1984

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I previously read this book back in the 1960s, about 20 years before actual-1984. Not because it was assigned—it was a little racy for Omaha Public Schools back then, I would think—just on my own.

Now, 34 years after actual-1984, does it still hold up? I'd have to say "yes and no". Spoilers follow, but, c'mon, who doesn't know the story?

Winston Smith is a low-level Party schlub living in what used to be called "England", now "Airstrip One", part of the country of "Oceania". Things are totalitarian to the nth degree: telescreens are ubiquitous, propaganda is incessant, blind loyalty to the godlike leader "Big Brother" is required, paranoia is totally justified.

Winston harbors anti-Party feelings, though. At first, he restricts himself to writing things down in a secret journal. And then, he engages in an illicit affair with Julia, another rebel. Finally, he and Julia decide to join the Brotherhood, by taking up with co-worker O'Brien.

Oops.

It all comes crashing down. It turns out the Party was on to Winston all along; his friend O'Brien was actually a loyal member of the "Inner Party", and belongs to the Thought Police. And then things get very bad.

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say about 1984. We could quibble about how likely it is that a population of millions could be effectively controlled by a relatively small cadre of telescreen monitors. But perhaps with sufficiently developed AI algorithms, the subjugation could all be automated.

But it's the kind of book that makes you scrutinize current events for worrisome trends. Unfortunately, those are always present, because Orwell had his eye on timeless human failings: the craving for authority, manipulation of language to disguise reality, scapegoating, invocation of external enemies to quash dissent,…