I love books about books and so this, the biography of George Orwell's most famous novel, "1984," was a must read for me. This is split into two main sections; the first dealing with Orwell's writing of the novel and the second part looking at the impact of the book.
If you are looking for a biography of George Orwell, this is not really the book for you. Although it covers part of his life, which mainly deals with the period where he was either considering writing, or actually working on, "1984," this is not a book about his entire life. Rather it looks on influences on the novel, including Orwell's time in Spain, the political situation leading up to the Second World War, utopias and dystopian novels that were popular at the time, the work of H.G. Wells, Orwell's time at the BBC (including working with Guy Burgess), London during, and after, the war and other such events. Some of this is very funny - including a rather disastrous dinner party with H.G. Wells, other parts are insightful, such as Orwell's thoughts on Dickens - you can only create if you care - some touching, such as Orwell's refusal to accept his life was almost over, when he was terribly ill, and others really give a sense of those turbulent, political times. Orwell's time in Spain allowed him to feel the paranoia and fear that comes with a totalitarian state, while he was obviously heavily influences by Stalin's regime of obliterating free speech, rewriting history and forced confessions; even if such thoughts were not always welcomed by those who were concerned that books like, "Animal Farm," would not be welcomed by our Allies
Looking at whether, "1984" is still relevant, after being published in 1949 is almost a pointless question. The author shows how, throughout history, the book constantly comes back into favour during turbulent times. After Trump's inauguration, when the press questioned his office claiming the largest crowd ever, which was obviously untrue, they were blithely informed that this was, "alternative facts." Sales of "1984," rocketed, as it had before and, undoubtedly, will again. Phrases from the book have come into common use - from Room 101, Big Brother, The Ministry of Truth and even the term, 'Orwellian.' Sometimes, you feel the author has really discovered every single reference to the novel is every television show, song, slogan and film. However, from 'The Prisoner ,' to David Bowie, these are covered in detail. I think, overall, I preferred the beginning of this book and the writing of the novel itself, but this is also interesting. It was also fascinating to learn what people imagined was warned against in the novel, and how they interpreted it. For example, the book is often seen as a warning about computers, and social media, when actually Orwell's vision of a screen that watched you, came from televisions - which he never owned and which was taken off air during the war years anyway. Indeed, his understanding of technology was, in Lynskey's words, rudimentary at best.
Overall, though, this is a wonderful read and very well written. The research is thorough and comprehensive - even exhausting at times. Yet, Dorian Lynskey manages to keep this readable and constantly unearths interesting nuggets of information, which will make you wish to read the novel again - or, if you have not read it before - discover Orwell's world for yourself.