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George Orwell: The Authorised Biography

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  249 ratings  ·  27 reviews
This biography of George Orwell draws on a range of sources including letters concerning his romantic attachments to other boys at Eton, records which alter the conventional view of his military service, a detailed set of medical records and 200 letters and scripts discovered in 1984. Also included are sections from a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London with handwritt ...more
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 2nd 1997 by MINERVA (first published January 1st 1991)
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Megan Kennedy
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is a credit to this biography that I almost started crying on the bus when he died. While Shelden occasionally fawns over his subject, the book is full to bursting with anecdotes and quotations from Orwell and those who knew him. Highly recommended for casual fans of Orwell -- you might, like me, become devoted.
Daniel Smith
Jan 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: autobiographies
George Orwell (Eric Blair) was an amazing writer and reading about his personal life was incredibly inspiring. I thoroughly enjoy reading autobiographies about people like George Orwell because they remind me how productive a person can be if they discover their true passion in life and go after it. While some of his early works were less successful, all of Orwell's have given me great pleasure over the years. This autobiography was the perfect ending to reading his collection. Sheldon paints su ...more
Hans P.
Dec 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the best literary biographies I've ever had the pleasure to consume. ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it liked it
This comes across as a fair and balanced view of the life of George Orwell (though the writer does struggle to hide his dislike of Sonia, Orwell's second wife).
I suppose the trouble any Orwell biographer faces is that Orwell put so much of himself into both his fiction and non-fiction works that a separate account of his life is almost superfluous.
Aug 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a slow start for me and about 1/3 the way through the book I didn't think I'd rate it so highly. While some of the details on Orwell's life feel overdone, they culminate to show the development of Orwell's character. From his beginnings as a fairly uninteresting writer he becomes someone rich in life experience to the point where his thoughts and opinions are still pertinent 70 years after his death. I especially liked how Shelden weaves Orwell's personal life in with his books and offe ...more
Aaron Boyd
Feb 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Great book. I had no idea about Eric Blair life before Animal Farm. good to read if you are interested in Great Brittan between WW1 and WW2. and all of the interesting social reform Eric wanted to happen using the Pen name, George Orwell. I love the parts about Tramping (living off the street) and all of the articles and reviews Eric Blair wrote from the mid-'30s until the end of his life in 1950. ...more
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thorough and quite readable literary biography for non-academic readers, but including just enough academic apparatus to verify the content and to lead ambitious readers more deeply into the subject, which is fascinating.

This particular biography came at just the right time to include many interviews with people who had known Orwell in life. Those first-person experiences now are generally no longer available, so kudos to Michael Sheldon for getting them on paper before they were lost.
Stuart Ridgway
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Such a thorough and, mostly, dispassionate view of an amazing life. It really gave the reader a dense amount of fact from varied sources and presented it in a very clear and engaging way. I, like another reviewer, was moved at his death and the loss to the literary world.
Oct 12, 2019 added it
Bit of a creeper.

But also rethinking 1984 as a novel written by someone dying and in pain makes a lot of sense. I also would love to read an account of his "death dreams" he'd been having for the last two years of his life. Where are these?
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Was excited to learn more about the author's life, especiallyy his tramping days. Didn't learn as much as I had hoped. Perhaps there wasn't that much to learn. ...more
Mary Tea
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love the writing and background Michael provides about Eric Blair/George Orwell. This book has inspired me to read his lesser known works.
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Fabulous biography of Orwell! I need to reread 1984
Nicholas Russon
Mar 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biography of E.A. Blair that fills in several issues that were not fully dealt with in the Bernard Crick biography.
Apr 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I already loved Orwell as a writer, now I love him as a man.
David James
Sep 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Shelden, Michael. Orwell.

Subtitled ‘The Authorised Biography’ this very thick and comprehensive study is an essential tool for anyone studying the life, times and obsessions of one of Britain’s finest novelists. After reading Homage to Catalonia I knew I needed to find out more about this man who fought for the Republican cause in Spain and who then fought in words against Communism and its final solution, which involved bowing down to authority even at the cost of surrendering one’s right to di
Jul 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a very entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking biography of the writer who contributed two of the most important books to the world's literary canon - "Animal Farm" and "1984".

Not only does it weave in very intimate details of Eric Blair/George Orwell's life, it also examines how his experiences with the institutions he belonged to (e.g. student at private academies, policeman in colonial Burma, volunteer Leftist soldier fighting against Franco during the Spanish Civil War, jour
Feb 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nearly 30 years ago I read many of Orwell's essays and Animal Farm. They are some of my favorite writings. I had never read much about Eric Blair's life. Shelden does a masterful job of weaving Orwell's writings (books, essays, and letters) with letters and interviews of people who knew him. Blair/Orwell comes to life such that I dreaded the completion of 1984 and his death that quickly followed. This is an excellent biography of an insightful man. I highly recommend this book. ...more
Leah Wescott
Jun 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, writing
What?!?! He dies at the end???

I enjoyed meeting Mr. Orwell so much I'll give author Michael Shelden a qualified five stars. I almost quit before it began when the introduction referenced details I didn't understand (because I hadn't read the book yet, Mr. Shelden) but the chronicles of Orwell née Blair were such a beautiful blend of chronology, personal reflections from letters, journals and interviews, and the informed, subjective interpretations by the author that I went back and re-read the i
Sep 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
This biography does a fantastic job articulating Orwell's life, love and work. The great part about Shelden's analysis of Orwell's work is that he praises what Orwell does right, but doesn't let Orwell get away with anything. Some biographies are books that gush over their subject; books that don't have anything negative to say at all. Shelden isn't negative, but he recognizes that Orwell's earlier works aren't his best, and that his writing was a work in progress. The biography does a beautiful ...more
Debra Daniels-Zeller
Dec 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
I savored this book, reading a little at a time. The style is a bit dry, but Orwell's early life and the things that influenced him made this an interesting read. Thick and comprehensive, some the facts felt like facts-- dry and a bit slow reading,but the number of things Orwell did in the the short time he was alive is inspiring. 1984 remains one of my favorite novels, and having read it again recently I was intrigued by the similarity of the world we live in today with our own computers spying ...more
Mark Jones
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A well researched and engaging biography. My knowledge of Orwell going in was much thinner than I had anticipated; for example, I had no idea he had spent five years in Burma and had written about it.
What the author did particularly well is link Blair's life experiences and acquaintances to scenes and characters in his books. What I might have liked a bit more of was the development of Orwell's voice and style. He spends a fair amount of of time asserting how distinctive they are but does littl
Steve Mayer
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Orwell was a fascinating figure and this biography does him justice. He was anything but a doctrinaire anti-Communist as one might suppose from Animal Farm and 1984. To the contrary, he was a committed democratic socialist, who was probably happiest puncturing the pretensions of his political compatriots. He was also a true English patriot, who saw happiness and freedom in small things, rather than large ideas.
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Some biographers get too involved with the work of their subjects and not enough with the person themselves. This is not the case with this book. Shelden gives a full picture of the man that created Animal Farm and 1984, without getting shackled to those two books (the first isn’t mentioned until around page 360). Shelden’s has an easily read writing style, and doesn’t assume that the reader is familiar with the subject matter already. All around a very good biography.
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
review to come
Aaron Lee
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very good thorough biography of George Orwell. Enjoyable to read, with many insightful observations of how his life was reflected in his writing of the day.
Sep 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Orwell is a compelling figure, as his ideas resonate today in so many ways. This is a serviceable biography.
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