Covers of George Orwell's books on a black background with red eyes drawn on it.

Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

It’s no exaggeration to say that George Orwell is one of the most influential writers the UK has ever produced. His novels, including Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, continue to be relevant today, and his non-fiction writing on truth, politics and society remain as sharply observed as ever.

Born Eric Blair in 1903 in India, Orwell’s father served the British Empire. While Orwell’s first job was as a policeman in Burma, he is well-known for being anti-imperialist. By the time he dies in 1950, Orwell was a successful and respected novelist and journalist. If you don’t know where to start with his books, our handy reading guide will help.

Orwell on Truth (2017)

If you want a taster of Orwell’s sharpest writing on truth, both fiction and non-fiction, then this collection is perfect. 

Orwell on Truth is introduced by Alan Johnson, and includes extracts from The Lion and the Unicorn and Coming Up for Air, as well as from his letters, diary, criticism and essays.

Prescient and clear-eyed, this book will succinctly show you why Orwell’s writing is so admired. 

Burmese Days (1934)

Published in the US in 1934 and in the UK a year later, Burmese Days was Orwell’s first novel. 

It’s set in 1920s Burma, now Myanmar, where Orwell served as an imperial policeman, and follows John Flory, a disillusioned timber merchant. Life seems to be taking a turn for the better when Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives, but at the same time magistrate U Ko Phin is out to smear John’s best friend, Dr Veraswami. 

Animal Farm (1945)

There was a moment in 1944 when George Orwell almost lost the original manuscript for Animal Farm, meaning we could now be without one of the greatest allegorical novels ever written in English.

The completed manuscript for the book was at Orwell’s home in Kilburn when a V1 flying bomb destroyed the house.

Orwell’s adopted son Richard Blair told the Ham & High newspaper that the author “spent hours and hours rifling through (bomb site) rubbish)” and finally found the manuscript.

Animal Farm was written between 1943 and 1944, after Orwell’s experiences during the Spanish Civil War, and was a condemnation of Stalin’s rule.

In modern times, Animal Farm has remained popular for its insight into authoritarian control or governments that buy into their power too much. And its popularity has seen it published in a number of new editions, including this graphic novel, illustrated by Odyr.

Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)

Although Burmese Days was Orwell’s first novel, his first full length book was the memoir Down and Out in Paris and London. The book looks at poverty in the two cities of the title, and draws on Orwell’s observations of living among the poorest members of society. 

With compassion and sensitivity, Orwell shares memories of time spent working as a penniless dishwasher in Paris, pawning clothes to buy a day’s worth of bread and wine, and moving between London’s workhouse spikes in order to get some tea and sleep. 

Homage to Catalonia (1938)

Homage to Catalonia is another memoir by Orwell, this time focusing on his time fighting for the POUM militia of the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War.

While this is a first-hand record of Orwell’s time on the frontline, it’s also a tribute to those who died in the war and the ordinary people who fought for their lives and the ideas they believed in.

Orwell himself was badly wounded during the conflict, but this short work combines bleakness and comedy. 

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

Animal Farm is not the only Orwell novel to help shape modern times: Nineteen Eighty-Four, which presents a world in which the government is always monitoring its citizens, has regularly been found in the bestseller lists, thanks to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and the increasing erosion of privacy due to new technologies.

Nineteen Eighty-Four follows Winston Smith, who rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Inwardly, though, Smith is rebelling against the totalitarian world he lives in, which wants to control his thoughts and actions.

Orwell’s novel was named one of the BBC’s 100 Novels That Shaped Our World

Why I Write (2004)

"From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer,” wrote Orwell in an issue of Gangrel magazine.

This collection of Orwell’s writing focuses on work that shows why Orwell wrote, from puncturing the lies of politicians to telling unpalatable truths about the war.

The perfect guide for anyone with writing aspirations of their own. 

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