Nineteen Eighty-Four (aka 1984)

George Orwell

In 1949, George Orwell (the author of Animal Farm (1945) one of the most amazing allegories in all of literature) published Nineteen Eighty-Four, a novel that has become a science-fiction classic, renowned for its attack on Big Government in all its forms.

A precursor to the novels of Ayn Rand, it describes a totalitarian State, a world of perpetual war, where everything was censored, where the government engaged in mind control, where books were burned and education scorned, where TV’s looked back at viewers, where children “informed” against parents, where the government sought to suppress the libido, where history was endlessly rewritten to support the government’s current positions, making a mockery of truth, and where the State relentlessly preached: “War is peace…Freedom is slavery…Ignorance is strength…BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU…” There were four, dominant government agencies: Ministry of Truth (which controlled the news, entertainment and education, Ministry of Peace (which engaged in non-stop wars), Ministry of Love (which ruthlessly enforced law and order via a brutal penal system), and Ministry of Plenty (which controlled the economy). The “Thought Police” imprisoned and tortured those who showed signs of rebellion. Terms like “Big Brother”, “Orwellian”, “Newspeak”, “Doublethink” were forever imbedded in our lexicon, as reminders of what to fear, and avoid, from Big Government – driving home a now established fact: The government often lies and does the opposite of what it promises.

While far from great prose, its gripping and creative plot gives us never to-be-forgotten lessons about the potential perils of big government, depicting a government gone awry, a ruthless oligarchy, a dystopian society. The hero, Winston Smith, is an intellectual who rebels against State-control, but who, in the end, is captured, imprisoned, electro-shock-tortured and brain-washed into submission, a veritable brain remapping; he turns on the love of his life, his wife, Julia, and she turns on him. At last, Winston accepts the Party’s doctrine, of love of Big Brother above all else. Big Brother wins. However unpleasant this denouement, it is unabated realism.

Few books have had as much long term impact upon our view of government than this brief and brilliant masterpiece -- which disturbingly mirrored and foreshadowed some of the deeds of our own government. Everyone needs to read it, and no one, who hasn’t read it, can claim to be well-read.