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NSA revelations trigger a spike in '1984' sales

George Orwell's dystopian classic '1984' has experienced a sales surge since the National Security Agency's surveillance program has been in the headlines.

By Husna Haq / June 11, 2013

The National Security Agency, whose headquarters (pictured) are located in Maryland, became the subject of headlines after Edward Snowden, a government contractor, made several of its initiatives public. One is the NSA's collection of the phone records of millions of Americans.

Patrick Semansky/AP

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Oscar Wilde once said that “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

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Rarely has that proven more true than in recent weeks when revelations about the National Security Agency’s surveillance program has drawn countless comparisons to the police state depicted in George Orwell’s novel “1984."

In fact, so chilling are the parallels for many Americans that sales of the dystopian novel have skyrocketed following news of the government’s spying program.

As of Tuesday, Amazon sales of Orwell’s “1984” surged 6,021 percent in just 24 hours, according to NPR.

Based on Orwell’s observations of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany, the novel, published in 1949, warns of the dangers of government surveillance. It paints a picture of a state constantly tracking the thoughts and actions of its citizens, crystallized in its slogan “Big Brother is watching you.”

That slogan has been used to describe the government’s recent actions. Recent news has revealed that the NSA has been collecting the phone records of millions of Americans to create a database to determine whether terror suspects have been in contact with US residents, according to the AP. The program has reignited the debate about whether heightened security measures to fight terror infringe on privacy and civil rights.

“Throwing out such a broad net of surveillance is exactly the kind of threat Orwell feared,” Michael Shelden, author of "Orwell: The Authorized Biography," told NPR.

Not surprisingly, news coverage and social media chatter about the NSA’s surveillance program has been rife with terms like “Big Brother” and “Orwellian,” phrases borrowed from the dystopian world of “1984.”

For those in the books world, the borrowed phrases and surging sales come as no surprise. Books have long mirrored the social and political affairs of the times and, just as often, current affairs have mirrored literature. As NPR points out, sales of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” surged during the banking industry bailouts of 2008.

Who knew Orwell’s cautionary tale would fast become a reality? No doubt Orwell himself.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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