Funny how a book about a dystopian society where the state controls how people should feel and think is hitting the book stores following Donald Trump’s election to the White House seat.
Sales: As of Friday, the best-selling book on Amazon. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, sales have increased by 9,500%, according to American publishers Signet Classics, which this week ordered an additional 100,000 copies of Orwell titles, including 1984 and Animal Farm. According to Nielsen BookScan, which measures most but not all book sales in the US, 1984 sold 47,000 copies in print since election day in November. That is up from 36,000 copies over the same period the previous year, an increase of 30 per cent. In the first three weeks of January sales increased by 20% in the UK. The book has never been out of print since it was published in 1948, selling close to 30 million copies to date.
“We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week. That is a substantial reprint and larger than our typical reprint for 1984,” a Penguin spokesman said.
Plot: A man crushed by a totalitarian, surveillance state – presided over by the all-seeing and possibly non-existent Big Brother – attempts to rebel.
The Trump factor: Orwell’s classic dystopian narrative shot to the top of the Amazon sales charts after Donald Trump’s senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the White House was issuing “alternative facts” in a row over the size of the crowd at his inauguration.
A key part of Orwell’s book is the way that the Party uses simplistic slogans to warp reality, so Black is White, 2+2=5, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.
But it was written, in part, as a warning against Soviet communism and America is not a one-party state with no personal freedom. Andrew Simmons, a writer and history teacher from California, who uses 1984 in the classroom, thinks people are reaching for Orwell’s book and other nightmarish visions of the future as a “safety valve,” enabling them to “freak out and think about the worst possible destination for American democracy”.
“The cultural mood in America is dystopian, particularly among people who read a lot of classic fiction,” he adds. But he also argues that for some readers 1984 contains echoes of Trump in its attitude to “scientific progress” (in 1984, science doesn’t exist) and the way he has played on Americans’ fears about foreigners.
“The president’s promise that he was the only person who could protect them does potentially echo for people the Party’s pattern of whipping up fear among the populace and then presenting them with a narrative trumpeting victory over the source of said fears.”
Sales of 1984 also spiked in 2013, when leaks by Edward Snowden made National Security Agency surveillance a huge international news story.