Sales of George Orwell's book "1984" have spiked after news of the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. 

"1984" was published in 1949. The fictional story describes a futuristic authoritarian state that is engaged in smothering surveillance of its citizens.
Dystopian classic gets sales bump in Trump era
03:03 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

It's not the first time there's been a renewed interest in the book

Its publisher has ordered a larger-than-normal reprint of the book

CNN  — 

George Orwell’s novel “1984” is among the dystopian novels finding new readerships since President Donald Trump’s election, with Kellyanne Conway’s use of the term “alternative facts” Sunday on NBC being compared to how the novel’s government frequently used political euphemisms.

The book was written 68 years ago, but today it tops the Amazon Best Seller list. Publisher Penguin told CNN it’s ordered a larger-than-normal reprint of the book, but it’s not the first time “1984” has seen a resurgence of interest or been used to warn about the state of the US government. Both Democrats and Republicans have invoked it, and it’s been used to criticize George W. Bush’s administration for actions following the 9/11 attack, Barack Obama’s administration for the NSA, and now President Trump’s.

Below are examples of how the novel’s been referenced since 1949, showing an evolution in its political usage, from vague allusions to government overreach, to debates about mass government surveillance.

(GERMANY OUT) Graffiti "1984 is now", titel of the novel 1984 by George Orwell, which is discribing a state of control (Photo by Schöning/ullstein bild via Getty Images)


“1984” was published in 1949, just four years after the end of World War II and at the dawn of the Cold War. Time magazine’s review of the novel noted, “any reader in 1949 can uneasily see his own shattered features in Winston Smith, can scent in the world of 1984 a stench that is already familiar.”


In Virginia, state Sen. Omer Hirst, a Democrat, used the novel in his defense of legislation that would legalize a larger number of beers for sale statewide, saying, “the theme of ’1984’ is pervasive government control, which is what this bill will diminish,” according to a Washington Post article that March.


On the eve of the actual 1984, a CNN report looked at how Americans felt about government surveillance. A Harris poll found 84% of American believed the US government “may use television to document compromising activities,” and 70% believed it would “use confidential information to intimidate.”

december 1983 poll big brother 1984 cnn_00014423.jpg
1983 poll highlights '1984' fears
03:21 - Source: CNN


During a debate over a New York state law requiring front-seat drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt, the first law of its kind in the country, opponents held up copies of “1984” and, “suggested the law was a “Big Brother” tactic,” according to a New York Times article that December.


Former Vice President Al Gore accused President George W. Bush of using the war on terror to “rule by secrecy and unquestioned authority” at a meeting for and the American Constitution Society. “They have taken us much farther down the road toward an intrusive, Big Brother-style government – toward the dangers prophesied by George Orwell in his book ’1984’ — than anyone ever thought would be possible in the United States of America.”


Edward Snowden, speaking to UK’s Channel 4 on Christmas said, “The types of collection in the [“1984”] – microphones and video cameras, TVs that watch us – are nothing compared to what we have available today. … We have sensors in our pockets that track us everywhere we go. Think about what this means for the privacy of the average person.”


Just last year, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the Obama administration’s decision to strike the Orlando shooter’s pledge of allegiance to ISIS from transcripts of 9/11 calls “an action that would make George Orwell proud,” and Rep. Tony Cardenas, D-California, said the Share Act, legislation about firearms, hunting, and fishing, “most closely resembles George Orwell’s novel “1984,” riddled with double speak and other provisions.”

(Image credit: C-SPAN)

Also in 2016, Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg participated in a mock trial over “1984.”

“If war is peace then we are in peace time and there is no excuse for any of these extraordinary measures,” she said.