Okay, so I am one of the few people in America, perhaps the world, who hasn't read this book. I think it is normal high school fair, but then I didn't go to a normal high school. At my school, if we wanted to read poetry, we read Genesis. If we wanted to read history, we read Genesis. If wanted to read about science...well you get the idea.
Orwell said that he never wrote anything good that was not about politics. He also said, "Animal Farm was the first book in which I tried, with full consciousness of what I was doing, to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole." Animal Farm was written as a political indictment of the Soviet Union. In the preface to this edition, Russell Baker points out that given the political climate of the time, Orwell had trouble getting this book published. In fact, it was not published until 1945 after the end of World War II. Criticizing the Soviet Union in the early 40s was nearly heretical. After all, the Red Army had just beat back Hitler and his "invincible" army. But Orwell cautioned that the political system that was evolving in the USSR was not really socialism, but a "hierarchical society, in which the rulers would have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class."
This is precisely the type of society that Orwell depicts in Animal Farm. The animals revolt against the farmer who has oppressed them for years. They set up a farm where all animals are equal and they work for the betterment of themselves, not for the prosperity of some despotic ruler. The pigs, who are clearly the smartest animals on the farm lead the rebellion and are instrumental in setting up their utopian farm. Two pigs fall into leadership roles: Snowball and Napoleon. Eventually Napoleon runs Snowball off the farm, and it is not long before Napoleon and his cronies are running the farm in the same fashion that Farmer Jones did.
I really enjoyed this book, especially having recently read Finding George Orwell in Burma. As usual, I saved both the preface and introduction until after I had finished the book, and was a little disappointed to find out that neither of them was written by Orwell. In the preface, Russell Baker alludes on more than one occasion to a preface to Animal Farm written by George Orwell. I wonder why they didn't include that in this edition. It would no doubt have been interesting. While the preface was interesting and worth reading, I found the introduction by C. M. Woodhouse to be rather stuffy and pretentious.