by George Orwell
Publisher: Harcourt
Trade Paperback, 294 pages
Price: $17.00

Winston Smith—a plain name for the consummate British everyman. Critics often imply that Orwell was confused, or that his predictions came to naught. True, he was concerned with the lengths to which Communism was taken in Russia during his own time, but there's something more immediate for all Westerners in his dystopian novel.

Big Brother is the mascot of a totalitarian British government. Big Brother watches where you go, knows what you're thinking (he put those thoughts there), and doesn't care about you except in relation to your effectiveness as a tool of the state....unless, of course, you get out of line.

He doesn't want you to think he doesn't care, however. Big Brother goes out of his way to keep the people busy and tended-to; busy enough to keep you from thinking or acting on your own, anyway. Winston Smith is pretty happy to begin with. But when he meets Julia and falls in love, he begins to rebel. How it ends is terrifying.

Before you assume we have nothing to worry about in the U.S.A., we should consider whether 1984 isn't as much a metaphor as his other famous political novel, Animal Farm. Propaganda in the United States isn't as blatant as the Two-Minutes Hate, but surely we all know about doublespeak, enforced ignorance, and general dehumanization through euthanasia and abortion?

Orwell's warnings were as much against the Technological Age democracy he saw engulfing the West as they were about the looming shadow of Communism from the East. Orwell was a socialist who saw plenty wrong with post-war capitalism and its emphasis on acquisition, and the tendency of Western populations to give up freedom for plenty.

We all profess a love of freedom, but consistently trade it for ease, entertainment, and gluttony. To read 1984 as commentary on the modern West is scarier than reading it as a warning, but many of the facts bear out this interpretation.Orwell observes human nature and shows how it's affected by and reacts to a tyrannical bureaucracy. He also marshals words like a veteran, producing one of the most important and best books of the 20th century.

WARNING: 1984 will NOT enter the public domain in the United States of America until 2044 and in the European Union until 2020, although it is public domain in countries such as Canada, Russia, and Australia. The text is available on the Australian Project Gutenberg site. If you live in the US or the EU, please do not print it. (Remember, "Big Brother is watching you!")

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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  Classic Totalitarianism
Nathan D. of Oregon, 3/3/2010
It's easy to see why the publication of 1984 has so profoundly affected political discourse on state surveillance and the influence of government on citizens' day-to-day lives. While portions of the societal picture that it paints seem far-fetched, such as the dramatic revision of historical records even during the lives of those who still remember true events, many of the details in Orwell's cautionary tale seem all too possible. Perhaps some have already begun: the indoctrination of children to report all possible signs of heresy, even from their own parents...pervasive electronic surveillance of the citizenry...warfare used as a tool to control public opinion. Some aspects of his hypothetical society even have clear historical precedent: rationing of resources, pervasive propaganda, forced "reconditioning" of dissidents, and even torture.

To fully appreciate the power of Orwell's vision, one need only look at the fact that modern innovations in government surveillance can now be effectively criticized with the simple epithet of "Big Brother."

This probably isn't the kind of book you would read for fun, but then again, it wasn't intended to be. It offers a glimpse into what a Western society might look like under "IngSoc" (English Socialism) and is thus bleak and gritty. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is portrayed as someone who is content with the dull, repetitious work he does for the ministry, and the hobbies that he enjoys the most are almost equally monotonous. He quietly defies the authorities by thinking independently and chronicling his reminiscences in a small journal. He browses a local antique store for old knick-knacks that offer a small glimpse into life before IngSoc. His only sources of excitement are developing a secret relationship with Julia, a mechanic for the Party, and joining the Brotherhood, an underground movement that never dares to engage in any open defiance. Instead, it circulates copies of "the book," a work that exposes the truth about IngSoc and offers a vague theory about how the Party might someday be overthrown. As Winston reads excerpts from the book, you get a sense of the resignation felt even by those who want to overthrow the Party and Big Brother, and this echoes the ultimately futile atmosphere that pervades 1984.
  1984 (orwell)
DJ of Ireland, 4/17/2009
It's over 30 years since I read this book (required reading at school/before I was saved). I was surprised to see this book for sale on this site. As far as I can remember it has a sex scene (or perhaps more than one). Caution advised!