Various great writers have written books about poverty over the years, but there is something special and different about this one. It concentrates on destitution rather than poverty, which is something different and worse. One feels as one is reading the book, that it is really an extended piece of reportage and not a novel, although there is no reason to believe that large parts of it are not fictional.
What strikes me about it, is that Orwell captures the reality of poverty perfectly. Like Orwell, I've lived in all sorts of economic conditions and I can pass at will for a member of virtually any social class. I can tell you that Down and Out is simply an entirely accurate account of poverty and destitution and what the poor and the destitute are really like. Orwell's reaction to the reality of destitution is to notice that the only fundamental difference between the rich and the poor, despite all our societies myths, is how much money they have. This is, in my experience, true.
Orwell's reaction to this is to marvel at the futility and pointlessness of it all, and to quietly point out that it is a great evil to crush people for no reason.
The book has no narrative to speak off. I think that this is entirely the right way to write about destitution, because it is the hopeless sameness of the lives of the destitute which is the worse feature of their existence. Hence giving a book about the destitute a plot is a kind of lie.
Orwell was one of the greatest writers who ever lived and as a result the book is entirely readable. I picked it up and read it in a flash. The book is very funny. Orwell approaches the subject with a wry sense of humour. I don't usually think of Orwell as hilarious, but I laughed out loud in several places.
I really think that the book should be required reading for everyone. The book captures exactly the reality of destitution and despite the fact that it was written 80 years ago, nothing has really changed.
Better than Animal Farm. It does not have such a good reputation, I think, entirely because the powers-that-be do not like it when it is there own economic conditions that are critiqued and not someone else.