Category: non-fiction

Orwell’s Review of ‘Mein Kampf’

In March 1940, George Orwell published a review of a translation of Adolf Hitler’s manifesto Mein Kampf. The whole review is of at least historical interest, including the note that, since the edition had been published a year earlier, was edited from a pro-Hitler angle.

Of more lasting value, though, is Orwell’s reflection on why Hitler seemed so appealing to so many, even outside Germany. The first is familiar to many already: charisma. Hitler was not attractive, his writing clumsy, but his appearance and personality make him look like a “martyr,” in Orwell’s words, “One feels, as with Napoleon, that he is fighting against destiny, that he can’t win, and yet that he somehow deserves to.” This seems incredible today, when reductio ad hitlerum is often taken as a valid argument, but of course that view comes with the benefit of hindsight and the effect of the public schools emphasizing the Holocaust. Some of our own modern messiahs may also age poorly, though it’s too soon to tell for certain.

Orwell finds a second point of appeal to Nazism: “Hitler has said to them [Germany] ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death.'” Sounds great, right? Sign me up!

Seriously, though, I can see the appeal. Hedonism, the mere seeking of pleasure, seems attractive for a while, but many people prefer a sense of adventure. Something glorious, historic, like what they read in history and fables; that sense of belonging to a movement greater than oneself.…

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George Orwell: Essays

This is the first of a series of posts on George Orwell. I recently bought a giant (1,300+ pages!) collection of his essays and journalism, published by Everyman’s Press. The volume itself is pretty nice, except for what appears to be fudge stains on the back. Thanks, Barnes & Noble.

Anyway, the highlights here are the essays themselves. One would expect in a volume this large that much of the content would essentially be filler. So far, though, that does not seem to be the case at all. The more famous essays I’ve encountered so far – “Politics and the English Language,” “Rudyard Kipling,” “My Country Right or Left” – have all been engaging. Surprisingly, though, even short articles and book reviews often contain still-relevant insights into the subject matter, and even reveal something of the author’s personality.

I’ll delve into all this more over the next few weeks, when I examine individual essays more closely. For now, though, I highly recommend looking into these essays yourself. Orwell is best known for Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, but his shorter work is almost as valuable as those novels, and probably more so for those looking to understand Orwell’s own politics.…

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The Same Man – A Brief Review

Sometimes one encounters a book whose subject matter gives the author no excuse for boring his audience. David Lebedoff has had the fortune of finding just such a topic for The Same Man, which was released earlier this year (er, last year). Most of the work is a short biography of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. Now, these two at first glance may seem like an odd pair to write about in the same volume, since their personal lives and political and religious views so widely differed, and they only met each other once.

However, this is not just some random pairing, but rather a great insight on Lebedoff’s part, because the theme of the book is just how similar the two men were in their views of modernity. For all their differences, both valued the concept of objective reality while rejecting moral relativism, which have become major underlying problems of the modern world. When discussing my religion with others, I often hear the phrase “All that really matters is what you believe.” Impressing upon those people that there can only be one truth has proven surprisingly difficult, and that attitude seems to have been one that both Orwell and Waugh disapproved of.

One of the most startling parts of the book is Lebedoff’s discussion of Orwell’s statement that “One must choose between this life and the next.” Both men agreed with that, but Orwell, an atheist, chose to focus on this life and improve it. Waugh, a Catholic, felt that this world could not really be improved and thus chose to focus on the next.

Though Lebedoff’s biography and analysis of the two men’s ideas is one of the most enlightening works I’ve read lately, it does have a few minor problems. First, he too often uses the phrase “must have,” which should never appear in a work of history or biography. There are times when a biographer can only speculate about the details of an event, and sometimes he can offer a guess that seems almost certain to be accurate. It’s still a guess, though, and should be presented as such – “probably” or some other such term would be more accurate. Also, so much of the book is straight biography that there is less room for real analysis than I would like. The biography is, of course, necessary to understand the thesis behind the work, and Lebedoff is convincing in his analysis, but at 218 pages most readers could probably stand the addition of some more space to for the author to expand on his central idea.…

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