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Classic dystopian novels' popularity surges in Trump's America

Get to know the iconic novels, from ‘1984’ to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’

Updated

Harper Perennia, Signet Classics

Since Donald Trump’s election, classic dystopian novels have seen a major surge in popularity.

After Trump’s senior advisor, Kellyanne Conway, used the phrase “alternative facts” during a Jan. 22 interview on Meet the Press, George Orwell’s 1984 hit number one on Amazon’s Best Sellers list. The sudden uptick in demand caused it to sell out on the site for a brief period of time and sparked a sales increase of +9,500%, a spokesperson from the book’s publisher Signet told EW last week. Signet has ordered a 75,000-copy reprint and the publisher “anticipates putting through additional reprints quickly.”

Other classic novels that contain themes of totalitarianism (think titles like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World) are also climbing the Amazon Best Sellers list as readers search for tales starring fearsome leaders and unethical governmental officials. The former was quoted on dozens of signs and posters at the Women’s March earlier this month and Atwood’s publisher has reprinted 100,000 copies in the last three months, her publisher tells the New York Times.

In Salon’s 2015 article “It really can happen here: The novel that foreshadowed Donald Trump’s authoritarian appeal,” Malcolm Harris compared Trump to the president in Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, writing, “With his careful mix of plainspoken honesty and reactionary delusion, Trump is following an old rhetorical playbook, one defined and employed successfully in the 1936 presidential campaign of Senator Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip.”

Below, EW breaks down the classic dystopian novels that have experienced newfound popularity in Trump’s America.

1. 1984 by George Orwell

Published: 1948

Current place on Amazon Best Sellers list: 1

Summary: In Orwell’s iconic dystopian novel, Winston Smith lives in the socialist superstate of Oceania, a world of surveillance and manipulation. The political regime is English Socialism (Ingsoc) and the Party leader is Big Brother. Smith shakes things up when he dares to think for himself.

Relevant Quotes: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

“Big Brother is Watching You.”

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power, pure power.”

2. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Published: 1935

Current place on Amazon Best Sellers list: 12

Summary: It Can’t Happen Here is a satirical tale of democracy gone wrong. During the rise of fascism in Europe and the Great Depression in the U.S., Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip runs for president on a platform of drastic social and economic reform while promising to make America great again. Windrip defeats FDR and wins the highest office in the country. During his presidency, he rules as a totalitarian dictator.

Relevant Quotes: “The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store.
Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill.”

“Why are you so afraid of the word ‘Fascism,’ Doremus? Just a word—just a word! And might not be so bad, with all the lazy bums we got panhandling relief nowadays, and living on my income tax and yours—not so worse to have a real Strong Man, like Hitler or Mussolini—like Napoleon or Bismarck in the good old days—and have ‘em really run the country and make it efficient and prosperous again.”

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Published: 1932

Current place on Amazon Best Sellers list: 29

Summary: This dystopian novel is set in 2540 AD and introduces the World State, in which the World Controllers have created an ideal world through genetic engineering, brainwashing, and drugs. Everyone is happy except Bernard Marx, who doesn’t like this life and longs to return to the old, imperfect one. To satisfy his longing, he goes to one of the Savage Reservations where life is as it used to be.

Relevant Quotes: “One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.”

“A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude.”

4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Published: 1985

Current place on Amazon Best Sellers list: 27

Summary: The time is the near future. The place is the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian theocracy within the borders of what was formerly the U.S. This dystopian novel brings us into a world in which fertility is dangerously low and women who are fertile, known as handmaids, are assigned to men as sexual partners with the goal of conceiving a child.

Relevant Quotes: “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

“When we think of the past it’s the beautiful things we pick out. We want to believe it was all like that.”