The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's "1984"

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's

The author has written a study that places George Orwell's 1984 in a variety of contexts: the author's life and times, the book's precursors in the science fiction genre, and its subsequent place in popular culture. Lynskey delves into how Orwell's harrowing Spanish Civil War experiences shaped his concern with political disinformation by exposing him to the deceptiveness...

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Title:The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's "1984"
Author:Dorian Lynskey
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The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's "1984" Reviews

  • Nancy

    In January 2017, Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the crowd gathered to see President Trump take the oath of office was the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." When accused of misrepresentation Sanders said her statement was "alternative facts." Over the following four days, sales of George Orwell's novel 1984 rocketed to number one bestseller.

    Dorian Lynskey writes that more people know about 1984 than know 1984. It's catchphrases have entered the common language. Big Brother

    In January 2017, Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the crowd gathered to see President Trump take the oath of office was the "largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." When accused of misrepresentation Sanders said her statement was "alternative facts." Over the following four days, sales of George Orwell's novel 1984 rocketed to number one bestseller.

    Dorian Lynskey writes that more people know about 1984 than know 1984. It's catchphrases have entered the common language. Big Brother. Doublespeak. Newspeak.

    In his book, Ministry of Truth, Lynskey examines the novel's origin, development, and influence in its time and its afterlife. Lynskey shows how Orwell's values and experiences shaped the novel and Orwell's purpose and intended message of the novel.

    The book is in two parts, first telling the story of Orwell's life and beliefs, his world, the history of utopian and dystopian novels. In the second part, Lynskey covers the novel's influences, interpretations, and uses since its publication.

    Since January 2017, dystopian novels have topped the best-seller lists and newly published ones find a ready audience. 1984 was not meant to be prophetic, but a warning based on Orwell's experience.

    "What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening," Trump proclaimed in a July 2018 speech, echoing the 1984 lines, "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command." Orwell feared that objective truth "is fading out of the world." Seventy years later, we still share that fear.

    Upon its publication, some thought it was a book that would only speak to one generation. Sadly, it has proven resiliently evergreen.

    I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

    "The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one," [Orwell] explained in a press statement after the book came out. "Don't let it happen. It depends on you." quoted in The Ministry of Truth by Dorian Lynskey

  • Susan

    I love books about books and so this, the biography of George Orwell’s most famous novel, “1984,” was a must read for me. This is split into two main sections; the first dealing with Orwell’s writing of the novel and the second part looking at the impact of the book.

    If you are looking for a biography of George Orwell, this is not really the book for you. Although it covers part of his life, which mainly deals with the period where he was either considering writing, or actually working on, “1984,

    I love books about books and so this, the biography of George Orwell’s most famous novel, “1984,” was a must read for me. This is split into two main sections; the first dealing with Orwell’s writing of the novel and the second part looking at the impact of the book.

    If you are looking for a biography of George Orwell, this is not really the book for you. Although it covers part of his life, which mainly deals with the period where he was either considering writing, or actually working on, “1984,” this is not a book about his entire life. Rather it looks on influences on the novel, including Orwell’s time in Spain, the political situation leading up to the Second World War, utopias and dystopian novels that were popular at the time, the work of H.G. Wells, Orwell’s time at the BBC (including working with Guy Burgess), London during, and after, the war and other such events. Some of this is very funny – including a rather disastrous dinner party with H.G. Wells, other parts are insightful, such as Orwell’s thoughts on Dickens – you can only create if you care – some touching, such as Orwell’s refusal to accept his life was almost over, when he was terribly ill, and others really give a sense of those turbulent, political times. Orwell’s time in Spain allowed him to feel the paranoia and fear that comes with a totalitarian state, while he was obviously heavily influences by Stalin’s regime of obliterating free speech, rewriting history and forced confessions; even if such thoughts were not always welcomed by those who were concerned that books like, “Animal Farm,” would not be welcomed by our Allies…

    Looking at whether, “1984” is still relevant, after being published in 1949 is almost a pointless question. The author shows how, throughout history, the book constantly comes back into favour during turbulent times. After Trump’s inauguration, when the press questioned his office claiming the largest crowd ever, which was obviously untrue, they were blithely informed that this was, “alternative facts.” Sales of “1984,” rocketed, as it had before and, undoubtedly, will again. Phrases from the book have come into common use – from Room 101, Big Brother, The Ministry of Truth and even the term, ‘Orwellian.’ Sometimes, you feel the author has really discovered every single reference to the novel is every television show, song, slogan and film. However, from ‘The Prisoner ,’ to David Bowie, these are covered in detail. I think, overall, I preferred the beginning of this book and the writing of the novel itself, but this is also interesting. It was also fascinating to learn what people imagined was warned against in the novel, and how they interpreted it. For example, the book is often seen as a warning about computers, and social media, when actually Orwell’s vision of a screen that watched you, came from televisions – which he never owned and which was taken off air during the war years anyway. Indeed, his understanding of technology was, in Lynskey’s words, rudimentary at best.

    Overall, though, this is a wonderful read and very well written. The research is thorough and comprehensive – even exhausting at times. Yet, Dorian Lynskey manages to keep this readable and constantly unearths interesting nuggets of information, which will make you wish to read the novel again – or, if you have not read it before – discover Orwell’s world for yourself.

  • Ryan Denson

    Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth brilliantly seeks to uncover what forces shaped the novel 1984, both in terms of Orwell’s personal experiences and larger cultural elements, as well as survey how the novel has remained so popular in the seven decades since its publication.

    The first part of the book could be described as a mixture of biography, history, and literary history. Lynskey does diligent work in piecing together the events and experiences of Orwell’s life that had a profound impac

    Dorian Lynskey’s The Ministry of Truth brilliantly seeks to uncover what forces shaped the novel 1984, both in terms of Orwell’s personal experiences and larger cultural elements, as well as survey how the novel has remained so popular in the seven decades since its publication.

    The first part of the book could be described as a mixture of biography, history, and literary history. Lynskey does diligent work in piecing together the events and experiences of Orwell’s life that had a profound impact on his ideas and writing, such as his early experiences with colonialism in Burma, and his time in Spain fighting against fascists. This is interwoven alongside the historical events of the rise of fascism, the two world wars, and the Russian Revolution, events and political phenomena that he was keenly fascinated by and was a voracious reader of all the reports coming out of these developments. Lastly, his personal experiences and the political chaos is set against the backdrop of the late 19th/early 20th century fascination with utopian literature and optimism that science would supposedly lead to unbounded progress. Most notably, the voluminous body of works written by H. G. Wells dominated such discussions over how to craft an ideal society. While Orwell was certainly not the first to create an anti-utopian (or dystopian as it more commonly known today), his desire to create an inversion of such a popular genre would be combined with his political ideas and historical trends.

    The second part deals largely with the aftermath of the novel. It sparked controversy and debate from day one of publication as many misinterpreted Orwell’s message or sought to paint it primarily as a critique of their own political opponents. This situation was further complication by Orwell’s own death, less than a year after its publication, leading to only more turmoil over who could claim Orwell’s message for their own. This part vividly shows the surge in popularity of both 1984, as many of its terms and ideas became implanted in our culture, and the rise of the dystopian genre, with many imitating or crafting altered versions of such Orwellian nightmares. People began to draw parallels between their own times and the world of 1984. David Bowie, for instance, was known to be an avid fan of the book and imbedded references to 1984 throughout his music. One chapter details the extremely high interest in the book during the 1984, ironic considering Orwell only alter the title to the year as a late change. Lastly, a chapter focuses on 1984 in the 21st century, where recent events, notably the 2016 American presidential election have caused a surge in sales of the book and interest in its themes of a post-truth world. Many have also seen the parallels in new surveillance technology, once an idea that 1984’s early readers dismissed as an outlandish possibility.

    Lynskey’s book is a magnificent work for anyone who has enjoyed reading 1984. You don’t need an in-depth knowledge of the novel to understand this book, but that certainly will help as avid fans of 1984 will pick up the many connections, like Orwell’s extreme dislike of rats that he developed when fighting in Spain. The book is also a thought provoking one as readers will no doubt (unfortunately) be able to relate many ideas to current day situations. Today is the 70th anniversary of the publication of 1984 (published June 8th 1949), and even after so long the novel’s themes have continued to fascinate and terrify so many.

  • Richard Luck

    I've a thousand and one things I'd like to say about The Ministry Of Truth. However, for the time being, I'll limit myself to this - if I had written this book, I think I would've died of pride.

  • Luke Gardiner

    Dorian Lynskey has written one of the greatest and most compelling biographies possible in this book, and it is not even about a person! However, the first part, with its emphasis on the life of George Orwell, is a brilliant biography in itself. Lynskey brilliantly brings the man to life, with all his foibles and character, in a way that perfectly helps the reader understand how 1984 became the masterpiece that it is. The latter section also does a fantastic job of illustrating how Orwells death

    Dorian Lynskey has written one of the greatest and most compelling biographies possible in this book, and it is not even about a person! However, the first part, with its emphasis on the life of George Orwell, is a brilliant biography in itself. Lynskey brilliantly brings the man to life, with all his foibles and character, in a way that perfectly helps the reader understand how 1984 became the masterpiece that it is. The latter section also does a fantastic job of illustrating how Orwells death saved him from a great deal of anguish around the constant misinterpretation of his magnum opus. Well written, and surprisingly chilling when read in the modern age, this book is a must buy companion to the original novel. I heartily recommend it to any Orwellophile!

  • Katie (wife of book)

    I don't recall where I heard about this book, but as soon as I heard about it, I had to read it. Luckily, my library had the audio book so I nabbed it! The narrator has a authoritative and deep voice and I think he did a good job of this book. He may have gone a little overboard with some of the accents and pronunciations but overall, it was a good reading.

    This is a really excellent book to read if you are a big fan of Nineteen-Eighty Four, like I am. You will need to have read Orwell's final no

    I don't recall where I heard about this book, but as soon as I heard about it, I had to read it. Luckily, my library had the audio book so I nabbed it! The narrator has a authoritative and deep voice and I think he did a good job of this book. He may have gone a little overboard with some of the accents and pronunciations but overall, it was a good reading.

    This is a really excellent book to read if you are a big fan of Nineteen-Eighty Four, like I am. You will need to have read Orwell's final novel to really appreciate this history - as the author says, it's a cross between literary criticism and Orwell's life story. Lynskey stuck to his promise from the Introduction as did not bash the reader over the head with constant comparisons to present politics, but he manages to convey his message in a much more subtle ways involving quotes and examples. This book could have easily descended into a rant about the state of the modern world, but Lynskey is a skilled enough writer that this is avoided.

    It's fascinating to learn about Orwell's life and how it influenced his writing. The first section of the book is a breakdown of the author's life in the Spanish Civil War, at the BBC, and during the World Wars. We learn of Orwell's interactions with people like HG Wells and how various writers inadvertently created the tropes we still use to day in Science Fiction and Dystopic Fiction. There are a lot of "isms" in this section (Communism, Marxism, Totalitarianism, Socialism etc) and it gets a little tough to keep track of some of the terms and the many names. I think it was a little easier listening to the audio book as I could just let it was over me and not worry too much about taking it all in! I was concerned this book might read like an academic text but Lynskey has a good balance between heavy academic ideas and interesting stories from Pop Culture.

    The information about the reception to the book and the world in which it was released was fascinating and I loved the latter half of the book that traced the story of Nineteen-Eighty Four itself through the Cold War, the year of 1984, and into the 21st Century. Lynskey's analysis of the different themes that each generation take from the book was so interesting. This is a great book for anyone with an interest in literary criticism, the history of the 20th century, Orwell himself, or his amazing last novel.

  • Peter Mcloughlin

    1984 is huge these days of rising authoritarianism and surveillance states undreamt of in Orwell's work. How does this short novel written by a dying man on the island of Jura in 1948 become such a touchstone for 70 years following its publication? This book documents Orwell's life experience and reading sources that went into this timely work. From his experience of British working class that pulled him towards socialism and his experience in Spain and the betrayal of its cause by the Soviets f

    1984 is huge these days of rising authoritarianism and surveillance states undreamt of in Orwell's work. How does this short novel written by a dying man on the island of Jura in 1948 become such a touchstone for 70 years following its publication? This book documents Orwell's life experience and reading sources that went into this timely work. From his experience of British working class that pulled him towards socialism and his experience in Spain and the betrayal of its cause by the Soviets for realpolitik reasons and the fanaticism and cynicism of ideologues. 1984 was made by this hard-won life history. The book then talks about the books afterlife in politics in the seventy years since. Including misunderstandings and obfuscation by various figures. And of course the exploding popularity of this authoritarian moment. A nice supplement to the critical 1984

    a video on 1984

  • Susan Paxton

    Dorian Lynskey has, I think, produced one of the most perceptive pieces of Orwell scholarship in some time, and frankly I rather hope that he eventually sits down to the task of writing a complete biography as his view of the man and his work is vividly three-dimensional in a way few of Orwell's biographers have achieved.

    Lynskey's book is, of course, a biography of Orwell's most famous work,

    , a book which has never lost its resonance but which is steadfastly reinterpreted an

    Dorian Lynskey has, I think, produced one of the most perceptive pieces of Orwell scholarship in some time, and frankly I rather hope that he eventually sits down to the task of writing a complete biography as his view of the man and his work is vividly three-dimensional in a way few of Orwell's biographers have achieved.

    Lynskey's book is, of course, a biography of Orwell's most famous work,

    , a book which has never lost its resonance but which is steadfastly reinterpreted and claimed by each generation for its own. The author starts with the influence earlier works had on Orwell and with events in Orwell's own life that shaped the novel; he points out that Orwell apparently was not familiar with Edward Bellamy. At least he never

    Bellamy, but clearly Bellamy as interpreted by others was an effect on him (in a similar way later in the book Lynskey is able to point out Orwell's influence on others, like Terry Gilliam, who had never read

    ). He moves on to the actual writing, and points out that Orwell and his famous book overlapped for less than a year before Orwell died.

    The second section of the book discusses the posthumous life and reception of the novel, and Lynskey's research and synthesis really shine here to illuminate dark crannies of forgotten influence; not only

    but

    ; not just

    but Terry Gilliam's

    . There is a lot of great interest here, especially for American readers not as familiar with British politics; Britain came perilously close to fascism in the mid-70s and was probably lucky to escape only with the horrific Thatcher years. The modern slide towards fascism has been under way for longer than we pretend to think.

    Of course it's impossible for the writer to finish without discussing the present and the endless medium-sized lies, as Lynskey calls them, of the current American administration and the soft Stalinism of Putin.

    may not have predicted the future we live in, but it certainly hinted at it and it remains powerful reading.

    Excellent book, tightly written, topical, and most importantly, true to Orwell.

  • Hadrian

    A study of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four largely through a comparison to other political literature of the time - mostly utopian novels, but also contemporary dystopian fiction like Zamyatin's We and Huxley's Brave New World.

    While the literary comparisons are interesting, I personally would have like even more detail on Orwell's foundational experiences in the Spanish Civil War and life in wartime London, which would have contributed to the grey dismal world of Airstrip One - press censorship,

    A study of the book Nineteen Eighty-Four largely through a comparison to other political literature of the time - mostly utopian novels, but also contemporary dystopian fiction like Zamyatin's We and Huxley's Brave New World.

    While the literary comparisons are interesting, I personally would have like even more detail on Orwell's foundational experiences in the Spanish Civil War and life in wartime London, which would have contributed to the grey dismal world of Airstrip One - press censorship, lousy food, dinginess, the random violence of bombings, etc.

    That said, Lynskey's insistence on trying to rescue the book from lazy caricature and his refusal to put Orwell on a pedestal make this an even-handed effort to grapple with the subject.

  • Chrissie

    Decided very quickly this was not a book for me. I did not complete it. Tried it in June 2019.

    I am not a fan of either dystopian or utopian novels! There is a lot of name dropping of authors and titles that do not interest me. I wanted it to be about Orwell, but it isn't. The superficial way it covered his time in Spain, put me off immediately. Never does it say clearly how Orwell's experiences in the Spanish Civil War directly influenced his writing.

    I find the writing long-winded.

    It seems to m

    Decided very quickly this was not a book for me. I did not complete it. Tried it in June 2019.

    I am not a fan of either dystopian or utopian novels! There is a lot of name dropping of authors and titles that do not interest me. I wanted it to be about Orwell, but it isn't. The superficial way it covered his time in Spain, put me off immediately. Never does it say clearly how Orwell's experiences in the Spanish Civil War directly influenced his writing.

    I find the writing long-winded.

    It seems to me the book is more about other authors than it is about Orwell.

    Neither does it help that the narration by Andrew Wincott, which although clear, is over-dramatized.

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