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July 27, 2007

Rohit Reviews: 1984

1984 (Signet Classic)

About a month ago, I wrote an entry about Schrödinger's Cat (among other things) in which I argued that the people who do end up making especially prescient observations distinguish themselves in a way that we should allow people to be distinguished. No where is that statement more relevant than in discussing George Orwell's (the nom de plume of Eric Blair) prophetic dystopian vision of totalitarianism: 1984.

Though the year 1984 has come and gone (hell, I was still likely shitting my pants in '84), Orwell's demonic vision of a world without history, without truth, without any notion of physical reality remains as poignant and haunting now as it must have been when it was first published in 1949. In fact, in many ways, reading this book for the first time cover-to-cover (I had previously read excerpts), I am truly shocked that it was published so early on. Though many aspects of the novel are either ostensibly or clearly based on Stalinist Russia (particularly notable are the similarities between Big Brother and Stalin, and Goldstein and Trotsky), the work remains general enough that readers of any era—any political persuasion—might notice parallels to their own respective societies.

Certainly, our own does not escape indictment. I think one of the most poignant and thought-provoking aspects of this novel was the discussion in third chapter of the book (War is Peace) of perpetual war as a mechanism for retaining power and perpetuating domestic oppression; without doubt, no study of the Cold War would be complete without this consideration, nor, cynics would argue, would any study of the early 21st century.

All in all, 1984 easily remains one of the most important and influential novels of the past century, and I think in many ways, one of the few truly timeless works of literature. The issues Orwell wrote about in 1949 are only likely to grow more relevant as technology continues to advance at its breakneck pace. The greatest folly for us, as modern readers, would be to relegate this phenomenally prescient work as yet another Cold War classic, another case study in Stalinist barbarity; one need only pick up a newspaper today to realize the slippery slope to totalitarianism is one human society will likely navigate for as long as it is in existence.

Overall, 5 stars of 5. If you have never read this book, or perhaps, read it when you were younger, I encourage you to pick it up again. Without doubt, I was able to gain more perspective having read it as an adult than when I first read excerpts as a high school student.


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