Books v. Cigarettes, Paperback Book

Books v. Cigarettes Paperback

Part of the Penguin Great Ideas series

4 out of 5 (4 ratings)


Beginning with a dilemma about whether he spends more money on reading or smoking, George Orwell's entertaining and uncompromising essays go on to explore everything from the perils of second-hand bookshops to the dubious profession of being a critic, from freedom of the press to what patriotism really means.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Literary essays
  • ISBN: 9780141036618

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Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by

This collection of essays was published by Penguin UK last year as part of its Great Ideas series. It consists of two long and five short and humorous essays, including the title essay. In "Books v. Cigarettes" he determines that his yearly cost of buying books is less than the amount he spends on cigarettes and alcohol, and argues against those who claimed that the cost of reading was prohibitively expensive for the average working man. Other short essays include a hilarious look at the life of a book reviewer, and his barbaric treatment in a Paris hospital.The two longer essays make up the majority of the book. "The Prevention of Literature" is a critique of left-wing postwar orthodoxy, which at that time strongly favored Soviet communism and limited intellectual freedom. "Such, Such Were the Joys", which chronicles his experiences in a boarding school in late childhood, comprises over half of the book. His middle class parents are unable to pay full tuition, and he is allowed to attend the school at reduced fees, due to his academic promise and the expectation that he will gain a scholarship to a prestigious private school—or so he claims. He and the other lower tier boys are constantly tortured and belittled by the headmaster, his wife, and the older boys in the school. He has nothing good to say about anyone there, and you can't help but think that it couldn't possibly have been that bad. His experiences at St. Cyprian's appear to be the genesis for his interest in social justice and anti-totalitarianism, as he expounds upon the lessons he learned during that time at the end of the essay.This would a worthwhile read for anyone interested in Orwell, but it is nowhere near as good as Down and Out in Paris and London.

Review by

Ranging from death in a hospital bed to boyhood apathy and lack of resistance, Orwell’s brilliant mind goes to work in retrospective reflection found in these page-turning essays. His non-fiction work is quite different, first of all the science fiction mind is far from there, a man of absolute logic appears, almost justifying the sense of insanity he channeled for the likes of 1984 and Animal Farm or simply proving that these novels are entirely logical, just masked in worlds distant from our reality. This selection of essays from Orwell include everything from the dilapidated tale of a review writer gone astray to growing up in a time where the children of those engaged in the Great War (1917-20) took an apathetic stance to the war their elders were fighting, as a sign of quasi-rebellion. To take any vested interest in the war was to be not the "enlightened" circles, which Orwell couldn't help himself from becoming. Another dips into the employ of a second-hand bookshop and how being an employ in a way tainted his love for books. The gruesome experiences in a hospital in France where no one minds about death, elicits Orwell to praise England, something that happens only so often in his writing. The final essay, a long drawn out explanation of his abuse as a child in a boarding school of England's most brutal makes one pity Orwell less than understand where his angst most likely stemmed from while remaining the most tactful and innocent angst a reader could come across.

Review by

A collection of essays by George Orwell, written from 1936-1952.The first few are a fascinating look into the life of a writer and book reviewer at the time he was writing. An argument for books not being that expensive, and what it's like to work in a bookshop (that hasn't changed much!) As the collection goes on it seems the publisher just started adding things to beef it up, however. The last two essays are unconnected to the rest and not very interesting from a book perspective.

Review by

What a wonderful book. Seven essays - all of which are interesting, insightful and readable - and it definitely saves the best until last... As with so much of his work the final essay, "Such, Such Were The Joys", an account of Orwell's school days, combines the personal with the polemical. One minute we're reading a wince-inducing account of the brutality of St Cyprians (Orwell's prep school) and the next this meanders into social history, philosophy and a deconstruction of the pre-WW1 class system. And all of it written with George Orwell's customary clarity and readability. All the essays are interesting. In the opener, "Books v. Cigarettes", Orwell argues, in 1946, that books are a relatively cheap form of entertainment despite many people's assertions to the contrary. He compares the cost of the books he's bought over the years with the amount he's spent on beer and cigarettes, and finds that even with his relatively high book consumption, books cost less than other vices. The same must surely still apply. When Orwell wrote his essay, he states that there were 15,000 books published annually in the UK. According to Wikipedia, in 2011 there were 149,800 books published in the UK. What does that tell us? Has the market for reading expanded ten fold in the interim?Who'd be a book reviewer if Orwell's description in "Confessions Of A Book Reviewer" is accurate? What's the value of a professional review? Worthless, according to Orwell. Still a book reviewer is better off than a film reviewer who doesn't get to work at home and sells his honour for a glass of inferior sherry"The Prevention of Literature" makes a passionate, and when written, a topical, argument describing how totalitarianism, or other all prevailing orthodoxies, crush worthwhile literature, and how the destruction of individual liberty cripples the journalist, the sociological writer, the historian, the novelist, the critic and the poet, in that order. Imagination will not breed in captivity.Patriotism comes under the Orwell gaze in "My Country Right or Left", and Orwell concludes that no substitute has yet been found for patriotism. He even confesses to a faint feeling of sacrilege when he does not to stand to attention during God Save The King.The penultimate essay "How the Poor Die" is a real eye opener. I was particularly struck how in the Parisian hospital Orwell describes in 1929, and as a non-paying patient in the uniform nightshirt, the patient is primarily a specimen. The doctors and medical students ignoring the individual and discussing the patient as if he were not there. Orwell states he did not resent this but could never get used to it.This book is a mere 125 pages and every page contains something interesting and enlightening. Proof that good writing never dates.

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