Why I write

by George Orwell

Paper Book, 2005


Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell's timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today's era of spin.



Call number



New York : Penguin Books, 2005.

User reviews

LibraryThing member pgmcc
This short book contains four essays dealing with Orwell’s reasons for writing, his analysis of England in a time of war, a hanging and the ways people block out the horror of such an event, and the interrelationship between politics and the English language.

On the subject of his reasons for
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writing, Orwell provided four reasons why any writer might write, apart from the need to earn a crust. These four points were, sheer egoism, aesthetic enthusiasm, historical impulse and political purpose. The last point acted as a good primer for the subjects of the other three essays.

His analysis of England, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, attempted to define the essence of the English. This work was written after the British retreat from Dunkirk and before the D-Day landings. Orwell’s essay describes people’s expectation that there would be at least another three years of war, and he is very supportive of patriotism to England while at the same time promoting the improvement of the position of the common man.

“A Hanging” is a brief account of a hanging in India and it leaves little to the imagination.

“Politics and the English Language” deals with the way politicians, businesses and newspapers use the English language to say a lot while stating absolutely nothing. He proscribes six rules for the writing of plain English with the objective of actually communicating a message to the biggest number of people. These are:

i. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
ii. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
iii. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
iv. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
v. Never use a foreign phrase, as scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
vi. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

I found this little book to be full of fascinating ideas and socio-political concepts, not to mention great expressions. My copy is full of under linings, margin notes and references scribbled on the inside back cover. Much of the content is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s. We have different pressures today but they are presenting the same social problems that Orwell was discussing in these essays.

I was reading two other books around the same time I was reading this book and there was considerable overlap in relation to the language of politicians and people’s tendency to ignore difficult issues that are staring them in the face. The other two books were [Wilful Blindness] by Margaret Heffernan and [Spy the Lie] by Philip Houston.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing, and anyone who cares about social justice.
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LibraryThing member Prop2gether
Absolutely fabulous read, especially the Lions and Unicorns essay written as England was getting into war. The book is subtitled "Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Take that, combine it with Orwell's
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six rules for writers and you have a masterpiece!
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LibraryThing member Fledgist
Orwell on politics, language, colonialism, and Britain between the wars. This is a succinct introduction both to his thought and to a social-democratic approach to politics in tough times. Worth reading to see what a tough mind can do with good ideas.
LibraryThing member jjarichardson
The works contained remain timelessly and strikingly relevant, compelling and lucid, in Orwell's own unmistakably direct yet radical style, often amusing and eminent in his stand to "face" in unshaking political principle. For study on propaganda, the movements of the past century, British society,
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socialism and standard of journalism, this is foundational.
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LibraryThing member HistReader
It is interesting that I would read this book the day after reading Thomas Paine's Common Sense; nearly two-hundred-years separate both of these works, yet they both skewer the imperialistic island of England. Both encompass war - one brewing, the other under way. Each man drafts an outline of how
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best to change their circumstance: centuries ago, Mr. Paine provides a rough sketch of an American republic; just over half-century ago, Mr. Orwell attempts to solidify British socialism.

So many of Mr. Orwell's observations regarding the liberal of yesteryear aptly epitomize today's Leftist - in my estimation. George Orwell appears to be the hub of a wagon wheel of political philosophies he detests: the pseudo-capitalism of Great Britain; European watered down socialism; burgeoning national socialism (a.k.a. the Nazi Party); Italian Fascism; American influenced republican democracy; and imperial Britain. He can not be considered a moderate, exactly because he is clear and adamant about his desire - his ideal political situation is no hybrid of many systems, it is purely democratic socialism.

While I tend to subscribe to a completely opposite political philosophy, I still enjoy his writing. I find it informative and entertaining. Current history, at the time of his writing, is always instrumental in understanding his environment and how he arrives at his conclusions.
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LibraryThing member stillatim
I feel bad giving this three stars, since three of these essays are fabulous. Unfortunately, 84 pages of this short book are taken up with 'The Lion and the Unicorn,' which is borderline interesting for about 20 pages and wrong, poorly written, repetitive or dull for the rest of them.

Despite all
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that, it'd be a much better world if high school students were required to read these essays rather than a bad (atrocious, actually) novel about pigs, or 1984. Orwell is much, much better as an essayist and journalist than as a novelist. Just as importantly, if everyone read this instead of Animal Farm, we could avoid the impression that Orwell is a) a Cold Warrior writing in defense of democracy (that is, capitalism, as Orwell himself points out); b) a Cold Warrior writing against fascism. As 'Lion and Unicorn' makes quite clear, he's a socialist. As 'A Hanging' makes clear, he's a remarkable critic of inhumanity in general. And as the essays on writing suggest, he's very good at thinking about writing. That's what deserves celebration, not a half-baked pile of macaroni like Animal Farm.

He's not the greatest thinker in the world: on one page he'll point out the misuse of 'democracy' to mean capitalism; on the next page he'll act as if this has no impact on his own use of the term. But that's a small price to pay for the clarity of both his prose and his sentiment.
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LibraryThing member MathMaverick
This book contains four sections, three essays and one short story. The essays are:
1) Why I Write
2) The Lion and the Unicorn
3) Politics and the English Language

The short story is "A Hanging".

I thought that "Why I Write" was excellent. Orwell provides four reasons: (1) Ego; (2) Aesthetic
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Enthusiasm; (3) Historical Impulse; and (4) Political Purpose. He elaborates on these and interestingly comments "the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude". He also states what every word that he has written (since 1936) is against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. I find it intersting his comparison of a political system with a political/economic system.

The Lion and the Unicorn was the longest section of the book. It was motivated by Orwell's hatred of the priviledged class in England as well as the class system in general. I found this essay to be very tainted, drawing conclusion where none could be made and applying cause and effect were not necessarily true. Although the class system of England did unfairly promote the undeserved wealthy and stifle the poor, I believe it is the lack of class mobility that was the real problem. I found it interesting that the essay did not contain the words "opportunity" or "freedom" and the word "envy" was used only once. Envy is really the root of Orwell's beliefs but this is not stated. While reading this essay, it was difficult to believe that the creator of "Animal Farm" and "1984" could be such a proponent of a strong centralized state that controlled everything (production, wealth, jobs, etc). This seems to much like "big brother" for me. I did not like nor did I think this essay was very good.

Hanging is a short story set in a Burma prison. It was interesting and illustrates Orwell's experience.

Politics and the English Language was very interesting. It showed Orwell's command of the English language and his distaste for "modern" usage (of which I am sure I am guilty). I would like to contrast this with EB White's "The Elements of Style". In the essay Orwell provides four questions to ask when writing and five guiding rules. These alone make the essay worth reading.

Overall, when I purchased the book, I was very excited to read it. After the read, I was disappointed. The second essay was dismal and very disappointing. I rate the book very low, however that does not mean it should not be read. It is worth the effort and you will take away something (although possibly not what was intended).
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LibraryThing member idiotgirl
Good essay on the connections between aesthetics and politics. A good meditation for life in an overwrought world.
LibraryThing member Bagpuss
George Orwell is one of my favourite authors, but I hadn't read any of his essays before (although I have got Decline of the English Murder and Inside the Whale and Other Essays on my 'to read' pile) so I'd nothing to compare it with really. Although I enjoyed it I did find the second (and longest)
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essay 'The Lion and the Unicorn' a bit dry... but then I'm not a political person (although I must stress that I do always use my vote seeing as women died so I could do that) so I think that's probably why. I'm very much looking forward to reading more of his essays though.
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LibraryThing member reganrule
If you've only read Orwell's fiction, you are doing yourself a disservice. Homage to Catalonia and this slim collection of essays, Why I Write, offer--to use the circumlocutious writing Orwell finds most deplorable--pellucid accounts from the trenches of the Spanish Civil War and from the bombing
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of London respectively. It is though the "ruin of all space, shattering glass and toppling masonry" only serves to sharpen Orwell's political and cultural acuity. His full-throated support of democratic Socialism in the face of burgeoning Fascism is as inspiring today as it is relevant.
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LibraryThing member JBarringer
I already had some idea from his other books as to how pretentious Orwell was, but if I was at all in doubt, this book displays Orwell's personality at its most elitist, arrogant and annoying. Here is a man who 'knows' how Great Britain should be responding to the events of WWII, and whose solution
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to everything is socialism, the sort that interestingly enough is fully realized in the current society of North Korea. With such an example as that for what Orwell's cherished system could look like in its full glory, I am glad he was not taken more seriously. His last essay in this book, from which the book gets its title, is possibly the worst writing advice I have read in a very long time. As an amusing look at a perspective that helped shape literature and society, this is an interesting book, but it is not one of Orwell's better books.
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LibraryThing member jerame2999
A political deep dive during WW2 by a great writer. I read it as an aspiring writer and the tip I got was. Don’t hide a bad idea with pretty words.

Fun and at least 3 times laugh out loud funny. This is a book I will probably go back to at some point to redirect my mind.
LibraryThing member et.carole
Everyone knows "Politics and the English Language" is good. Orwell's plan for a Socialist England is thorough, and more a snapshot than a map at this point. People will think this is a close parallel to the current situation but what he has written is so specific that to apply it to the current
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situation disrespects him. What he thought of the English national character is also clear, and useful and honest. In all his writing he sounds tired with everyone else which at least seems honest. "A Hanging" was lovely and terrifying but didn't fit at all with the rest of it.
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Original publication date



0143036351 / 9780143036357
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