Despite George Orwell being best known for his two last novels, Animal Farm (London, 1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (San Diego, 1946), probably his greatest skill was as an essayist, starting as early as 1931 with “A Hanging” in The Adelphi and continuing throughout his sadly short yet productive life. He wrote some of the finest essays in the English language, some of the most important ones about language itself. Solnit, too, is one of the best essayists of our time. In many ways, this book is an extended essay or, rather, consists of essay-like chapters about topics relating to Orwell and roses. Its general organizing principle is Orwell as avid gardener of flowers and vegetables, both at the cottage that he and his wife Eileen had at Wallington and later more extensively at his farm on Jura in the Hebrides—a comparatively neglected yet important aspect of his life.

Solnit is,...

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