Amazing, a book review that actually mentions the title of the book and the author's name in the first paragraph! Is this the first time this has happened in this series? Yay!!!!!

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Hey Scott, I haven't seen my book review in either list and emailed you a couple times. Just seeing if you know what happened-



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"Disappointing, to say the least. I wonder if Orwell is attempting to be funny, using his callousness to reflect the callousness of everyone who sits around sipping their drinks as Charlie tells poetic stories about raping prostitutes. Or perhaps he thought the story spoke for itself and required no further comment." I thought, when reading the book, that the last option was obvious, and that, moreover, Orwell had been successful in making the reader share his extreme if stiffed-lipped disgust. After all, it is Orwell who recreates "Charlie"'s words, which paint him in full.

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The review wonders why Orwell is so detached from the report of the rape. The description of the 'rape' is rather lengthy and altogether not very believable. I think Orwell is trying to say: "Charlie clearly said that, and enjoyed hearing himself speak. None of it is true, obviously. But what a colorful lie!"

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"You stop sending clothes to the laundry, and the laundress catches you in the street and asks you why; you mumble something, and she, thinking you are sending the clothes elsewhere, is your enemy for life."

Who, I say who among the boulivardier hasn't had this experience. Don't get me started on tailors...

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It's interesting to read a review of a book I've already read (listened to in this case, along with Homage to Catalonia), the parallels to modern society are interesting.

I've done enough volunteer work with the homeless to get a decent idea of modern British homelessness, and it's definitely different to the "tramps" Orwell describes. There was a great 99% Invisible Series "According to Need" on homelessness in the Bay Area which I'd also recommend if people are interested.

People are at least allowed to stay in the same city these days, which is definitely an improvement over enforced vagrancy, but homeless shelters remain a pretty unpleasant place to stay, although most of the complaints I've heard are about the people in them. People at least no longer suffer under a bread and margarine diet, the invention of the pre-packaged sandwich (and the need to throw a load of them out each day) offers some variety and flavour, although even homeless people refuse to eat halloumi and beetroot sandwiches. We no longer have state-run Spikes, but soup kitchens and homeless shelters seem to play a similar role

Drugs and mental illness (usually both) seem to be the main cause (or symptom) of homelessness these days, definitely a change from Orwell's time - it seems like alcohol's become a lot cheaper and drugs are much easier to find? Most homeless people still come across as relatively normal though once you talk to them, I felt like I could have an employee-customer type relationship with them while volunteering. In three years of weekly volunteering, there were only two incidents of threatened violence - in my experience, people tend to be on their best behaviour when they're getting something for free.

There always seems to be a debate over whether some people are just naturally inclined to crime, addiction and homelessness or whether it's simply bad luck. I see it as a spectrum - some people have just fallen on hard times, a few probably belong in an institution (prison or hospital), most are somewhere in between - they're not the most functional people, but its still mostly bad luck, it's not like everyone with a drinking problem or schizophrenia ends up on the street.

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I really enjoyed this review! It's also one of the first where I've noticed a distinct *absence* of an attempt to imitate Scott's writing style, and that worked well for me. Although I did wonder when the author used the word 'queer' whether Orwell's style was rubbing off instead...

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This was really terrific! In particular, the comparison to Anthony Bourdain seems apt.

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This is really ending up as one of my favorite reviews, despite a number of good ones earlier. Very impressive.

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Would it be impolitic to ask how, if Henri never speaks, Orwell [or indeed, anyone Orwell may have spoken to] obtained the epic tale of Henri's downfall?

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"Or perhaps he thought the story spoke for itself and required no further comment." Because it does.

That's how the greats used to write, before we had to have everything earnestly spelled out for us in numbing detail.

I read this book around 1982 and I'm sure I still have it. Thank you for the review. I must dig out my old copy and re-read it.

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This was fantastic. It was very plain and straightforward in the best way possible. I wish I could write so clearly. I also appreciate that the reviewer remained humble, and refrained from elevating themselves and their ideas over the subject of the book.

So many other reviews tried to capture Scott's style, which is insanely hard to do well. This reviewer has their own voice. I'm looking froward to see who wrote it.

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"Essentially, a 'smart' hotel is a place where a hundred people toil like devils in order that two hundred may pay through the nose for things they do not really want. If the nonsense were cut out of hotels and restaurants, and the work done with simple efficiency, plongeurs might work six or eight hours a day instead often or fifteen."

I would steelman Orwell here as calling for a de-escalation of a wasteful arms race of zero-sum status-signaling. Conspicuous consumption consists partly of consumption for its own sake, and partly of status signaling. It seems like Orwell thinks fancy restaurants are mostly the latter. Reducing the waste caused by the latter is a type of coordination problem. There is no "instinct to perpetuate useless work", only the individual restaurant owner's incentives pushing him to provide what the market is demanding, until such time as people can agree that conspicuous consumption is gauche.

I would guesstimate that a majority of the US' current economic output goes towards the status signaling arms race rather than fulfilling actual non-arms-race needs.

(Silicon Valley has eliminated some kinds of wasteful status signaling by e.g. replacing fancy suits with t-shirts. But maybe there's a conservation-of-status-signaling and it just got sublimated into other areas, like virtue signaling. And not virtue in terms of mastering the basic virtues that everyone agrees on (because that would be no use in signaling one's difference from others) but in terms of novel divisive causes that come out every few years.)

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For a more modern book in the same genre I recommend "On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City" by Alice Goffman. It documents the lives of some people in a black neighborhood in Philadelphia.

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I read this book when I was 15. A few minutes before the starting bell in 4th period English, I asked the teacher if we were going to read 1984 in her class this term. She said "no", saw the disappointment on my face, and said "but come with me". She took me to the school library and looked for a copy. All copies were checked out. She grabbed "Down and Out in London and Paris", handed it to me, and told me to check it out. She wanted me to write a book report about it.

Starting bell happened. She headed back to the class she had put on hold for me and I checked the book out and wrote the report.

Pretty sure your review is better than mine was, though I'm impressed I didn't manage to miss too much. Seems like I remembered it, with the same lessons.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

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"I get the sense that people who lived before the mid-twentieth century had opposite feelings about cleanliness: if your chicken shank falls in the mud, who cares? Wipe it off and eat it."

Here's a cultural anthropologist (and not the newfangled kind who's given up science for activism) on that:


Bryan Caplan recently did a book club on Orwell's "Theory of Oligarchical Collectivism" from 1984, and concluded with some notes on his socialism:


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As for something comparable today, check out Chris Arnade's writings on 'back row' america:


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The number is 17!

The number is 17!!

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>Disappointing, to say the least. I wonder if Orwell is attempting to be funny, using his callousness to reflect the callousness of everyone who sits around sipping their drinks as Charlie tells poetic stories about raping prostitutes. Or perhaps he thought the story spoke for itself and required no further comment. Luckily Orwell doesn’t do this very often.

What should he have written instead?

I do think this is revealing, but not of Blair's inner character. It's revealing of how recent the modern complex about rape actually is. It's not a good thing, nor is it even a neutral thing, but it needn't be the horror we've made it into.

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Jack London's "The Abyss" about 1905 East End London, is similar. But London is slumming solely for purposes of reporting.

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>His description of the old man’s cough, in particular, makes me never want to sleep in a room with another person ever again.

Notably, George Orwell subsequently died of tuberculosis at age 46.

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As an American luxury hotel worker in 2021, I chuckled in recognition of Orwell's descriptions of luxury hotel workers.

Because while of course working conditions have improved immensely and the restaurant kitchens and employee-only areas are now only moderately grimy as opposed to shockingly filthy, it remains true in 2021 that hotel employees aren't necessarily doing what a guest expects.

For example, I'm sure luxury hotel guests expect that the highly breakable glass drinking vessels in the bathrooms and/or minibars be collected, transported down long halls and multiple floors to a commercial dish-washing machine where they are washed, sterilized, dried, polished, and then lovingly replaced by white-gloved hands every time the room is cleaned.

And that that process happens every day in the dozens or hundreds or thousands of rooms on a property.

Whether the glasses appear to be used, or not.

When there's a sink *right there* in the bathroom of every guest room and housekeeping has *some* sort of cleaning product that will make the glass sparkle.


I mean, who would even do the job of taking room glasses to a dishwasher?

Not housekeeping, who perform hard labor on a tightly-monitored schedule eight hours a day for minimum(ish) wages and who have neither the calories nor the time to make extra trips in and out of rooms to a dish-washing station.

Not restaurant/room service staff (assuming there is a restaurant), who are a totally separate department from housekeeping and wouldn't have the slightest idea when to go into a particular room to collect and replace glassware, even if they had the inclination.

Not managers, who are specifically tasked by ownership with getting maximally efficient labor out of their employees.

Not ownership or the industry as a whole, who never face lasting consequences for failing to perform this task despite countless "shocking" hidden camera exposes on the topic.

And that's the crux of it. I fully assume that everyone in every industry is only performing to the level that won't get them fired/sued/arrested, a level which is a level significantly below what their customers expect. It's the consumer version of Knoll's Law of Media Accuracy.

(Add in a pandemic and the level often falls below the bar to be "fired/sued/arrested," but what isn't noticed, isn't punished.)

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Like the author of this piece, I'd be leary of trying to draw too many parallels between the homeless of a century ago and the homeless of today. I think these are groups with rather distinctly different problems. Orwell's speaks of a kind of enforced idleness among his fellow tramps. If I look at homeless people today in my neck of the woods, I just see, well....idleness. When I still lived near downtown in my east coast city and used to see homeless people regularly in the park down the street or in the foyer of the office building next door on the weekends when no one was there, most of the time, they didn't seem to be begging or scrounging or harassing anyone for money or anything like that. They didn't seem to be doing anything at all, really. They were just kinda there.

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I put on my high power readers and pulled out Volume VI of the OED and the listings go from grotesquerie (grotesque items collectively) to grotha (obscure for growth). I think this must be a coinage.

Feel free to point out the inevitable misspellings in the post I’m making now, because I’m sure karma will see to it that I don’t get away with complaining about word usage without rebalancing the scales. :)

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It seems like at least one image isn't displaying, is that just on my end? (The text suggests there should be a picture of a workhouse.)

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I liked this review but it's mostly because Orwell writes really well and there are very long direct quotes from Orwell. It did make me want to read the book, but I think this writer produced less of their own content than some reviewers did.

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I was surprised by the throwaway line about celibacy, but it does seem like the rate of people not having sex has increased over the past few decades, even if not as much as suggested by that comment: https://www.pilotonline.com/news/health/article_9258b60c-5233-11e9-a392-eb96842d90a8.html

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SPELLCHECK PLEASE! And proofread. And parentheses work (like this), not(like this).

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SPELLCHECK PLEASE! And proofread. Parentheses work (like this), not(like this).

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"I calculated that one had to walk and run about fifteen miles during the day, and yet the strain of the work was more mental than physical. Nothing could be easier, on the face of it, than this stupid scullion work, but it is astonishingly hard when one is in a hurry. One has to leap to and fro between a multitude of jobs—it is like sorting a pack of cards against the clock."

Oh, hell yes. I worked in kitchens during college. I was decent at prep but _terrible_ on the line. I can't tell you how many trays of breadsticks I burned at one job. Thank God I eventually got into computer programming where I can get absorbed in one elaborate task because juggling multiple simple tasks does not come easily to me. I can get dinner on the table at home but not much more than that. There is no such thing as unskilled labor.

I have not read _Down and Out_ but this review is a good spur to do so. Orwell's clear, unsentimental writing about work is one of his great strengths. The descriptions of coal miners' lives in the first part of _The Road to Wigan Pier_ lend so much strength to his analysis of political economy in the second part.

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But Down And Out isn't the interesting Orwell book to review in this style. The Road To Wigan Pier is.

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This review does a very good job summarising the book so full marks for that. However, it is far far too long for comfort. I'd humbly suggest trimming it to half the length.

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For some reason, the review does not mention the name of the organization at which Orwell was lectured about folksy religion with his bread and tea. It was the Salvation Army, and Orwell states in the book that he would never support it.

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Brilliant review and I just bought the book!

Reading this reminded me of an opinion piece on poverty and homelessness I read a couple of years ago. Paraphrasing from memory, it said something like:

> When rich people think about solutions to poverty they of themselves as poor. But rich people are not poor people, even if they have no money.

This review highlights the fact that, though penniless, Orwell could always go back to his family and, even without that safety net, he knew that, deep down, something would go right and that there was a career waiting for him whenever he chose to pursue it.

I had a period in my early twenties where I was absolutely broke. I too stuffed my shoes with newspaper and walked a couple of miles to work in the City of London because I could not afford the bus. I only ate two or three times a week and only ate cheap, high-calorie foods. But, for the whole period that I was broke, I knew that the day would come when I was no longer broke and here I am, 30 years later, quite comfortably off with poverty a distant memory.

Orwell had the habits and upbringing of a rich man and was never going to be poor, even when he was down and out.

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"I can’t fully convey how much I think a book like Down and Out in San Francisco, Portland, Honolulu and Every other American City that has a Homelessness Crisis needs to be written..."

The book exists on YouTube. It's called the "Soft White Underbelly" channel. (No, I'm not affiliated with it, have zero interest in promoting it, etc.)

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This was fantastic. It took me back to my experience reading Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" essay. Looking forward to reading more from this author!

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Brief review-of-the-review:

Fascinating topic, very well presented-- I feel like I've read the book. I found the analysis less than compelling but still interesting. There are connections to be drawn with Warren's *The Two-Income Trap* in how Orwell connects economic misery with a bidding war by the rich for status / positional goods and builds that into a kind-of-left-liberal worldview. There's plenty of good content here-- much of it from Orwell himself, of course-- and while the insights came up short it was still an enjoyable read.

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I think what the reviewer may have missed is that the rape description is certainly a kind of literary game. I remember that when I read the book, it struck me as very similar in tone and theme with decadent and romantic French literature, in particular Lautreamont (a poet from Baudelaire's generation) whose Chants de Maldoror (Maldoror's Songs) describe a similar (fictional) child rape scene (The theme was also used many times in Sade's works).

This scene in Orwell's book was somewhat out of place and the style was colourful, especially compared to the rest of the book which is, as the reviewer said, pretty dry and matter-of-fact. I think these are other clues pointing towards a strange erudite game.

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This is my favorite review thus far because it actually functions as a review - that is to say, it warned me in advance what the weak points of the book were and also discussed why I might want to read it, rather than simply summarising the book's points and then discussing them.

Or to put it another way - thus far this is the only review where, upon finishing it, I went to my library app and searched for the book and borrowed it.

(I do think the review could have been made shorter and stayed as good, but excessive length is a problem with the majority of these reviews)

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