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On Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Story of George Orwell’s Masterpiece

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From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel  Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock musicians have made records about it, TV viewers watch a reality show named for it, and a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy.  On 1984 dives deep into Orwell’s life to chart his earlier writings and key moments in his youth, such as his years at a boarding school, whose strict and charismatic headmaster shaped the idea of Big Brother. Taylor tells the story of the writing of the book, taking readers to the Scottish island of Jura, where Orwell, newly famous thanks to Animal Farm but coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish 1984. Published during the cold war—a term Orwell coined—Taylor elucidates the environmental influences on the book. Then he examines 1984’s post-publication life, including its role as a tool to understand our language, politics, and government. In a current climate where truth, surveillance, censorship, and critical thinking are contentious, Orwell’s work is necessary. Written with resonant and reflective analysis, On 1984 is both brilliant and remarkably timely. 


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From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock From the author of the definitive biography of George Orwell, a captivating account of the origin and enduring power of his landmark dystopian novel  Since its publication nearly 70 years ago, George Orwell’s 1984 has been regarded as one of the most influential novels of the modern age. Politicians have testified to its influence on their intellectual identities, rock musicians have made records about it, TV viewers watch a reality show named for it, and a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy.  On 1984 dives deep into Orwell’s life to chart his earlier writings and key moments in his youth, such as his years at a boarding school, whose strict and charismatic headmaster shaped the idea of Big Brother. Taylor tells the story of the writing of the book, taking readers to the Scottish island of Jura, where Orwell, newly famous thanks to Animal Farm but coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish 1984. Published during the cold war—a term Orwell coined—Taylor elucidates the environmental influences on the book. Then he examines 1984’s post-publication life, including its role as a tool to understand our language, politics, and government. In a current climate where truth, surveillance, censorship, and critical thinking are contentious, Orwell’s work is necessary. Written with resonant and reflective analysis, On 1984 is both brilliant and remarkably timely. 

55 review for On Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Story of George Orwell’s Masterpiece

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meike

    It feels like "1984" is becoming more relevant by the day, so there is no denying that a comprehensive study of Orwell's dystopian classic in relation to our current state of affairs is a worthwhile endeavor - this book sets out to do just that, but does not quite reach its goal. Author D.J. Taylor has already published a biography about Orwell, so in large parts of this book, he also recapitulates the author's life and how his experiences influenced the making of "1984": Born in 1903, Orwell It feels like "1984" is becoming more relevant by the day, so there is no denying that a comprehensive study of Orwell's dystopian classic in relation to our current state of affairs is a worthwhile endeavor - this book sets out to do just that, but does not quite reach its goal. Author D.J. Taylor has already published a biography about Orwell, so in large parts of this book, he also recapitulates the author's life and how his experiences influenced the making of "1984": Born in 1903, Orwell saw two world wars, served in the Indian Imperial Police, fought in the Spanish Civil War, and witnessed the rise of communism in East Europe. He was also a widower and single parent, suffered from tuberculosis for over ten years and died less than a year after the publication of his most famous book. While Taylor's language is not exactly riveting, these aspects are certainly informative. There are also some interesting remarks about "1984" and pop culture, but frankly, the reason why I picked up the book - and why probably most people will pick up the book - are the political implications of Orwell's story. And to say it directly: Trump, Brexit et al. hardly feature, and when they do, the analysis is sloppy at best and plain wrong at worst. Let me give you an example: Taylor argues that Trump does have qualities of "bygone Fascist leaders", but that he lacks "the authenticating mark of any self-respecting authoritarian regime: the ability of its leader to control his executive. In place of some self-sustaining cadre with an almost mythological belief in its own virtue and the destiny it is divinely appointed to fulfil, there is only opportunism, expediency, backbiting, and chaos." Apart from the fact that Trump as a person cannot be a regime (editor, anyone?), I hope someone will explain to the author - who according to his bio read Modern History! - what the difference between authoritarianism and totalitarianism is and how those concepts relate fo fascism, because Taylor's argument makes it seem as if he doesn't know. Unfortunately, this superficial outlook is a staple when it comes to political analysis - we hear a lot about Hitler and even more about communism, but there is no stringent argument although Orwell's book works with a very clear and consistent narrative concept centered on the effects of all totalitarian ideology. The same goes for the analysis of Orwell's use of language: After reading "1984", it is pretty remarkable that Taylor comes to the conclusion that Kellyanne Conway "has no idea of how language works" - methinks "1984" argues that people like Conway know exactly how language works which is why they abuse it so effectively: Language is a means to communicate, it is not good or bad, but the intentions of the speaker make it so, e.g. if words are used to manipulate and control people. Plus I've also encountered my pet peeve, an author throwing around broad terms like "the left", "the right", "socialism" and "conservatism" without really defining them in the concrete context. *sigh* So all in all, this book is a mixed bag: It somehow reads as if written in a hurry, and more careful editing and revising certainly would have helped the end product. Still, Taylor is very knowledgeable about Orwell, and his explanations in this regard helped my understanding of the timeless masterpiece that is "1984".

  2. 5 out of 5

    Linda Bond

    Very few books are so important that they deserve a “biography.” In the case of 1984, however, it is totally understandable. Most of us experienced the cold war with this book in hand and on our minds. Just how far would a government go to control its people? What if we were told the information we believed as fake and we must be set straight by those in the know – the government spokesmen? It sounded a bit far-fetched at the time of it’s release but as the years have gone by, more and more Very few books are so important that they deserve a “biography.” In the case of 1984, however, it is totally understandable. Most of us experienced the cold war with this book in hand and on our minds. Just how far would a government go to control its people? What if we were told the information we believed as fake and we must be set straight by those in the know – the government spokesmen? It sounded a bit far-fetched at the time of it’s release but as the years have gone by, more and more people are taking its warnings seriously. To learn the history of its writing and the struggle that George Orwell experienced in his personal life including bad health, this will be the go-to book for your library shelves. Enjoy the journey! I met this book at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane, WA

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Nice review at the WSJ: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mini... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "D.J. Taylor’s “On Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the brisker and more focused volume, and a better choice for those wishing to read about Orwell’s novel rather than around it. Mr. Taylor, a novelist, critic and biographer, more ably balances the cultural footprint of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” with the story of its writing. The definitive account of Orwell’s life— Nice review at the WSJ: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-mini... (Paywalled. As always, I'm happy to email a copy to non-subscribers) Excerpt: "D.J. Taylor’s “On Nineteen Eighty-Four” is the brisker and more focused volume, and a better choice for those wishing to read about Orwell’s novel rather than around it. Mr. Taylor, a novelist, critic and biographer, more ably balances the cultural footprint of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” with the story of its writing. The definitive account of Orwell’s life—his work as an imperial policeman in Burma; time spent tramping among the poor; the death of his idealism as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War; and his late-blooming literary success—is that of Bernard Crick (1980). But Mr. Taylor here covers the highlights, giving both an overview of Orwell’s career and a survey of his greatest literary achievement. The Tehran Conference of 1943 supplied the germ of an idea for “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Here were Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin beginning to divide up the world into postwar spheres of influence. In Orwell’s imagination these three zones became Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. His notebooks show that he built the novel around political themes rather than characters or story lines. Leader-worship, the death of objective truth, the falsification of records and a utilitarian compressed language called Newspeak: all appeared as the foundations of a world characterized by propaganda and fear. . . . . . . [Orwell] chose decency over partisan dogma. He made a habit of facing unpleasant facts. And if he abhorred one thing above all others in public life or in literature, it was lies. These two books are valuable in their own right, but their greatest service may be to send readers back to the source material. Not that Orwell needs a publicist. “Nineteen Eighty-Four” is said to have sold 40 million copies." Wow. I should reread "1984." It's been many, many years . . .

  4. 5 out of 5

    BookTrib.com

    Since its publication 70 years ago, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been regarded as one of the most significant novels of the modern age. It has influenced everyone from politicians to musicians, just as a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy. D.J. Taylor is an award-winning author for his definitive biography of George Orwell. Now, in On Nineteen Since its publication 70 years ago, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four has been regarded as one of the most significant novels of the modern age. It has influenced everyone from politicians to musicians, just as a White House spokesperson tells of “alternative facts.” The world we live in is often described as an Orwellian one, awash in inescapable surveillance and invasions of privacy. D.J. Taylor is an award-winning author for his definitive biography of George Orwell. Now, in On Nineteen Eighty-Four (Abrams Press), he provides a comprehensive, captivating account of the origin and enduring power of this landmark dystopian novel. He delves deep into Orwell’s formative years to chart the novel’s origins and the real-life moments that helped to frame the novel’s distinctive authoritarian landscape. Of the book’s first reviews in 1949, Taylor writes, “Terror. Fascination. Plausibility. Humanity’s heritage in peril…As the summer went on, and copies of the book began to be distributed around continental Europe and in the debatable lands beyond it, these rivulets of appropriation built into a tidal wave, the harbinger of an all-around media storm to which Orwell…was not immune.” Taylor takes readers to the Scottish island of Jura where Orwell, coping with personal tragedy and rapidly declining health, struggled to finish writing the book. It was the dawn of the Cold War – a term Orwell coined – and Taylor elucidates the environment in which the novel was published. Then he examines Nineteen Eighty-Four’s legacy, including its impact on language and its role as a tool to understand our politics. The rest of the review: https://booktrib.com/2019/10/definiti...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca L.

    Big brother is watching. George Orwell's chilling dystopian novel entitled 1984 (an inversion of the year it was written), is an iconic book that has served as a warning for my generation. Orwell warns us that if power is left to run unchecked, the terrifying realm of the not-so-distant future he depicts is in his novel is an all to plausible possibility. In a world where technology has become more and more invasive, Orwell's work is as pertinent now as it was when he originally penned his Big brother is watching. George Orwell's chilling dystopian novel entitled 1984 (an inversion of the year it was written), is an iconic book that has served as a warning for my generation. Orwell warns us that if power is left to run unchecked, the terrifying realm of the not-so-distant future he depicts is in his novel is an all to plausible possibility. In a world where technology has become more and more invasive, Orwell's work is as pertinent now as it was when he originally penned his novel. But what inspired Orwell to write 1984? And how was it received? In this concise and erudite biography of a book, Taylor places 1984 in it's cultural context and explores the influences that inspired Orwell to write this novel. He also examines how the book continues to remain pertinent in today's world. The perfect book who anyone who has ever worried if big brother is watching (he totally is) or who is concerned about the balance of power in today's world. Just don't let big brother catch you reading it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joy

    George Orwell, the British author famous for coining the now ubiquitous terms, “Big Brother is Watching,” and “The Cold War,” in his novel, “1984,” was a brilliant, but increasingly unhealthy and relatively unambitious young man, reports Author D.J. Taylor, in “On Nineteen Eighty-four:” ‘Orwell, The Man and the Masterpiece.’” We learn that Orwell channelled his early life experiences, that shaped both his political and personal views, into the decades enduring and generational defining creative George Orwell, the British author famous for coining the now ubiquitous terms, “Big Brother is Watching,” and “The Cold War,” in his novel, “1984,” was a brilliant, but increasingly unhealthy and relatively unambitious young man, reports Author D.J. Taylor, in “On Nineteen Eighty-four:” ‘Orwell, The Man and the Masterpiece.’” We learn that Orwell channelled his early life experiences, that shaped both his political and personal views, into the decades enduring and generational defining creative masterwork that we know as “1984.” Tragically, we also discover through Taylor’s research primer of both man and literature, that the eponymous Orwellian, that future decades of post-apocalyptic references will attribute, died shortly after “1984,” was published as a national and international bestseller. Orwell’s death from long-term pulmonary complications did not allow him to enjoy the fame and accolades as a writer that he pessimistically thought he would never attain. In this fascinating biography on George Orwell and his novel, “1984,” D.J. Taylor demonstrates Orwell’s keen insights and prescience of the unfolding dystopian future of his native Britain’s, and the surrounding and evolving world’s politics, immediately following WWII. As well exemplified in “On Nineteen Eighty-four,” Taylor logically presents thorough expository research on all subjects; elegant descriptive details of persons, places and literary works; and persuasive reasoning throughout this autobiography of how George Orwell’s life and experiences influenced the creation of his last and most remembered work—“1984.” Taylor successfully utilizes multiple literary styles to present this engagingly readable and easily digestible literary reference. For me, D.J. Taylor sets a new standard baseline criteria for literary and reference book writing—BRAVA! Let’s keep research filled with facts; however, presented cogently, succinctly and in a lively writing style that engages all readers!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    With a resurgence in sales of the novel 1984, this book comes at a good time. I felt this book was on point but I found you would have needed to know more about George Orwell's other works besides Animal Farm. At points it was a bit more scholarly in nature than I would have liked but I thought it was very interesting to read how 1984 came into existence and circumstances that influenced the work. You don't get a glimpse into certain works very often and this was quite an interesting story.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    This book was a bit of a history journey about a popular book of our times. A true insight for modern times we live in today. 1984 by George Orwell . This book was a Goodreads giveaway.

  9. 4 out of 5

    David

    Quite interesting and timely, given current political climate in USA. Full review to come.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Rulon

  12. 5 out of 5

    Philip

  13. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joanne

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Freed

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  18. 5 out of 5

    Darcy Moore

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carol

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vaska Raeca

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dave Sloan

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lissa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jake Turbill

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robin Leigh

  26. 4 out of 5

    Beth G.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kusaimamekirai

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alia

  30. 5 out of 5

    BMR, LCSW

  31. 4 out of 5

    Muffin

  32. 5 out of 5

    Steven

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    Sam

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    N K

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    Kim Friant

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    Jodie Marie

  37. 4 out of 5

    Gabby

  38. 5 out of 5

    Micielle

  39. 5 out of 5

    KMcd

  40. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  41. 4 out of 5

    David

  42. 4 out of 5

    Allie

  43. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

  44. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

  45. 4 out of 5

    Kim Ellis

  46. 4 out of 5

    amy

  47. 4 out of 5

    Julie Oxendale

  48. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  49. 5 out of 5

    Astrid Galactic

  50. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  51. 4 out of 5

    Karen Olson

  52. 5 out of 5

    lou brown

  53. 4 out of 5

    Nancy Adams

  54. 5 out of 5

    Wanda C

  55. 5 out of 5

    Judy

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