Cover image for The ministry of truth : the biography of George Orwell's 1984
Title:
The ministry of truth : the biography of George Orwell's 1984
Edition:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2019]

©2019
ISBN:
9780385544054
Physical Description:
xix, 355 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Abstract:
"1984 isn't just a novel; it's a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell's final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes--Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5--that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller ("Ministry of Alternative Facts," anyone?). Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels (The Handmaid's Tale), films (Brazil), television shows (V for Vendetta), rock albums (Diamond Dogs), commercials (Apple), even reality TV (Big Brother). The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew on as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomena that the novel ignited at once upon publication and that far from subsiding, have only grown over the decades. It explains how fiction history informs fiction and how fiction explains history."-- Provided by publisher.
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Summary

Summary

"Rich and compelling. . .Lynskey's account of the reach of 1984 is revelatory."
--George Packer, The Atlantic

An authoritative, wide-ranging, and incredibly timely history of 1984 --its literary sources, its composition by Orwell, its deep and lasting effect on the Cold War, and its vast influence throughout world culture at every level, from high to pop.

1984 isn't just a novel; it's a key to understanding the modern world. George Orwell's final work is a treasure chest of ideas and memes--Big Brother, the Thought Police, Doublethink, Newspeak, 2+2=5--that gain potency with every year. Particularly in 2016, when the election of Donald Trump made it a bestseller ("Ministry of Alternative Facts," anyone?). Its influence has morphed endlessly into novels ( The Handmaid's Tale ), films ( Brazil ), television shows ( V for Vendetta ), rock albums ( Diamond Dogs ), commercials (Apple), even reality TV ( Big Brother ). The Ministry of Truth is the first book that fully examines the epochal and cultural event that is 1984 in all its aspects: its roots in the utopian and dystopian literature that preceded it; the personal experiences in wartime Great Britain that Orwell drew on as he struggled to finish his masterpiece in his dying days; and the political and cultural phenomena that the novel ignited at once upon publication and that far from subsiding, have only grown over the decades. It explains how fiction history informs fiction and how fiction explains history.


Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

Lynskey (33 Revolutions Per Minute) offers an entertaining but scattershot study that places George Orwell's 1984 in a variety of contexts: the author's life and times, the book's precursors in the science fiction genre, and its subsequent place in popular culture. Lynskey delves into how Orwell's harrowing Spanish Civil War experiences shaped his concern with political disinformation by exposing him to the deceptiveness of people he'd once regarded as allies against fascism: the Soviets and their Western apologists. Another section offers a history of Edward Bellamy's 1888 bestseller Looking Backwards, as a leading example of the once-thriving genre of utopian literature and as an optimistic counterpoint to 1984's totalitarian nightmare. While Lynskey calls this a "biography" of 1984, anyone expecting a granular examination of the novel itself will likely be disappointed. Lynskey spreads himself too thin, veering away from his purported subject: is it important to know, for example, that H.G. Wells, identified here as a major influence on Orwell, was a difficult child? Lysnkey is strongest, by far, in his analysis of the novel's influence on rock musicians, especially David Bowie. While his book offers some intriguing insights, one longs for a stronger and more intense focus on 1984 itself. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Booklist Review

George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has been embraced by both the right and the left, viewed as a condemnation of totalitarianism and capitalism, and described as bleakly hopeless and implicitly hopeful. This powerful, infinitely provoking dystopian tale was first published on June 8, 1949, after being completed in a frenzy by the gravely ill author. Critic Lynskey (33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, 2011), marks the 70th anniversary of this indelible work with an engrossing, many-branched biography of the book and its valiant creator.In agile, syncopated prose, Lynskey briskly elucidates Orwell's life, from his birth as Eric Arthur Blair in British India in 1903 to his childhood in England, stint in the police force in British-ruled Burma, combat in the Spanish Civil War, and adventures as a daring and controversial journalist and columnist. Lynskey emphasizes the experiences that seeded Orwell's mission to protest tyranny, ""organized lying,"" and hypocrisy; his equating of truth with freedom; and his commitment to exposing the horrors of totalitarianism. During the London Blitz, Orwell rescued the manuscript for Animal Farm (1945) from the rubble of his bombed flat and worked for the BBC, while his wife, Eileen, reported to the Ministry of Information's censorship department, a job that inspired that of Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four: Smith serves in the forbidding Ministry of Truth, methodically revising history so that it conforms to the government's latest lies by carefully rewriting published newspaper articles and pitching the originals into memory holes for incineration.Running parallel to his vivid account of Orwell's struggles as a writer of conscience is Lynskey's illuminating history of utopian and dystopian literature, with analysis of works that inspired Orwell, particularly books by H. G. Wells and We (1921) by the courageous dissident Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin. Lynskey also parses the intriguing symbiosis between the awkward literary twins Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932). But his primary focus is on elucidating how Nineteen Eighty-Four expresses Orwell's deepest concerns about humanity and civilization, his belief in accuracy as a moral virtue, and his growing concern over how dictators and he witnessed the worst of them revise and spin history to both rile up and oppress the public.Orwell astutely dramatizes how the orchestrated, amplified, and intrusive lies of totalitarian regimes endanger the very concept of objective truth and a consensus reality, and he shares his alarm over the erosion and corruption of memory. Today's perpetual bombardment of lies from the Trump White House, the daily struggle over fake news, and the constant surge of toxic disinformation throughout social media are all intrinsically Orwellian.Lynskey maps the vast influence of Nineteen Eighty-Four in discussions of its stage and screen adaptations, its language, from doublethink to Newspeak, thoughtcrime, unperson, and Big Brother, and the many novels it inspired, including Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano (1952), Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962). Margaret Atwood started writing The Handmaid's Tale in West Berlin in 1984, and described her novel as speculative fiction of the George Orwell variety. Other significant literary progeny include Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010), 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011), The Circle (2013) by Dave Eggers, The Subprimes by Karl Taro Greenfeld (2015), Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (2017), and Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates (2018).To further enhance the 70th-anniversary celebration of Orwell's cautionary tale, David R. Godine is reissuing The Collected Essays, Journalism, and Letters of George Orwell, a landmark four-volume set first published in 1968 and long out of print.Orwell has much to tell us in this time of escalating political conflicts, as evident in Nineteen Eighty-Four's return to the best-seller lists as we grapple with the implications of identity theft, ever-more intrusive surveillance, post-truth politics, and alternative facts. Lynskey writes, ""Nineteen Eighty-Four is most of all a defense of truth. It is also a call to speak out, because, as Orwell warned, totalitarianism, if not fought against, could triumph anywhere. --Donna Seaman Copyright 2019 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

SHORTLY AFTER THE presidential inauguration of Donald Trump and his counselor's invocation of "alternative facts," anxious readers, bracing themselves for the worst, propelled George Orwell's "1984" back to the top of the best-seller lists. Published in 1949, under the shadow of Hitler and Stalin, the novel projects a nightmare vision of a future in which truth has been eclipsed. Its inventive vocabulary of state power and deception - Big Brother, Hate Week, Newspeak, doublethink, the Thought Police - clearly resonated with the despair of present-day Americans. As does the very term "Orwellian," used increasingly to describe any number of troubling developments : from Trump's habitual lying to the toxic politicization of the news media; from the expansion of campus speech codes to Silicon Valley's hijacking of our data and attention (the citizens of "1984" are monitored continuously by "telescreens"). Orwell's novel is the subject of Dorian Lynskey's wide-ranging and sharply written new study, "The Ministry of Truth." Lynskey, a British journalist and music critic, believes that "1984" - one of the 20 th century's most examined artifacts - is actually "more known about than truly known" and sets out to reground it in Orwell's personal and literary development. This is just as well, since Orwell, ever suspicious of armchair intellectualism, made a practice of writing directly from experience, to the point of plunging himself into many of the crises of his day. In 1936, he joined a coalition of left-wing forces opposing Franco in Spain. Intending to fight fascism, Orwell discovered its diabolical twin, Soviet communism, and became, in Lynskey's words, acutely aware of how "political expediency corrupts moral integrity, language and truth itself." He left Spain a committed anti-communist - and lifelong adversary of Stalin's defenders - and spent the World War II years back home in England. In 1946, Orwell moved to the island of Jura, where, at the age of 45, he completed "1984" shortly before succumbing to tuberculosis. Lynskey focuses much of his book on the origins and the afterlife of "1984." He devotes several early chapters to the rise of utopian and dystopian fiction, told through compressed portraits of figures like H. G. Wells (who "loomed over Orwell's childhood like a planet") and Yevgeny Zamyatin, the author of "We" - a sort of precursor to "1984." And he documents the various political and cultural responses to the novel, which was a sensation from its first publication. "1984" has inspired writers, artists and other creative types, from Margaret Atwood to David Bowie to Steve Jobs, whose commercial introducing Apple's Macintosh computer famously paid homage to the novel. Its political fate, however, has been somewhat cloudier. What Orwell observed of Dickens, that he is "one of those writers who are well worth stealing," has proved no less true of Orwell himself. Socialists, libertarians, liberals and conservatives alike have vied to remake him in their own image and claim his authority. Orwell's contested legacy may be rooted partly in his self-divisions. He was a socialist intellectual who hated socialists and intellectuals; an alienated soul who "lionized the common man," as Lynskey puts it. Still, the filial (and often proprietary) attachment that Orwell's work tends to evoke in his admirers points to something else: the morally urgent yet highly companionable nature of his writing, which can leave one with the feeling of having been directly addressed by a mind worthy of emulation. Lynskey largely refrains from participating in the quarrel over Orwell's and his novel's true teachings and rightful heirs. If anything, "The Ministry of Truth" can seem too remote at times from its subject matter. For a "biography" of "1984," it contains surprisingly little sustained discussion of the work itself, mostly referring to it in brief, though insightful, asides that are dispersed throughout. There could have been more in-depth analysis of the dynamics of power in Orwell's totalitarian state, whose leaders, we are told, are the first to have dispensed with even the pretense of serving humanity. (They pursue power as an end in itself, not as a means to some alleged ideological goal, and exercise it by inflicting pain on others.) Nor does Lynskey illuminate the literary or intellectual qualities that distinguish Orwell's novel from its many predecessors and descendants in the dystopian genre. In short, while we learn a great deal about the evolution and influence of "1984" as a cultural phenomenon, we sometimes lose sight, in the thick of Lynskey's historicizing, of the novel's intrinsic virtues - of what makes it distinctive and accounts for its terror and fascination in the first place. Lynskey is surely right, however, to note that the meaning of Orwell's novel has shifted over the decades along with the preoccupations of its readers; and that in our low, dishonest moment, it is "most of all a defense of truth." Reflecting back on the Spanish Civil War and the falsification of its record, Orwell worried that the "very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world." Yet he never seems to have resigned himself completely to hopelessness. Winston Smith, the doomed protagonist of "1984," inhabits a world in which individuality has been made almost obsolete, history is daily rewritten and reality is fabricated according to the whims of the state. Winston attempts, despairingly and bravely, to rediscover what life was like before the rise of Big Brother. He is shocked that his lover, Julia, is indifferent to the state's assault on truth - the unreality of the present is all she has known and all she believes ever was or will be. Her complacency is the counterpart to Winston's energizing despair. In this way, " 1984" elevates despair into a sort of necessary condition of truth-seeking. It is here if nowhere else, Orwell suggests, that hope for humanity may lie. LEV MENDES has written for The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, among other publications.


Guardian Review

When Trump took office, sales of Nineteen Eighty-Four increased by 9,500%. This astute study locates the origins of the novel and traces its life within pop culture Most Orwell biography is, at heart, an exercise in teleology: a reverse journey through his life and times that begins with the achievement of Nineteen Eighty-Four and then works backwards, in an attempt to establish exactly what it was about the intervening years that impelled him to write it in the way that he did. In this highly astute study, Dorian Lynskey locates the origins of the novel - now celebrating its 70th anniversary - in the six months its author spent in the first half of 1937 fighting on the republican side in the Spanish civil war. It was here in Catalonia, Lynskey argues, that the stanchions of Big Brother's nightmare world - the disregard for objective truth, the rewriting of the past and the routine suppression of dissent - slid inexorably into place. And, as he makes clear, the "Spanish Beans" that Orwell spilled in his essay of 1942 affected their spiller personally. Having enrolled in the Trotskyist Poum militia rather than the Marxist International Brigades, he was immediately suspect: when the war descended into faction fighting and the Soviet hit-squads arrived in Barcelona, he barely escaped with his life. If the corruption of the left is such a feature of his later writing it is because he was a victim of it himself. Spain left an indelible mark on a man who had hitherto taken only an anthropological interest in the Depression-era Labour party. According to his friend Richard Rees, it was only when Orwell left for the war that Rees began to realise "how extraordinary he was". Homage to Catalonia , the record of Orwell's Spanish experiences, appeared in 1938, yet it took another half-decade for Nineteen Eighty-Four to take root in his consciousness - the decisive prompt came when he read reports of the Tehran conference of late 1943, at which the allied leaders sat down to carve up the postwar world - and another five-and-a-bit years to bring the book to print. One of the most obvious questions to ask about the novel's gestation is simply procedural: what took him so long? Set in the wider context of Peter Davison's 20-volume edition of the complete works, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a flaring exception. The prewar Orwell had been known for his fluency: most of the books he wrote from 1932 to 1939 had occupied him for less than a year. A Clergyman's Daughter (1935), written while he was convalescing from a bout of pneumonia, took a little over six months. Animal Farm (1945) - only 30,000 words long admittedly, but tricky from the point of view of plot - was finished in half that time. Compared with these high-speed surges to the finishing tape, Nineteen Eighty-Four was a marathon: a few pages written by the end of 1945; a first draft not completed until the end of 1947; a second draft not wrapped up until December 1948. What went wrong? The answer, as Lynskey shows in detail, lies in a combination of personal-cum-professional road-blocks, a series of obstacles strewn across Orwell's life in the mid-1940s that stopped a once-prolific author from working on the book he burned to write. One of them was a file of personal traumas that began with the death of his first wife, Eileen, on the operating table and continued through his unavailing efforts to find a replacement. Another was the worsening ill health that led to a full-blown tuberculosis diagnosis and long periods of hospitalisation. But a third can be found in what Lynskey identifies as "a paper trail thousands of pages long". The novel is one of those odd books that, if not exactly written on the hoof, betrays some of its intellectual armature almost from one page to the next. Item one on the roster of formative influences is Yevgeny Zamyatin's dystopian novel We , whose discovery Orwell announced to readers of Tribune magazine early in 1946. To this can be added essays such as You and the Atomic Bomb (1945) with its warning that "the surface of the earth is being parcelled off into three great empires", or his long consideration of James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution (1946), the opening summary of which seems directly related to the minutely regulated, highly centralised and above all oligarchical world of Winston Smith. Politics and the English Language, too, published in April 1946, offers an eerie foretaste of the jargon phrases of Oceania's news bulletins and its hectoring emcees. And then there is the shadow cast by the Hebridean island of Jura, to which Orwell relocated in 1946: a diary entry from the following year about rat attacks on local children feeds directly into the famous scene in which Winston muses: "Of all the horrors in the world - a rat!" By the time the manuscript was finished, Orwell had only a year to live. He survived just long enough to marry his second wife, Sonia Brownell, and receive the first outpourings of a royalty torrent that he would describe as "fairy gold". What would he have thought of the long and controversial after-life, to which Lynskey devotes the second half of his book, culminating in the 9,500% increase in sales in the week of the Trump inauguration? Nineteen Eighty-Four 's weaponisation by the CIA, who underwrote the first attempts to film it, would probably not have surprised him: he had predicted that the novel would be used as a cold war propaganda tool, and his publisher, Fred Warburg, had worried that it might be worth a million votes to the Conservative party. What might have alarmed him - and he was on record as believing the novel to be a "warning" rather than a prophecy - was the faithfulness with which so much postwar life could be shown to have imitated his art. Christopher Hitchens, for example, visiting North Korea in 2000, was appalled to discover that Kim Jong-il's fiefdom mimicked the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four in everything but its technological finesse. Thoroughly researched and wearing its scholarship lightly, The Ministry of Truth is at its best in some of its pop cultural gleanings: see, in particular, David Bowie's obsession with the novel, which culminated in a proposal (eventually rejected) that the Orwell estate should license a biopic with Bowie in the title role. Meanwhile, Lynskey takes a cheeringly downbeat line on several of the hot topics that continue to inflame debate on Planet Orwell. Is Julia merely a projection of Sonia? Lynskey thinks not ("Sonia and Julia didn't look alike and they certainly didn't think alike"). Neither is he at all animated by the supposedly McCarthyite tendencies of Orwell's "list" of Soviet fellow travellers. As he reminds us, this was not intended as the first salvo in an anti-communist witch-hunt, but was compiled to help a friend in the Foreign Office determined that her pro-democracy pamphlets should at least be written by people who were democrats themselves. If Lynskey misses anything, it is a suspicion that Nineteen Eighty-Four 's roots may lie even further back in Orwell's work. After all, each of his four 1930s novels features a central character ground down and oppressed by a vigilant authority that he or she has no way of resisting. Each, too, offers the spectacle of a rebellion that fails and a rebel forced to make compromises. In the end, Gordon Comstock, Keep the Aspidistra Flying 's moth-eaten poet, Dorothy Hare in A Clergyman's Daughter , drudging for her joyless old father in a rural town policed by vengeful gossips, and Winston Smith, convinced that "he had won the victory over himself - he loved Big Brother", are all of a piece.


Kirkus Review

The life and afterlife of the celebratedand seemingly evergreennovel.Music, film, and politics writer Lynskey (33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, from Billie Holiday to Green Day, 2011) reminds us that George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has been the book "we turn to when truth is mutilated, language is distorted, power is abused, and we want to know how bad things can get." The "fact that the novel speaks to us so loudly and clearly in 2019," he writes, is a "terrible indictment of politicians and citizens alike." The author tells his vibrant, spirited story of a man and his book in two parts. He first recounts how Orwell came to write the novel and describes in detail the world he inhabited. In the second section, he follows the "political and cultural life" of Nineteen Eighty-Four, originally titled The Last Man in Europe, from "Orwell's death to the present day." Lynskey does a superb job analyzing the young Orwell's political beliefs, his hatred for fascism, and his "vision of common-sense radicalism." He had a special admiration for Charles Dickens, whom he described as "generouslyangry." Lynskey traces Orwell's early influences, from H.G. Wells, who "loomed over Orwell's childhood like a planet," to Jack London and Yevgeny Zamyatin's "anti-utopian novel We." Arthur Koestler's "masterpiece," Darkness at Noon, provided Orwell with Nineteen Eighty-Four's "mental landscape." Though never a wealthy man, Orwell found success with Animal Farm, which provided him with the funds to finish Nineteen Eighty-Four, which he edited continuously for three years while he was quite ill. It published in June 1949; Orwell died 227 days later. Lynskey next traces the novel's impact, from the Cold War era to today, on politics and other writers; film and play versions; contemporary music and TV shows; and the "most celebrated television commercial" of the 1980s, Apple's Macintosh computer launch. As Lynskey somberly concludes in this fascinating literary history, Nineteen Eighty-Four's 70th anniversary "falls at a dark time for liberal democracy." Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal Review

Since its 1949 UK publication, George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984 has received steady critical attention. Consider Irving Howe's 1984 Revisited and On Nineteen Eighty-Four, ed. by Abbott Gleason and others. Journalist Lynskey (33 Revolutions per Minute) aims to bring this assessment up-to-date with his new novel "biography," its strength lying in its first part, which meticulously outlines Orwell's life and influences, followed by portraits of figures such as H.G. Wells and Yevgeny Zamyatin (We), and their impact on the writer. Lynskey probes Orwell's book reviews and the "As I Please" columns he wrote for the Tribune, arguing they provided a "kind of workshop" for the later novel. He then deals with the aftermath of Orwell's early death in 1950 and traces the familiar territory of the Cold War, McCarthyism, and the fall of the Soviet Union, including valuable new material about the work's adoption by popular culture (e.g., British TV's The Prisoner and the reality show Big Brother), concluding with Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and its similarities to 1984's "Two Minutes Hate." VERDICT While similar in approach to William Steinhoff's George Orwell and the Origins of 1984, this is an important contribution to Orwell studies and a timely introduction to the man and his most famous achievement.-Thomas Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA © Copyright 2019. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter 1 History Stopped Orwell 1936-1938 We are living in a world in which nobody is free, in which hardly anybody is secure, in which it is almost impossible to be honest and to remain alive. --George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, 1937 Shortly before Christmas 1936, George Orwell stomped into the office of The New English Weekly in London, dressed for an expedition, bearing a heavy suitcase, and declared, "I'm going to Spain." "Why?" asked Philip Mairet, the magazine's urbane French editor. "This fascism," said Orwell. "Somebody's got to stop it." Who was this thirty-three-year-old man in Mairet's office? What kind of impression did he make? He was around six foot three, with size-twelve feet, large, expressive hands, and gangling limbs that he seemed unsure where to place. He had a pale, gaunt, prematurely worn-out face with deep grooves around the mouth, creating an impression of noble suffering that reminded friends of Don Qui­xote or an El Greco saint. His pale blue eyes conveyed a mournful, compassionate intelligence. His mouth was prone to twists of ironic amusement and, if you were lucky, a rusty growl of laughter. His hair sprouted vertically like the bristles of a brush. He dressed shabbily, his clothes not so much fitting his body as hanging off it, a thin mustache his only concession to neatness. He smelled of burnt tobacco and, some said, an indefinable tang of sickness. He spoke in a dry, rasping monotone whose aspiration to classlessness was thwarted by a stubborn residue of Eton. On first encounter, he could seem standoffish and detached: a dry old stick. Those who got to know him soon unearthed his generosity and good humor but still bumped up against his emotional reserve. He was a firm believer in hard work and modest pleasures. Newly wed, to a bright, bold Oxford graduate named Eileen O'Shaughnessy. Politically engaged but not ideological. Well-traveled and multilingual. Going places. Just as important are the things he wasn't. He was not yet a major figure, a committed socialist, an expert on totalitarianism, nor a writer whose prose was a window pane. He was barely George Orwell. Spain was to become the great rupture in his life: his zero hour. Years later, he would tell his friend Arthur Koestler, "History stopped in 1936." Meaning totalitarianism. Meaning Spain. History stopped, and Nineteen Eighty-Four began. "Until I was about thirty," Orwell wrote in middle age, "I always planned my life on the assumption not only that any major undertaking was bound to fail, but that I could only expect to live a few years longer." He was born Eric Arthur Blair in India on June 25, 1903. His mother, Ida, who brought him to England the following year, was a sharply intelligent woman, half-French, who mixed with Suffragettes and Fabians. His father, Richard Blair, was a mid-ranking civil servant for the British imperial government's Opium Department who didn't reenter his son's life until 1912, at which point he appeared "simply as a gruff-voiced elderly man forever saying 'Don't.' " In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith is haunted by his childhood betrayal of his mother and sister, but he can barely remember his father. Orwell was thus born into what he called the "lower-upper-middle-class," a troubled stratum of the English class system that had the pretensions and manners of the wealthy but not the capital, and therefore spent most of the money it did have on "keeping up appearances." He later regarded his younger self, with embarrassment, shame and no small amount of contempt, as the kind of "odious little snob" that his class and education were designed to breed. "Your snobbishness, unless you root it out like the bindweed it is, sticks by you till your grave." Between the ages of eight and thirteen, he was a pupil at St. Cyprian's, a small private school in Sussex that he loathed with alarming passion for the rest of his life. "Failure, failure, failure--­failure behind me, failure ahead of me--­that was by far the deepest conviction that I carried away." In the short autobiography that Orwell contributed to Twentieth Century Authors in 1940, he wrote, "I was educated at Eton, 1917-1921, as I had been lucky enough to win a scholarship, but I did no work there and learned very little, and I don't feel that Eton has been much of a formative influence in my life." While he probably exaggerated the contempt the fee-payers felt for the scholarship boys, it's true that he was a mediocre student with a profound sense of unbelonging. Although he was known as a "Bolshie," his alleged socialism was more of a fashionable pose than a deep conviction. One fellow pupil remembered him as "a boy with a permanent chip on the shoulder, always liking to find everything around him wrong, and giving the impression that he was there to put it right." Another said, "he was more sardonic than rebellious, and standing aside from things a bit, observing--­always observing." After Eton, Orwell rejected the chance to attend university and joined the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, where his mother had grown up: a surprising decision which he never tried to explain to his readers or friends. Orwell shelved his writing ambitions, but his five years in Burma did furnish him with the material for one decent novel (Burmese Days) and two very good essays ("A Hanging" and "Shooting an Elephant") and a lifelong belief in the value of lived experience. Orwell disliked intellectuals, a word he tended to suspend in scare quotes, who relied on theory and speculation; he never truly believed something until he had, in some way, lived it. "In order to hate imperialism you have got to be part of it" is a fallacious generalization, but it was true for him. In Orwell's writing, you often meant I. Burma functioned as aversion therapy. Through seeing how members of the ruling class were corrupted and confined by their abuse of power and the hypocrisy that cloaked it, Orwell developed a disgust for oppression of every stripe and briefly became a kind of anarchist before deciding that this was "sentimental nonsense." He returned to England in 1927 (on leave, but he never went back) with "an immense weight of guilt that I had got to expiate." This manifested as a masochistic desire to thrust himself into uncomfortable and even life-threatening situations. "How can you write about the poor unless you become poor yourself, even if it's temporary?" he asked a friend. A librarian who met him during this period astutely noticed that he was a man "in the process of rearranging himself." With, by his own admission, "no interest in Socialism or any other economic theory," he sought to submerge himself in the netherworld of the oppressed--­those who, by having no jobs, property or status whatsoever, had transcended, or rather sunk below, the class system--­by becoming a tramp in England and a dishwasher in Paris in the late 1920s. "It is a sort of world-within-a-world where everyone is equal, a small squalid democracy--­perhaps the nearest thing to democracy that exists in England," he wrote. Richard Rees, editor of The Adelphi, thought that Orwell chose this path "as a kind of penance or ablution to wash himself clean of the taint of imperialism." This nostalgie de la boue, which foreshadowed Winston Smith's expeditions into the prole district in Nineteen Eighty-Four, led him to write his first book, the memoir Down and Out in Paris and London. Published in 1933, the book marked the birth of "George Orwell." One reason he gave for using a pseudonym was a desire to spare his family any embarrassment if the book's contents shocked them, or if his career as a writer fizzled out, but then he always disliked the name Eric and was hungry for reinvention. Taken from the River Orwell in Suffolk, this quintessentially English name squeezed out his alternative ideas, Kenneth Miles, P. S. Burton and H. Lewis Allways. And a good job, too: Allwaysian would not have been a graceful adjective. By 1936, Orwell was the author of three novels, one nonfiction book, a few weak poems, and a trickle-to-a-stream of journalism, all of which did not yet add up to a viable career. He could only keep his head above water by taking on work as a teacher and a bookseller. That year, he painted a grimly exaggerated self-portrait in his third novel, Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Gordon Comstock is a hard-up fugitive from the "shabby-genteel" middle classes who nurses unfulfilled literary ambitions and works in a bookshop to make ends meet. He is "not thirty yet, but moth-eaten already. Very pale, with bitter, ineradicable lines." His self-pity, pessimism and misanthropy are so claustrophobic that his final surrender to the bourgeois conformity symbolized by the aspidistra house plant comes as a merciful release. Comstock is a gargoyle of Orwell: the man he might have become had he succumbed to bitterness and gloom. In January 1936, Orwell accepted a commission from his publisher Victor Gollancz, a bullish, energetic Jewish socialist, to explore the plight of the industrial working class in the north of England. Published the following year, Part I of The Road to Wigan Pier is a sterling example of campaigning journalism, eliciting the reader's empathy by interleaving hard data with a vivid sense of the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of working-class life. The image of a woman kneeling to unclog a waste pipe struck Orwell as such an indelible tableau of drudgery that he restaged it years later in Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was captured by the look on her face: "She knew well enough what was happening to her." Orwell wrote frequently about the power of the face to reveal personality in a profound way, whether it was Dickens, Hitler, a Spanish militiaman or Big Brother. In Airstrip One, Nineteen Eighty-Four's version of Britain, the danger of physically betraying one's true feelings is called "facecrime," and the torturer O'Brien's metaphor for tyranny, is "a boot stamping on a human face--­for ever." Although he seriously downplays the pleasures of working-class life in order to emphasize the hardships, in Part I of The Road to Wigan Pier Orwell gives his subjects their due as human beings, not merely statistical units or emblems of the struggling masses. So when he told the working-class writer Jack Common, "I am afraid I have made rather a muck of parts of it," he presumably meant the more essayistic Part II, which he later said wasn't worth reprinting. The opening stretch of Part II is a kind of memoir, tracing the evolution of his political consciousness with punishing honesty. By saying that he was trained from birth to "hate, fear and despise the working class," he implicitly makes the book a means of both education and penance. The rest, however, is a confused polemic. Orwell thought that if socialism was clearly necessary, then its unpopularity must be down to its image, which "drives away the very people who ought to be flocking to its support" by obscuring its fundamental ideals of justice, liberty and common decency. He identifies two major obstacles. One is socialism's cult of the machine, which creates an unappetizing vision of "aeroplanes, tractors and huge glittering factories of glass and concrete." The other is middle-class crankishness. Barely noting the existence of working-class socialists or the trade union movement, Orwell launders his own eccentric prejudices through the imagined mindset of the common man, excoriating all the fetishes and foibles that allegedly make socialism unattractive to them (i.e., him), including vegetarians, teetotallers, nudists, Quakers, sandals, fruit juice, Marxist jargon, the word comrade, pistachio-colored shirts, birth control, yoga, beards and Welwyn Garden City, the Hertfordshire town custom-built on utopian principles. Although Orwell claims in the book that he is only playing devil's advocate, it is hard to escape the feeling that he has more fun insulting a kooky minority of socialists than defending other forms of socialism. After such a performance, for him to conclude the book by calling for "left-wingers of all complexions to drop their differences and hang together" is a bit rich. Orwell made life difficult for Victor Gollancz, who had recently founded the Left Book Club with the Labor MP John Strachey and the political scientist Harold Laski in order to promote socialism. Laski, Britain's most influential socialist intellectual, called Part I of The Road to Wigan Pier "admirable propaganda for our ideas" but Gollancz felt compelled to write a preface to the Left Book Club edition which distanced the club from the harsh judgments of Part II. In the preface, Gollancz put his finger on Orwell's torturously paradoxical nature: "The truth is that he is at one and the same time an extreme intellectual and a violent anti-intellectual. Similarly he is a frightful snob--­still (he must forgive me for saying this), and a genuine hater of every form of snobbery." Until the end of his life, Orwell acknowledged that microbes of everything he criticized existed in himself. In fact, it was this awareness of his own flaws that inoculated him against utopian delusions of human perfectibility. Gollancz also accused Orwell of never defining his preferred version of socialism, nor explaining how it might come about. According to Orwell's bookshop colleague and subsequent editor Jon Kimche, Orwell was a "gut socialist": "very decent but not attuned, I would say, to complicated political or military situations." Yet however patchy and perverse his critique of socialism may have been, Orwell's intentions were sincere. He believed that "nothing else can save us from the misery of the present or the nightmare of the future," and if it failed to persuade ordinary Britons, then their discontent would surely be exploited by someone like Hitler. Socialism in Britain, he wrote, "smells of crankishness, machine-worship and the stupid cult of Russia. Unless you can remove that smell, and very rapidly, Fascism may win." Even as he wrote those words, Orwell was making plans to fight fascism more directly. Adelphi editor Richard Rees had known Orwell since 1930, but it was only when his friend went to Spain that Rees "began to realize he was extraordinary." "The Spanish Civil War is one of the comparatively few cases when the most widely accepted version of events has been written more persuasively by the losers of the conflict than by the winners," wrote the historian Antony Beevor. What's more, the most widely read memoir of the conflict, Orwell's Homage to Catalonia, was written by a man who fought with the losers of the losers: the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (Workers' Party of Marxist Unification), known as the POUM. That is a very particular point of view. The POUM were small in size and influence, militarily weak and politically unpopular. So when contemporaries and, later, historians claimed that Orwell's book gave a distorted picture of the war, they were not wrong, but it did tell the truth about Orwell's war. Excerpted from The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's 1984 by Dorian Lynskey All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.