Summer Reading Sale

From the Authors


Original Essays

Powell's Q&A

Tech Q&A

Kids' Q&A



Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


Badass Authors: George Orwell

"If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever."
—George Orwell, 1984

While fighting Nazis in the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell launched a one-man bayonet charge against a Fascist stormtrooperGeorge Orwell launched a one-man bayonet charge against a Fascist stormtrooper, bombed an enemy rifle position with a heaping dose of high-explosive grenades, survived being shot in the throat by a sniper, and recovered from the somehow-not-fatal wound just in time to escape the country before Soviet spies were able to assassinate him and leave his corpse in an alley somewhere. Do I have your attention?

Born Eric Arthur Blair in India in 1903, Orwell's family returned to the British Isles not long thereafter, and he spent his formative years attending a prestigious school, learning French from a guy named Aldous Huxley, and, like any good misunderstood teenager, getting really interested in writing, history, poetry, and socialism.

He eventually realized that school sucks, and instead of going to college he moved to Burma and joined the Indian Imperial Police because that was way more awesome. He spent the next seven years patrolling the mean streets of Burma, cracking skulls like Dirty Harry and John Shaft, protecting the populace, and keeping the streets clear of hoodlums, vagabonds, ruffians, whippersnappers, and other assorted douchebags. He spent another couple years scratching out a living in London and France, working as a dishwasher, newspaper journalist, and starving artist, and going on frequent expeditions to the slums to see how much being poor sucks goat balls. At some point he decided that he should change his name to "George," of all things, so he did that, too. Why you would want to change your name to George, I have no idea, but there you have it.

While cracking street thugs in the kneecaps with a billy club was fun and all, it was when the Spanish Civil War broke out that George Orwell really got a chance to get in there and start kicking some serious asses. George had a pretty spectacular hatred of all things Nazi-related, so when a rag-tag group of democracy-oriented Spanish rebels started trading face-punches with German-backed Fascists, Orwell knew it was time to backflip over to the Iberian Peninsula and put the "crazy" in "democrazy." He volunteered for the infantry, and his experience as a seven-year police veteran helped him easily make Corporal within the first couple months of his tour of duty.

During his adventures, he charged trenches, chased a dude halfway across a field with a bayonet, bombed a rifle position, and, as I said, had a fascist sniper plant a bullet mere millimeters from his carotid artery. Orwell was coughing up a lot of blood (awesome) and very nearly died on the ambulance ride to the field hospital (less awesome), but somehow held it together, recovered, and regained the ability to speak normally. Of course, he probably should have kept that last part under wraps, because pretty much as soon as he was feeling better, he started talking a bunch of trash about the Soviet Union and how Stalin was an assclown and no better than the Fascists (he wasn't — just ask Solzhenitsyn), so of course a team of NKVD agents were sent to apprehend him and beat him senseless with their rock-hard fists. Luckily for Orwell, he was able to sneak on board a train and get the hey out of there before someone put a slug in his face at point-blank range.

Orwell got home, wrote a story about his adventures in Spain, and took a somewhat less life-threatening job as a book reviewer. Now, it's a well-known fact that being a book reviewer is one of the most noble professions a human being can hope to pursue (particularly when they are giving rave reviews to awesome, hilarious books about great historical badasses... nudge nudge wink wink), and during his career working for a well-known British publication he was known to have reviewed at least 80 different books.

When World War II started up a few years later and uber-Nazi jackass Hermann Göring started impaling the British countryside with a seemingly-endless barrage of deadly V2 rockets, Orwell of course immediately ran out and tried to enlist in the army. Unfortunately for G.O., military recruiters aren't particularly keen on bringing on dudes who have already had bullets pass through their tracheas, and Orwell was dismissed out of hand, being declared "unfit for military service of any kind," which seems pretty harsh. So, instead of making more fascist-kabobs with his Enfield bayonet, Orwell worked as a Sergeant in the Home Guard. After the blitz, he wrote for the BBC Eastern Service, where he tried to root out Nazi propaganda in India and Burma. In his spare time, he wrote Animal Farm, a bestselling novel about the horrors of Stalinism that kind of comes across like Charlotte's Web with communists and booze and animals being violently murdered all over the place. Due to Uncle Joe and the USSR being pretty important allies to Britain during the war, Orwell wasn't able to get this thing published until a few months after V-E Day, but he did manage to succeed in his efforts to piss off Communist Russia beyond belief.he did manage to succeed in his efforts to piss off Communist Russia beyond belief. So that has to count for something.

Orwell ran an anti-communist propaganda office for a while, but in 1949 he came down with a terminal and untreatable case of Tuberculosis. On his deathbed, working in a complete delirium, Orwell ended up somehow writing one of the seminal works of dystopian science-fiction — the epic novel Nineteen Eighty-four. Now translated in 65 languages and with millions of copies sold worldwide, 1984 is widely regarded as one of the greatest sci-fi books ever written. The book was responsible for coining dozens of words still used by English-speakers today, showed the dangers of authoritarian regimes, and led the way for badass futuristic totalitarian settings ranging from Logan's Run to Half-Life 2, and this guy did it at a time when he was coughing up his damn lungs, covered in sweat, and so wigged out that he didn't even know what day it was. Now that's a legacy to be proud of.

÷ ÷ ÷

Further Reading:

George Orwell: A Life by Bernard Crick
George Orwell: A Literary Life by Peter Hobley Davidson
Orwell: The Authorized Biography by Michael Shelden

Animal Farm
Homage to Catalonia

÷ ÷ ÷

Ben Thompson graduated cum laude from the honors program at Florida State University with degrees in history and political science, and has run the war hammer of a website,, since 2004. Even though he's never flown a jetpack over the Atlantic Ocean or punched someone so hard that his head exploded, he is considered by many to be the world's foremost expert on badassitude.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. 1984
    Used Mass Market $4.50
  2. Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of...
    Used Trade Paper $8.50
  3. Animal Farm 50th Anniversary Edition Sale Hardcover $24.98
  4. Homage to Catalonia (Harvest Book)
    Used Trade Paper $8.00
  5. Charlotte's Web (Trophy Newbery)
    Used Trade Paper $3.95

  6. Animal Farm
    Used Mass Market $3.95
  7. Orwell :the authorized biography Used Hardcover $10.95

Ben Thompson is the author of Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live

16 Responses to "Badass Authors: George Orwell"

    adrienne November 6th, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Ben, your awesome accounts of historic characters
    rocks! I'm surprised you haven't had more comments on our blog this week. I love Tesla and
    Robert E Howard's Conan, so I checked them out on
    your cool website. I am a book seller, sort of a book reviewer and starving artist.

    Mohamed S November 6th, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Wow Ben, you must be really tired this week writing about all these awesome authors in addition to your regular column, THANKS!

    You should write a book on how to reform history classes in the US Education system.

    Matt November 6th, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    @MohamedS - The US school system wouldn't be able to handle the amount of awesomeness that would bring.

    Ben - Not only are your columns entertaining, they always teach me about my favorite people. Don't ever stop!

    mike November 8th, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Great article

    but to be clear, Orwell wasn't anti-communist, he was anti-Stalinist. He wrote several times that Stalin was a threat to Socialism and Communism.

    Before reading this, I thought Orwell was awesome, now's he's MORE awesome.

    Natalie November 19th, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    I bought myself a copy of your book, without realizing that my husband also bought a copy of your book for himself.
    We're giving one away and spreading the gospel =)

    Keep writing; we LOVE it!

    PsihoKekec December 5th, 2009 at 4:00 am

    I Yugoslavia of 40s and 50s, possesion of 1984 and Animal Farm was punishable and people went tp prison for it. Only in 80s did official translation came out, offcourse with appendix explaining that our system is nothing like it.

    4daQueen! December 30th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    You've picked an honorable author as bad ass of the week, unfortunately your trite descriptions and inaccurate historic synopsis makes for an essay seemingly distilled from an early Quentin Tarantino sketch of Inglorious Bastards. Next time you feel like writing some awesomeness, consider the man in the grave, lay off the nazi-centrism (we are talking about Franco's Regime you realize?), and lead us not into self inflicted 1984 censorship. That latter, of course, coming from the anxiety of not reading - for fear of finding further glorified (in blogdom) inaccurate depections of one of the last greats we have. Cheers, chump.

    Braden January 12th, 2010 at 12:04 pm


    That might be one of the most pretentious comments I've ever seen posted. Why not write in common English, rather than trying to audition for the New Yorker? You seem to have completely missed the point of what Ben is trying to do here. This isn't a historical treatise. It is an attempt to highlight the truly incredible things some people have done. And, by the way, he never said that the Spanish Fascists were Nazis; he said they were, and I quote, "German-backed Fascists," which, if you read your history books, is entirely true of Franco's regime. Honestly, if you insist on tearing apart an article that is as much entertainment as it is elucidation, then go back to your ivory tower and double-lock the door. You will not have to suffer the indignity of associating with the unwashed, and we mortals will be happier for your absence.

    pickle January 12th, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    braden, well done.

    Bard Arse January 20th, 2010 at 3:08 pm


    Jesus wept. It's not a historical tome of fact, for grey headed future alien space-fuckers to discover and formulate world events from in 3000 years time. Nobody is really going to believe Ben's accounts of events carried out by people with more than their fair share of testicular greatness.

    It's just a shitkicker of a ride, written in quirky 21st meme-prose language, in a tone that if you find offensive or unfunny, you should be straight up bitchslapped with the realness.

    Get a life, cockmongler. You fail at playing the art critic. Go back to the cashier desk at Walmart and quietly sip your shut-up juice.

    matclarke February 11th, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    the pro-democracy forces in the Spanish Civil War were in power - it was the second Spanish Republic. It was Franco's supporters who were the rebels.

    Frank May 25th, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Aside from a few volunteers, there were no Nazis in the Spanish Civil war. Much of Franco's forces were conservative royalists and monarchists, and not even fascists.

    The Republicans weren't "pro-democacy" in the modern sense; they were communists and anarchist socialists.

    Conor June 3rd, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    Orwell was really rad, but just for the record, the "rag-tag group of democracy-oriented Spanish rebels" were actually a democratically elected republic. Generalissimo Franco was a Hitler/Mussolini-sponsored d-bag that was the actual rebel. On the other hand, the rebels were sponsored by two titanically militarized fascist nations, whereas the Republic was supported by the Soviets and thousands of foreign democracy-loving volunteers who (mostly illegally by their own countries' laws) snuck into Spain to fight. So the fascist rebels weren't really the underdogs, but they were still the rebels. I don't even know why the fuck I went through the trouble to write this.

    Cernicky July 9th, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Love 1984, keep me very intrigued and entertained.

    JoMed July 11th, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Eric Blair changed his name to George for a very specific reason: he did not want to offend his parents with the sordid account of the low-life he led in Paris & London (recorded in his book "Down and Out in Paris and London"). The Blair name, he thought, should not be associated with this shocking account. Eric attended one of the most prestigious schools in Britain (Eton), as you mentioned, which indicated that his parents had some money behind them. Make the links, Ben!

    Shamel Mundeth May 31st, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I'm stealing the first paragraph for my blog! :D
    Don't worry, I'll be putting up a link to this article there! :)

Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top
Follow us on...

Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at