Books for America: 1984

With 96 days until the election, let us continue looking at the 100 books every American should read. These write-ups will be short and not incredibly comprehensive looks at some books and novels that will help you become a better citizen.

Did you end up here after clicking on a link from social media? Did you do it on a mobile computer and camera that tracks where you go? Does that social media platform you use target ads toward you based on how you search the Internet? Did you freely give all that info to a multinational company? Has the government mined that company’s data?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, you’re living a life that would have horrified George Orwell.

Orwell, the master of the dystopian fictional universe, wrote what is possibly the most important work of fiction in history.

Orwell’s 1984 had left an indelible mark on the English language. The ideas are a hallmark of fiction that followed, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Harry Potter, The Matrix, The Hunger Games and “Watchmen” to “The Giver.”

His novel, set in a world of incredible government overreach, has been claimed by liberals, conservatives, moderates and the radicals in each camp.

It’s a world in which the government sees all, changes the language and people blindly follow government edicts. It examines truth and fact, who has ownership of each and how they can bend them to their will.

Truth and fact will be themes in many of the books on this list, as we’ve already seen.

Orwell is a masterful world-builder, partly because he’s so concise. His two greatest works clock in at under 500 pages combined.

“1984” famously opens with an unsettling scene.

“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

1984

He’s telling the reader that everything that has happened in this world is about to be questioned.

There is a ton of scholarly work on “1984,” and I honestly can’t add anything profound to that work.

It’s worth learning the lessons from that book to question what we’re told, who is watching and what we’re doing.

When I teach, I tell the students that if they learn anything from me it is to “Question everything,” but their first question should always be “Why am I questioning this?”

Questioning yourself and your own intentions is an important avenue for growth.

Just look at the way the left and the right try to co-opt “1984.” Both sides have legitimate claims to some of the valuable lessons of the novel. However, both have played games with it.

The best lessons of “1984” will help you see through the BS of those claims because you’ll learn how to ask the right questions.

The book aims those questions at the government, but you can’t help but wonder how frightened Orwell would be at the power private companies have over all of us.

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Previously, we discussed a book about the bomb. Up next, we’ll take a look at the lives of the rural poor in America.

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