Books That Inspire 2005

The Road to Wigan Pier
George Orwell

Orwell’s book is a penetrating account of the toil and struggles of coal miners, their families, and their communities in England’s industrial north during the Depression. Orwell is deeply empathetic without overly romanticizing the miners and their plight. The Road to Wigan Pier is an incredibly honest book. Of lasting power and value for me, it is also a brilliant account of how reality is socially constructed and of how the grip of dominant ideas becomes immensely consequential for our lives. Though the central ideas engaged in the book have to do with the meaning of unemployment, work, squalor, and poverty, Orwell has the vision to map his observations onto the far larger issues of justice, liberty, and, most of all, humanity.

The relevance, in other words, is universal. That’s why Orwell’s study of the employed and unemployed working class -- ultimately an examination of struggles for human decency and how these are perceived from different vantage points -- has immeasurably shaped my understanding of the world.
Mitchell Smith
Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies
SIAS/Political Science