USA First Look

Sales of George Orwell's '1984' are suddenly on the rise

The novel – which is almost 70 years old – became the bestselling book on Amazon over the past two days. 

Laura Wood of Skoob Books poses for a photograph with a copy of George Orwell's '1984' in central London.
Toby Melville/Reuters
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George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984” has experienced an unusual surge in demand this week, prompting its publisher, Penguin, to reprint the book, which was first published in 1949. 

Some have speculated that the sudden burst of attention was spurred by debates over the veracity of claims from President Donald Trump and his aides, particularly advisor Kellyanne Conway's use of the phrase "alternative facts" to describe claims about the size of his inaugural crowd. No one knows precisely why the book has been on top of Amazon’s computer-generated list of bestselling books since Tuesday evening, but that has not stopped the book's publisher from seizing the moment. 

"We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week. That is a substantial reprint and larger than our typical reprint for '1984,'" a Penguin spokesman told CNN Tuesday evening.

As a classroom staple, Orwell’s book sees new sales at the beginning of each spring semester, the spokesman said. However, the size of the current demand is unusual. 

Trump has only been in office for five full days, but his administration’s assertions about the size of the inauguration crowd have already coined a new phrase, "alternative facts," which some social media users are describing as "Orwellian."

"Our press secretary Sean Spicer gave alternative facts to that," Ms. Conway said on Sunday's "Meet the Press," describing Mr. Spicer's assertions about the size of the crowd at the inauguration.

In "1984" – the plot of which includes an omnipresent, totalitarian power that controls society and distorts facts – a language called "Newspeak" is used. Abolishing all undesirable and unnecessary words and meanings, simplifying grammar, and creating a special political vocabulary of compound terms such as “doublethink” and “unperson,” the “Newspeak” invented by Orwell helps the fictional government make dissent not just punishable, but nearly unthinkable.

"During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act,” Orwell wrote in “1984.”

"1984" also experienced a marked spike in sales in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed the extent of electronic surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency. At that time, "1984" became the third-hottest book on Amazon, and the sales of one edition jumped almost 10,000 percent, according to CNN. 

The dystopian novel has also been a symbol in non-violent political protests around the globe. 

In 2014, to protest the military coup and crackdown on political opposition in Thailand, groups of people silently read books about fictional and real totalitarian societies on the streets of Bangkok, as an alternative to violent confrontation with the authorities, as The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2014. 

Other cautionary tales on the Amazon list include Sinclair Lewis' "It Can't Happen Here" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World." As of this morning, the two books were at No. 46 and No. 71, respectively.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.