A lively, engaging, concise biography of a novel.

The life and times of a “glittering futurist extravaganza.”

Biographer and novelist Taylor (Rock and Roll Is Life, 2018, etc.) describes George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four as “an exposé of the totalitarian mind,” perhaps the “first Cold War novel,” and “one of the key texts necessary for an understanding of the twenty-first century.” High praise for a book Orwell (1903-1950) laconically described to his publisher in 1947 as a “fantasy, but in the form of a naturalistic novel.” Taylor’s 2003 biography of Orwell won the Whitbread Book Award for Biography. Here, he zeroes in on Orwell’s final book. He delves deeply and brightly into the making of the novel, its inspiration, how Orwell wrote it, and how it was received critically, socially, and politically then and afterward. It took Orwell five years to write. He was quite ill and in hibernation on the rugged Isle of Jura, off Scotland’s coast, and died less than a year after it was published in 1949. “By writing about the terrors that obsessed him,” writes Taylor, “he had got them out of his system.” The novel is a “devastating analysis of the corruption of language,” a “dystopian horror world…and more.” Taylor also deftly shows how “many of its incidental fragments turn out to have been robbed wholesale from the life that ran along beside it.” He demonstrates how Orwell generated the narrative while also continuing to contribute to magazines, exploring the political and social landscape. The 1943 Allied leaders’ Tehran Conference gave “his consciousness a decisive kick, and he was able to clarify his vision for Nineteen Eighty-Four after he read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Before Orwell died, he believed “something resembling [the fascist society depicted in Nineteen Eighty-Four] could arrive.” Taylor provides a good introduction to the work, but for more detail on the novel’s impact on popular culture, look to Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth.

A lively, engaging, concise biography of a novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3800-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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