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Orwell was more than a social critic. Rebecca Solnit’s new book finds him in the garden.

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A collection of horticulturally themed Orwell vignettes would be amusing enough, but this is Solnit’s road trip, and with her at the wheel we detour from Orwell to Stalin, who sentenced botanist Nikolai Vavilov to die in a prison camp over his refusal to accept the pseudoscience Stalin had embraced. We look in on Tina Modotti, who photographed roses and lived among revolutionaries in Mexico. We take a moment with Jamaica Kincaid, who writes about botany and British colonialism, and we tour a Colombian rose farm, where the questions of workers’ rights and capitalism are alive today. At each stop Solnit turns back to Orwell, whose work touches all of it. “You have got to choose between liberating India and having extra sugar,” Orwell once wrote. “Which do you prefer?”

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