George Orwell’s novel 1984 is more than 60 years old ― but in the days following President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the classic tale of a dystopian society, where an authoritarian government uses language to control the masses, is in high demand.
One edition of the book has spent several days on Amazon’s best-sellers list, climbing to number one Wednesday. The sale surge was highlighted Monday by Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” when the book was number six on the list.
Sales for the book increased by 9,500 percent since Trump’s inauguration Friday, Signet Classics told The Huffington Post.
The publisher, an imprint of Penguin Random House, ordered a 75,000-copy reprint of 1984 earlier this week, and ordered another 100,000 copies of other Orwell titles Wednesday due to demand.
It would be difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused the spike, but plenty of people have pointed to “Orwellian” language used by Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday. When host Chuck Todd asked Conway about White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s false claim that Trump drew the largest inauguration crowds ever, Conway disputed the notion that he had lied.
Spicer instead gave “alternative facts,” she said.
“Alternative facts are not facts,” Todd countered. “They’re falsehoods.”
On “Reliable Sources” Sunday, Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty called the term “a George Orwell phrase.”
“This brings us to 1984 ‘doublethink,’ where war is really peace, where famine is really plenty. That’s what’s happening here,” political historian Allan Lichtman added.
Rebranding lies as “alternative facts” is certainly reminiscent of the way language is used by those in power in the world of 1984 ― to distort, manipulate and propagandize. One of the book’s most famous quotations is the three-part slogan for the (fictional) Ministry of Truth: “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.”
Orwell also wrote about the way language can undermine truth in his nonfiction. In the 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language,” he wrote:
Political language ― and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists ― is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
There are close to 30 million copies of 1984 in print, according to Signet. It is a standard in high school English classes and hasn’t lost relevance over the decades. Though some say we’re too quick to accuse things of being “Orwellian,” Orwell’s story has clearly helped people trying to make sense of foreboding contemporary events.
When the extent of the National Security Agency’s citizen surveillance activities came out in 2013 ― reminding some of 1984’s Big Brother, the secretive, authoritarian leader who’s always watching ― the Amazon sales ranking for one edition of the book jumped 4,000 percent overnight.
This story has been updated with the book’s most recent ranking on the best-sellers list and sales information from the publisher.