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Why Orwell Matters

(Why X Matters Series)

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  3,051 ratings  ·  199 reviews
In this widely acclaimed biographical essay, Christopher Hitchens assesses the life, the achievements, and the myth of the great political writer and participant George Orwell. In true emulative and 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 ...more
Paperback, 211 pages
Published September 11th 2003 by Basic Books (first published 2002)
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3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,051 ratings  ·  199 reviews

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Bill  Kerwin
Apr 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I’ve decided I was wrong about Christopher Hitchens. I used to think that he was at his best when he was attacking public figures he loathed both for their deeds and their hypocrisies (Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa being quintessential examples), but, after reading Why Orwell Matters (2002), I have decided that when he is defending a controversial figure he greatly admires he is even better. Not only can he still delight his readers with glorious invective (against the man’s critics. of course)
Description: In this widely acclaimed biographical essay, Christopher Hitchens assesses the life, the achievements, and the myth of the great political writer and participant George Orwell. In true emulative and 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 cri ...more
Stephanie Sun
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
"A phrase much used by Communist intellectuals of the period was 'the great Soviet experiment'. That latter word should have been enough in itself to put people on their guard. To turn a country into a laboratory is to give ample warning of inhumanity."

I feel like I have just taken an excellent graduate seminar on George Orwell, complete with the brilliant professor who likes himself just a little too much, one who can't stop himself from saying things like:
"Now as it happens, I know for certai
Why Orwell Matters is a misleading title for this book, which does not really set out to develop the argument it implies: Orwell's importance being already quite well established. What Hitchens actually aims to do here is to extricate Orwell from the clutches of both the political right and left, and defend the man and his legacy against his accusers and detractors.

Hitchens, who has read everything that Orwell wrote, and for whose life Orwell's has been something of a template (though this is cl
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I love George Orwell, but I haven’t read 1984 and Animal Farm since I was 17—the summer before college—and I haven’t read the rest of his fiction at all. But I love the nonfiction. I taught “Shooting and Elephant” and “Politics and the English Language” to countless freshman and not only memorized important passages, but stored away their main ideas, about anti-colonialism and about deliberate obfuscation, among those very most important ideas to me. I recently read Down and Out in Paris and Lon ...more
Whenever I come back to one of Hitchens' books, I feel like I'm breathing the most exquisite mountain air in terms of literature. This man can be accused of many things, but not of poor writing or style. This study, which I've wanted to read for a long time, makes no exception. Every serious fan of Hitchens knows that one of his heroes is George Orwell. You can tell this not just because he wrote an entire book on him, but because he manages to insert him into every other work of his, and uses O ...more
Peycho Kanev
Mar 31, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great writer examines the life and works of a great wordsmith. Hitchens's knowledge of the life and books of Orwell is profaund and as he tells his story he does not hesitate to criticize the great writer, essayist and journalist. Extremely important book.
Mikey B.
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Even though I like both Hitchens and Orwell I couldn't get into this at all. It seemed written for the academic-philosopher type. A lot of name-dropping of what other people said or thought of Orwell. A lot of meandering. Not much said on Orwell's thoughts, personality, and life.

One chapter is titled "Orwell and the Feminists: Difficulties with Girls". Girls! Come on Christopher - get in the 20th century (this was written in 2002).

Maybe if you read a lot on Orwell this could appeal to you - may
Aug 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone with a brain
I couldn't help but be struck by the unspoken parallels between the Orwell described by Hitchens, and Hitchens himself. (Trotskyites who fell out with their fellow communists, etc.) The similarity between Orwell's treatment by the fellow traveling pro-USSR 'useful idiots' of the so-called intellectual left during his lifetime and beyond, and Hitchens' own battles with people like Noam Chomsky is remarkable, making me wonder if he is consciously modeling himself after Orwell, at least intellectua ...more
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
The late Christopher Hitchens made a career of bashing things and people the bien pensant hold dear, from Mother Theresa to religion to opposition to the Iraq War. There were three historical figures, however, who commanded his respect: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and George Orwell, and Hitchens wrote a short book-length biographical essay on each. According to Hitchens, Orwell matters because he made decency a virtue. The ideological battles of the 1930s-1940s in which Orwell participated (s ...more
May 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Anna by: interview
“ 'Objectivity' though in practice is unattainable as infinity is useful in the same way, at least as a fixed point theoretical reference. A knowledge of one's own subjectivity is necessary in order even to contemplate the 'objective'; ... The disputes and debates and combats in which George Orwell took part are receding into history, but the manner in which he conducted himself as a writer and participant has a reasonable chance of remaining as a historical example of its own. ...
Orwell's 'view
Oct 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature
This is a worthwhile study of Orwell that perhaps places too much credence in the ideological battles between totalitarianism, communism, and the right. On the plus side, it makes me want to read more of Orwell, which is perhaps the best result to be gained from reading Hitchens. One interesting point he makes is that Orwell, though not a great writer, is attractive to readers because of his unflinching honesty irrespective of the intellectual cross-currents that are swirling around him.
Hitchens is such a better writer when he's investigating personalities than trying to take on generalities. His takedowns of Kissinger and Mother Teresa were wonderful, and when he's examining Orwell, he shies away from hagiography, and points out that Orwell, while a great writer and a great man, is not the secular saint he's so often painted as. A humane and broad-ranging analysis of a fascinating figure, warts and all.
Scott Rhee
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Whenever I read anything by the late Christopher Hitchens, I feel like Wayne and Garth in an SNL “Wayne’s World” skit, prostrate before one of their rock gods, wailing, “I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

Hitchens is like a literary rock god to me. Erudite, witty as hell, and mind-blowing in his intellectual capacity, Hitchens won me over years ago after I read his atheist manifesto, “God is Not Great”. I have relished everything I have ever read by him since, although I have not come close to rea
Mary Ronan Drew
Jun 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I’ve been reading my way through the collected works of Orwell, in 20 volumes, edited by Peter Davison. I’m doing this because I think George Orwell matters very much indeed. And so I was pleased to see that another writer I admire very much, Christopher Hitchens, was chosen to write this short book to explain why people like me are sufficiently fascinated to read some 12,000 pages of his work.

Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly has to say about the book:

Far from being an ordinary biography, this sma
Billie Pritchett
The title of Christopher Hitchens' Why Orwell Matters is misleading because the book never provides a clear answer on why he does. Hitchens instead spends the book juxtaposing Orwell vis-a-vis his critics--"Orwell and the Left," "Orwell and the Right," "Orwell and America," and so on. But each of the essays that make up the chapters in the book only serve to defend Orwell against his critics and never give a substantive answer to why Orwell matters.

I think Orwell does matter a great deal. Here a
Patrick McCoy
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
I must admit I feel ambivalent about Christopher Hitchens. But I think we can both agree on the importance and impressive body of work written by George Orwell. Why Orwell Matters is not a conventional biography, although it does contain biographical elements. Hitchens has a particular ax to grind and does it in a convincing manner, he sought to rescue Orwell from those who want to deify him or who want to crucify him. This is a slim volume that is just over 200 pages, but dense with ideas and i ...more
Eric K.
Sep 26, 2007 rated it it was ok
Hitchens at his worst. It combines a smarmy pseudo-intellectualism in which Hitch throws out a lot of names to distract from his lack of original insight, rebuttals of figures unknown and irrelevant outside an incestuous circle of Orwell-followers, and a general failure to advance his thesis "Why Orwell Matters." Really Hitch is at his best deriding something, rather than praising it.

If you want Orwell, then read Orwell. Not Hitchens.
Farah Al-Shuhail
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
An analysis of Orwell's politics and a close examination of his work of fiction.

What sets Orwell apart from other writers from the early 20th century is that everybody thinks he's on their side, he's the single most complicated character and when it came to politics everyone claimed him as an ally or simply wished him dead. Hitchens closely thought arguments made me somewhat certain that Orwell stood on the left - politically, and on the right - socially. He opposed fascism, totalitarianism and
Daniel Gonçalves
Mar 26, 2015 rated it liked it
Existe uma máxima que diz mais ou menos isto: “nunca conheças os teus heróis.” Quando surge a oportunidade, raramente a seguimos. Talvez seja a vontade de saber mais, talvez seja a inconformidade com o superficial. O que Cristopher Hitchens faz é exatamente isto. Conhece o legado do seu herói.

Em “Why Orwell Matters” Hitchens efetua um notável trabalho jornalístico. Para tal, reúne, analisa e desconstrói vários os escritos de Orwell de modo a reconstruir todos os aspetos da sua vida política, so
Charlie George
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, british
I have read and enjoyed a lot of Hitchens' short columns in the pages of Free Inquiry, and picked this up because I'm at least as interested in learning about and hearing more from him, as I am in Orwell.

Hitchens is a generally leftist, atheist intellectual who revels in sending up other intellectuals and public figures (especially other leftists). He also has a few conservative causes (e.g. supporting the Gulf War) and is perhaps best known for his strident criticism of Mother Teresa.

This book
George Siehl
Hitchens, the late, liberal journalist provides an engaging biography of George Orwell the leftist British journalist who authored both "Animal Farm" and "1984." The biography includes coverage of Orwell's joining Marxist forces in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's, bringing himself into conflict with the Stalinist communists who were his supposed allies, and schism which could have cost Orwell his life to Soviet NKVD agents. Orwell's near poverty at times in his life was, in part, an effort t ...more
Nov 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love Christopher Hitchens for his acerbic wit, fiercely independent thinking. There are times in this book, and others of his, that he goes on obscure literary or philosophical tangents that I can't follow and yet he always comes back to his argument with precision and clarity.
In his spirited defense of George Orwell from his modern day critics, Hitchens does much of the same. Critics have accused Orwell of being A virulently anti-communist informer, anti-homosexual, and a misogynist, among
Mack Hayden
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, politics
Been meaning to get around to this one for a while. Hitchens and Orwell are two of my favorite people to come out of the 20th century so hearing the former’s insight into the latter sounded like a great time. Ultimately, I was a little underwhelmed. Much of the book is spent hashing out controversies between Hitchens and other intellectuals that seemed largely unimportant in making a case for why Orwell matters. But I appreciated Hitchens’ appraisals of Orwell as they really helped clarify why I ...more
Wing Chan
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Although Hitch himself did not clearly nor explicitly state the matter of the title of the book, I ought to admit that we (well, me) had far less understanding on Orwell aside of "1984" and "Animal Farm". A study in Orwell is not merely a deeper dive into Hitchen's politics and convictions, but also of history, justice, and Orwell's tenacity on writing as a career, and the provocation of how one should think, rather than what one should think.

"Why Orwell Matters" encapsulates Hitch's extraordina
Horia Bura
Nov 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very good and insightful essay into the life and work of G.O. The analysis is at the highest level, the references alike, these being well known trademarks of Hitchens's style.
Michael Arnold
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Hitchens argues very effectively about Orwell, and that might be both a good and bad thing. This is perfectly 'Orwellian' a concept however, which I suppose is in keeping with the subject matter, because as it is often repeated: 'Doublethink' is the ability to accept two contradictory positions at the same time. However, it might become hard for a reader to separate the actual Orwell from Hitchens' Orwell.

While reading this book I went back and listened to some of Hitchens' talks and Orwell-rela
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
At turns insightful and dreadfully dull. Hitchens certainly expects a lot of his audience, which is gratifying when a subtle allusion is recognised, but if you're not familiar, then you are left cold.

I'm glad I came to this after having read most of the books discussed. And it may be time for a reread of 1984.

There were at least two chapters that were a plodding quagmire.

I had hoped for more of you know, why Orwell matters..?
Feb 25, 2017 rated it did not like it
Skip it. Why was this book "widely acclaimed?" It lacks a thesis, it's hack scholarship, and it's unnecessarily pusillanimous. Orwell matters, Hitchens' opinion of why he matters does not.
Dec 05, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I prefer the title of the English edition of this book: Orwell's Victory. That title more accurately covers Christopher Hitchens' purpose. The book consists of a series of rebuttals to Orwell's critics and their respective 'camps:' the Left, the Right, Feminists, Colonial apologists, Americans, literary critics, and others. Each one of these respective schools are targeted by Hitchens, and their arguments against Orwell the writer and the man are addressed.
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Christopher Eric Hitchens was an English-born American author, journalist, and literary critic. He was a contributor to Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, World Affairs, The Nation, Slate, Free Inquiry and a variety of other media outlets. Hitchens was also a political observer, whose best-selling books — the most famous being God Is Not Great — made him a staple of talk shows and lecture circuits. He was ...more

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“But what [Orwell] illustrates, by his commitment to language as the partner of truth, is that 'views' do not really count; that it matters not what you think, but how you think; and that politics are relatively unimportant, while principles have a way of enduring, as do the few irreducible individuals who maintain allegiance to them.” 8 likes
“Very often, people embarking on such guesswork make the vulgar assumption that the lower the motives, the more likely they are to be authentic.” 4 likes
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