cover image The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984

The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell’s 1984

Dorian Lynskey. Doubleday, $26.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-54405-4

Lynskey (33 Revolutions Per Minute) offers an entertaining but scattershot 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 of people he’d once regarded as allies against fascism: the Soviets and their Western apologists. Another section offers a history of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 bestseller Looking Backwards, as a leading example of the once-thriving genre of utopian literature and as an optimistic counterpoint to 1984’s totalitarian nightmare. While Lynskey calls this a “biography” of 1984, anyone expecting a granular examination of the novel itself will likely be disappointed. Lynskey spreads himself too thin, veering away from his purported subject: is it important to know, for example, that H.G. Wells, identified here as a major influence on Orwell, was a difficult child? Lysnkey is strongest, by far, in his analysis of the novel’s influence on rock musicians, especially David Bowie. While his book offers some intriguing insights, one longs for a stronger and more intense focus on 1984 itself. (June)