Everybody knows George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, even if they haven’t read it, or haven’t read it since their teenage years. It is one of the most influential novels ever written, informing works as diverse as The Handmaid’s Tale, V for Vendetta and David Bowie’s 'Diamond Dogs'.
Reading Nineteen Eighty-Four offers us a key to understanding the 20th Century – and what we’re witnessing in this century too. Every year we find ourselves continually reaching for the novel’s key phrases and images: Big Brother, Room 101, The Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5. Whenever we talk about authoritarianism, surveillance, propaganda, revisionism or post-truth, it is Orwell who set us the broadest context for the conversation.
This is the biography of a novel, but it is a story much bigger than Orwell’s alone. It takes in HG Wells, Jack London, EM Forster, Fritz Lang, Adolf Hitler, Leon Trotsky, Aldous Huxley, Steve Jobs, Edward Snowden, Thomas Pynchon, Radiohead and The Lego Movie. It involves Victorian socialism, the Spanish Civil War, the Cold War, the birth of science fiction, the launch of the Apple Macintosh, the 1970s oil shock, reality TV and internet hackers.
The Lie Becomes the Truth by Dorian Lynskey is the first book to treat Nineteen Eighty-Four as a ubiquitous cultural touchstone rather than as an academic text.