Thursday, December 1, 2005

Animal Farm, George Orwell

Title: Animal Farm
Author: George Orwell
Rating: Good

A TV commercial style review:
This is the point.
This is me banging the point into your head.
Any questions?
More seriously, though:

Animal Farm is one of the couple of books that Orwell is really well known for. It is a fast read, simple in content and style.

As a howl of protest against totalitarian regimes, it is still a reasonable cautionary tale. However, rereading it well after the fall of the Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall, I think it has lost something. I hasten to add that I know there are still totalitarian regimes out there - some of them quite large and nasty. Orwell was targeting the specifics of the Soviet Union with this book, though, and that has all changed rather substantially now. I don't hold that against the book or the author. After all, Animal Farm was originally published in 1946. I think any book is allowed to age a bit after nearly 60 years.

One of the more interesting things in this book was the actual, physical, copy I read. It belonged to my wife in school, and was clearly read for some class (probably in early high school, but perhaps a bit earlier - I'm not sure). She's highlighted various passages in the book, and included some notes (things like "the provisional government exists for a while", "you must sacrifice for the state", and "purge") in places. All pretty obvious stuff, really. However, when I asked her about her memory of the book as I was digging it out, the quote she remembered was the donkey (Benjamin) saying "Donkeys live a long time." I discovered that quote isn't highlighted. So the thing that stuck with her 25 or 30 years after she read it wasn't what she'd noted at the time. Interesting how our minds work.

I read it far too many years ago as well. The only thing I remembered was that the pigs took over, and the final revision of the commandments, painted on the barn wall: "All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." I've used that phrase in my professional career, but no one has ever taken the amount of offense I intended by it. Funny that.

I'd like to quote Doug's review of Animal Farm from his top 100 book review: "It's never too early to start mistrusting people with power." That is an important lesson we all need to learn somewhere along the line. If this book helps drive that lesson home for you or someone you know, good.

It's a classic book, and a reread every 20 years or so is probably in order, but if you're naturally cynical like me, the message is something you keep it in mind all the time anyway. Whether we do anything about it is left as an exercise for the interested reader.