time soon.

  • Craig
    2019-04-02 09:23

    This is an interesting, ultimately fair rendering of a sometimes wacky literary figure. Seeing the path that George Orwell/Eric Blair takes in building the political philosophy is interesting; even the formative basics of birth in British India to the upbringing in mainland England with his mother.For the casual biography reader, this book would make for tedious reading. I took a personal joy in reading this partly for the opportunities to see similarities between Orwell and characteristics of people I know. For those with a literary or scholarly interest in Orwell, I offer you no reason to avoid this book.

  • Denis
    2019-04-16 06:04

    Reading a biography, you live someone's life in a matter of days; reading two, there's an anticipation of living it all over again, but no, this doesn't happen. This book is a commentary, the author provoking with his comments ("As a novelist, Orwell scarcely begins to exist" p350). In contrast, Peter Davison's "A Life in Letters" is a chronology, each letter a point in time.A life from up close and from afar; these two books complement each other.

  • John Rennie
    2019-04-16 07:06

    This is the first biography of Orwell I have read and as a big fan of his novels, reportage and essays I wasn't disappointed. This was a very nuanced study of the man, revealing the very human flaws in his personality without detracting from his essential decency and magnificent writing. highly recommended.

  • Marina Sofia
    2019-03-25 02:01

    I knew next to nothing about his personal life (other than his fighting in Spain) and I'm not sure it did me a favour to find out more. He was more than a little unpleasant, it appears, as well as terribly anxious, even slightly paranoid. However, the author does an excellent job of interpreting and elucidating aspects of Orwell's work.

  • Mandy
    2019-03-26 09:17

    A very good, very readable and very interesting biography of Orwell. Taylor doesn’t seem to have uncovered any new material, nor indeed come to any new conclusions about his subject, but he presents the reader with a portrait of Orwell that is balanced and perceptive, and I very much enjoyed it.

  • Scott
    2019-04-13 07:15

    No clue why I bought this. Loved his essays, was never a big fan of his books. Is it every man that begins to want to learn about other men's lives in minute detail when they reach their early thirties? George's was an interesting one.

  • Ddoyle90
    2019-04-15 09:23

    Very very detailed. More info than I needed or wanted.

  • Douglas
    2019-04-03 07:04

    A tremendous book giving a detailed analysis of Orwell's life and thinking.

  • Chris
    2019-03-30 02:20

    Brilliant, even as a model for how to make biography interesting: following different angles rather than only one. Highly recommneded, myself an old Orwell fan of some 45 years.

  • Edward Irons
    2019-03-30 04:08

    Don't miss this if you care about how the voice of totalitarianism's greatest critic was born.