Sep 17, 2017

Dean's Dystopia

men book group review rating 1984 by george orwell
Dinner and Acknowledgments

Our dinners are often staged by the host to reflect the characters or events in the book under discussion.   Last Thursday, Dean faced an especially difficult challenge in preparing a meal that would be edible yet reminiscent of the dystopia in George Orwell's best-known work. 

As he has in the past, Dean rose to the challenge. His genius was in recognizing that there was nothing worth eating in the bleak wartime environment of 1984. So instead he mined the year of 1984 for his recipes.  We were served grilled steaks in pepper sauce, scalloped potatoes, and stewed vegetables--all reputedly popular in 1984!  Dean made sure we got the point by setting his Pandora playlist to 1984, resulting in background tracks from Prince (RIP!), Kenny Loggins, Tina Turner, and others.  In a nod to Orwell, though, Dean did offer us a dessert of genuine chocolate bars washed down with cups of Victory coffee. Bravo, Dean!

Our Review and Discussion of 1984 by George Orwell

Written in 1949, and set in a bombed-out London of the future, Orwell’s iconic novel describes a world that has devolved into three warring superstates, one of which (Oceania) is ruled by the remote but all-knowing Big Brother.  The novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, is presented as a conscientious party member who becomes disaffected, is caught and tortured, and later finds solace in his relationship with Big Brother.

While most of us were familiar with the story, we were nevertheless struck by the parallels between our reality and Orwell’s fantasy.   Dean compared the doublespeak practiced by Winston’s Ministry of Truth to the “alternative facts” touted by the current White House. Paul was more intrigued by how today’s technology (CCTV, facial recognition, bodyworn cameras, GPS tracking) has become as pervasive in our lives as Orwell’s “telescreen” is in Winston’s. If 1984 was meant to warn us about the perils of technology in the hands of a totalitarian government, Terry worried that the warning may be lost on today’s youth, who appear too willing to trade privacy for convenience.

Orwell’s depiction of the concentration of government power and the rise of an elite class of party members caused Larry to muse that, unlike the state in 1984, it is the technology behemoths that exert so much control in our daily lives. Larry’s commentary about the rise of Silicon Valley led John to complain that our knowledge-based economy is contributing to the development of an underclass that rejects education and advancement, much like the “proles” in 1984. 

Our Rating of 1984

Our discussion would have continued but for the late hour.  At rating time, we all acknowledged the continuing relevance of 1984 even if we were less impressed by its plot and, in Peter’s view, its dated writing. For his prescience, if not his storytelling, Orwell pulled down a respectable 7.4.

Next Up:  The Taking of K-129 by Josh Dean

Thanks to Dutton’s generosity, we received advance copies of The Taking of K-129, Josh Dean’s account of America’s covert effort to retrieve a Soviet nuclear sub that sank in international waters. Next month, we will leave the social paranoia of the early Cold War and turn to the US-USSR military tensions of the early 1970s.


  1. To realize that 1984 was written in 1949 says something about George Orwell's vision. Much like Burroughs' envisioning of space travel, Orwell wrote of things to come. Today the NSA monitors our activities in the US, while more sophisticated services such as those implemented in China, keep tabs on every written word, and control much of what can even be said in our modern electric society. Facial recognition, tracking of electronic device locations, and monitoring what we read and say creates a situation where people can be effectively brain washed into following an autocratic leader. It is happening all over the world; Russia, China, Turkey, Egypt, Venezuela, the examples are endless, and even our own country is headed that way. Who is the George Orwell of today writing about our future? Will anyone ever get to read that new writer, or will the government suppress a true vision of the future?

  2. Recognizing the successes of our elite class of bookmen and the political connections within the state of San Rafael, the inner circle of the party should eat appropriately, hence the fine food. But a few edits are needed to Andrew's description: they were grilled New York steaks in a peppercorn sauce. And to make sure there was no Orwellian rationing, I provided chocolate (genuine, not ersatz), butter cookies (yes, English), plus more wine to go with Orwell's Victory coffee.

  3. To George's point, apart from the increasing acceptance of authoritarianism around the world, I think the greater risk is that we won't realize that tech has stolen our privacy and leveraged our data until it's too which point, Orwell's gov-tech merger will have occurred. As to Dean's edits, I stand corrected. He served the Inner Party well!

  4. As the only registered Libertarian in the club, and as a card carrying member of the ACLU, I will go tin foil hat on y'all and offer my perspective. This book is even more relevant today that when it was written, as the technology has surpassed Orwell's grim prediction. Tiny spy drones, TVs that listen to you, now the warning that you shouldn't buy Chinese brand smartphones because they may be recording everything for the Chinese government (but of course the NSA isn't spying on us through our devices?). Tape over those computer and cell phone camera lenses!

    And returning to the book -- I think it is highly relevant to us except that we have a culture that is spied on just as in 1984, but we don't seem to care. How often is the answer to the concern "well, my life isn't that interesting, so whatever". We become frogs in the slowing heating pot who don't realize we've lost our civil liberties and privacy.

    Orwell may have been paranoid for his time, but it turns out he wasn't wrong. Especially in today's world where we are inundated by fake news, lies from top elected officials, and technology watching us at every turn, it is incumbent on each of us as citizens to use our voice and our vote to limit the damage.

    I'm going to go back on my meds now...