George Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair (1903-1950). He died aged just 46, after writing landmark books of both fiction and nonfiction. Our interview about George Orwell is with his biographer, DJ Taylor, author of Orwell: The Life. The interview is a great way to learn about both George Orwell’s life and his books, so if you’re at all interested in Orwell, please take the time to read it. Below, we’ve also listed Orwell’s books in the order they were written, with comments from experts about why they picked them as important and illuminating in their area of study. We’ve also included an excellent Penguin collection of his essays.
Books by George Orwell
“The fascination of Down and Out in Paris and London is that it’s his first book. In it, you can see Orwell stumbling, moving towards the kind of writer he wants to be, choosing the sort of subject matter he thinks will be appropriate. He spent time in Paris, working humbly in hotels and restaurants as what the French called a plongeur, someone who basically does the washing up. Then, he came back to England and went on what he called his ‘tramping adventures,’ masquerading as a down and out.” Read more...
D J Taylor, Biographer
“For fiction about Burma, I suppose you should start with the classic of all time, which has to be Orwell’s Burmese Days. The story is about John Flory, a timber merchant in Burma, who’s a bit disillusioned and nothing much is happening to him. Everything is based around the English Club, with all the tiny things that put you wrong, and it’s such a mean, bitchy little place. It’s terribly snooty, and they don’t want Flory’s Indian friend Dr Veeraswami to become a member. It’s just wonderful: funny, ironic, a horribly sad portrait of colonial life.” Read more...
The best books on Describing Burma
Sue Arnold, Journalist
“The great fascination to me of A Clergyman’s Daughter is that although it’s published in the UK in 1935, it is essentially the same plot of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which doesn’t appear until fourteen years later. It’s about somebody who is spied upon, and eavesdropped upon, and oppressed by vast exterior forces they can do nothing about. It makes an attempt at rebellion and then has to compromise.” Read more...
D J Taylor, Biographer
“It fits absolutely wonderfully in the trajectory of that route to Nineteen Eighty-Four. It’s about a frustrated poet and embittered bookseller’s assistant called Gordon Comstock who works in a bookshop in Hampstead in North London, is completely disillusioned with the world, and rails against what he calls as the ‘money God’. He’s an anti-capitalist without really understanding how political systems work. The novel was written in the 1930s before Orwell had actually nailed his colors to the political mast.” Read more...
D J Taylor, Biographer
“The Road to Wigan Pier is a very transitional book. It shows all the attention to detail and the thought of street-level reportage that distinguishes Down and Out in Paris and London, but it’s moving forward to a political position—the political position—that will underlie what Orwell starts writing in the 1940s, for which we now celebrate him.” Read more...
D J Taylor, Biographer
“The reason why I am so fond of Homage to Catalonia…is that in it you can see a man of the Left learning to make the distinction that breaks down the Left with a big L into lots of little lefts. He comes to understand what Soviet power actually is, and that it is qualitatively different to the other sorts of Spanish left, or to European left-wing intellectuals or Labour in England. The difference is not just a matter of being on a different point of the spectrum. It is to do with the immediate violence of Soviet means which were visible to Orwell at that time and place…He describes what is happening in Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War in such a way that we are able to see why he’s so upset about Soviet power.” Read more...
Timothy Snyder, Historian
“This book was published in June 1939, just before the start of the war. It’s all about the war looming over Britain and its effect on the people. It tells the story of a 45-year-old man called George Bowling. It’s a midlife crisis story…he decides to go back to his home town, Lower Binfield, as he has all these nostalgic memories of Edwardian Britain there, of meadows and fishing and beautiful girls who fancied him and good friends and all the things he feels are missing from his drudgery of a life. So he goes back and of course he finds the same thing he has found in London. Things are different and people have changed. He blames capitalism and progress. His nostalgia is destroyed…It’s all about the loss of that idyllic Britain, and loss of that perfect imagined England.” Read more...
The best books on Myths of War
“Animal Farm sticks in everybody’s mind. ‘All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others’. Again, this is something read twice. I read it for the first time when I was 14 or 15 and it was a funny story about badly behaved animals, but then I read it again at college and someone pointed out to me that this was sharp social satire. I thought it was an animal story, a kids’ book, but when I took another look at it I realised what he was getting at. The Soviet leadership was pretty well represented there.” Read more...
The Best Political Satire Books
P. J. O’Rourke, Political Commentator
“This is the ultimate dystopia written by someone who wasn’t just one of the greatest of all journalists, but one of the most prescient…Orwell is of perennial fascination to me because…he straddles the world of investigative journalism and fiction. He also deliberately chose to experience different levels of society, which I believe is essential for a novelist interested in the truth about the way we live now. He wrote this book in 1948, when he was dying of tuberculosis, in a great burst of passionate determination, because he could see long before other people where totalitarianism and communism were heading. Animal Farm had told it as a kind of dark fairy-tale, but this was the culmination. The intellectual dishonesty of the Left, which refused to see how evil Stalin was, is despicable, and Orwell was brave enough to stand up to his friends as well as his enemies. Orwell saw the death of the dream at first-hand in Spain. He was in contact with a lot of communists, and fought on their sides against Fascism but, as Stalin’s Russia gained power, he could see this dream of equality that so many idealistic and young people have shared leaves a nightmare, just like Fascism. Anything other than democracy and truth leaves the jackboot stamping eternally into the human face, as Winston realises. His hero Winston is named, of course, after Winston Churchill” Read more...
Amanda Craig, Journalist
“In these essays, his essential message is that clear writing is a product of clear thinking, and, conversely, often muddled writing is a consequence of muddled thinking, so it’s a great plea for clarity of thought allied to clarity of expression. He writes about the decline of the English murder, watching a hanging out in Burma and, in my favourite, which is called ‘Politics and the English Language’, quite a short four- or five-thousand-word essay he wrote in the mid-1940s, he deplores the slovenliness of quite a lot of political writing and journalism. He goes through some real examples. Over the years when any youngster has asked me about becoming a journalist, I say, ‘Read ‘Politics and the English Language’. If you absorb that and take the advice you are halfway there.’” Read more...
The best books on British Democracy
Peter Kellner, Journalist
Interviews where books by George Orwell were recommended
The best books on British Democracy, recommended by Peter Kellner
Political commentator and President of YouGov.com chooses older books from both sides of the Atlantic to show what really matters in politics.
The Best George Orwell Books, recommended by D J Taylor
Seventy years on from its initial publication, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is just as resonant in today’s era of misinformation and fake news as it was in the incipient Cold War era. D J Taylor, author of a prizewinning biography of Orwell, takes us through the extraordinary impact of the author’s fiction and reportage.
The best books on Dystopia and Utopia, recommended by Chan Koonchung
Warnings about the future of society contained in novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four may seem less important since the fall of the Soviet Union, but they are all too relevant to China today, argues the Chinese writer
The Best Political Satire Books, recommended by P. J. O’Rourke
Satire is humour used for a moral purpose, explains American political satirist P.J. O’Rourke—though it doesn’t have to be particularly funny and can be quite dark. Here, he chooses five classic works of political satire, books that lay bare the shortcomings of not only communism and fascism but also the two-party system and the quest for a perfect society where everyone is happy.
The best books on The US Intelligence Services, recommended by Tim Weiner
The job of the intelligence services is to understand others and help leaders act more wisely, says the author of a new history of the FBI. There’s a balance to be struck between liberty and security but when the CIA and FBI do not harmonise their intelligence missions, people die.
The best books on Torture, recommended by Juan Mendez
Can torture ever be justified? No, says the UN special rapporteur, who tells us how torturers try to excuse themselves and what remedies should be available to surviving victims
The best books on Global Security, recommended by Chris Abbott
Global security consultant says sending armed forces into another country based on purely moral, gut feelings of good and evil is a dangerous policy-making premise. He chooses books on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Al Qaeda
The best books on Human Imperfection, recommended by Henry Normal
Poet, writer and Bafta winning TV and film producer, Henry Normal, talks about his experiences bringing up his autistic son, the need for acceptance and why we should all embrace our human imperfections. Along the way he recommends five books that inspired him as a young man and continue to inspire him today.
Books that Changed the World, recommended by Amanda Craig
Jane Eyre, 1984 and Anne Frank’s diary all make it onto novelist Amanda Craig’s list. On Black Beauty‘s underrated importance: ‘People forget that William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade, also founded the RSPCA.’
The best books on Totalitarian Russia, recommended by Robert Service
Robert Service, Professor of Russian Studies at Oxford, when forced to choose between Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin, says Stalin was definitely the worst of the lot. He takes a look at the dynamics of totalitarian Russia, gleaning insights from Thucydides to Orwell.
The best books on Holding Power to Account, recommended by Heather Brooke
Heather Brooke’s investigative journalism was the catalyst for the MPs expenses scandal of 2009. With an eye to how power corrupts, from Orwell’s Animal Farm to an apartheid memoir, she looks at importance of sticking to one’s principles and the dangers that arise when we don’t
The best books on Myths of War, recommended by Thom and Beth Atkinson
Photographers Beth and Thom Atkinson, authors of the acclaimed photobook Missing Buildings, discuss five books that explore the mythology of war.
The best books on Dissent, recommended by Timothy Snyder
The history professor tells us what today’s dissidents can learn from the experience of Eastern Europe and explains how Václav Havel leaves a lasting legacy of how to challenge the over-mighty
The best books on The Leaderless Revolution, recommended by Carne Ross
Our political and economic systems are inadequate and failing. But what can we do? The author of a new book on the subject tells us what inspired his involvement in the Occupy movement and how a leaderless revolution could work
The best books on The History of the Present, recommended by Timothy Garton Ash
Historian and journalist Timothy Garton Ash describes the “mongrel genre” between reportage and scholarship and says using the historian’s tools to analyse the present is a vital undertaking
The best books on Essential Reading for Reporters, recommended by Guy Raz
NPR host and former foreign correspondent offers practical and anecdotal guidance on reporting the news. Says, “I don’t buy this idea that there was a golden age in journalism”
The best books on Describing Burma, recommended by Sue Arnold
The author and journalist talks about a Burma where women wear fresh flowers in their hair, where houses are populated by spirits, butterflies are as big as brooches and the regime throws political prisoners into camps
Down and Out in Paris and London
by George Orwell
Journey to the End of the Night
by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (translated by Ralph Manheim)
Overhead in a Balloon
by Mavis Gallant
The Belly of Paris
by Emile Zola (translated by Mark Kurlansky)
Dictionnaire Historique des Rues de Paris
by Jacques Hillairet
The best books on Paris, recommended by David Downie
The best books on Paris, recommended by David Downie
The city of romance and art is also, like most big cities, a place of grit and grime. The American writer and long-time Paris resident David Downie tells us where to look if we’re to understand the people and past of this most alluring city.
The best books on The Art of Living, recommended by Roman Krznaric
To learn how to live well we must look to the past, says social philosopher Roman Krznaric. He recommends five books, from Thoreau to Orwell, that inspire us to live more adventurously.
The best books on His Fast Food Philosophy, recommended by Henry Dimbleby
The co-founder of the Leon chain of healthy fast food restaurants describes his growth as a chef through books, from Orwell to Jacques Pépin