Some Books to Give Perspective in These Troubled Times

1984These are dark days, as the new American administration attempts to radically change the way America interacts with the world, and with its citizens. Many people have turned to fiction to try to understand how such a regime can go wrong, and rightly so.

Back when I was younger, I read many dystopian novels, because the themes were interesting, but they seemed so far away. Now, many of these books seem prophetic.

Here’s a selection of novels to read that will help understand how totalitarian regimes work, and to recognize the signs that the current regime is leaning in this direction.

  • 1984, by George Orwell. The classic that depicts an authoritarian regime that controls everything, down to the deepest thoughts and desires. And even love. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) The image above is what may be the best book cover ever designed. Amazon UK no longer shows this edition, however; I’m not sure if it’s still on sale. It’s worth owning just for the cover.
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. Society is perfect, and citizens are placated by Soma, a drug that keeps them happy. But are they really happy, or is it all an illusion? (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. This is the temperature at which books burn. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. Where women exist for just one thing: to make children. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • The Children of Men, by P. D. James. In this version of the world, no children have been born for 25 years… (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • It Can’t Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis. Published in 1935, this book examines how something like Hitler’s rise could, indeed, happen in the United States. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. More recently, Philip Roth wrote a “what if” novel about Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency in 1940. A chilling tale. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. A group of students in a school in a strange version of England learn what their lot in life is. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)
  • The Plague (La Peste), by Albert Camus. In this allegory of the Nazi occupation of France, a deadly plague takes hold in the Algerian city of Oran. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, Amazon FR)

I have intentionally left out the more recent spate of dystopian novels – like The Hunger Games – which are action oriented. The dystopian novel has become a popular genre, but these newer books lack the subtlety and introspection of the many books I’ve listed above. Also, post-apocalyptic fiction has become very popular, but, again, I don’t include such books in the list, because they don’t show how society goes wrong, only how it tries to go right again.

So read a few of these books to understand where the world may be going, if we don’t #resist now.

Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

10 thoughts on “Some Books to Give Perspective in These Troubled Times

  1. Good recommendations… I have read several of these and they do seem prescient. Hope you don’t get too much blowback from the ~35-40% of your US readers who are thrilled with the recent political changes in the US and elsewhere. I suspect a few of those will change their minds in a year or so. The others will just be more angry. Not sure if these themes play out as perfectly in the UK since I don’t follow the politics there as closely. “Newspeak” is now the official language spoken in Washington DC.

  2. Good recommendations… I have read several of these and they do seem prescient. Hope you don’t get too much blowback from the ~35-40% of your US readers who are thrilled with the recent political changes in the US and elsewhere. I suspect a few of those will change their minds in a year or so. The others will just be more angry. Not sure if these themes play out as perfectly in the UK since I don’t follow the politics there as closely. “Newspeak” is now the official language spoken in Washington DC.

  3. I’m by no means thrilled with what’s going on here in the States, but suggesting that we’re on the Road to Dystopia (not a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby movie) is, to be blunt, pearl-clutching; unpacked your fainting couch yet? The US is pretty robust (remember all of those checks and balances? And the Republicans are actually a lot better on the nitty-gritty protection of free speech than the Democrats right now), and it will take a lot more than a Trump or a Hillary to get us anywhere remotely close to the kinds of scenarios you’re trotting out.

    • Oh, you mean the checks and balances such as the court order putting a stay on the muslim ban, and DHS ignoring the court and deporting people anyway? Note that the one phrase “The Department of Homeland Security will comply with judicial orders” buried at the bottom contradicts all the rest of the statement, strongly summarized at the top as “President Trump’s Executive Orders remain in place—prohibited travel will remain prohibited”. So it’s not even poor communication–they know full well about the stay, and refuse to obey it.

      https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/department-homeland-security-response-recent-litigation

      (You should also realize that Trump is not a Republican. Not even Tea Party. He’s a loose cannon being advised by outright neo-nazis. Bannon has been proclaiming for years that the best way to ‘improve’ the US is to destroy it, then rebuild it in his racist image.)

      It’s good book list. Many have long hold lists for the epubs at our library.

      Let us only hope–but not ONLY only hope. — Piet Hein

  4. I’m by no means thrilled with what’s going on here in the States, but suggesting that we’re on the Road to Dystopia (not a Bob Hope / Bing Crosby movie) is, to be blunt, pearl-clutching; unpacked your fainting couch yet? The US is pretty robust (remember all of those checks and balances? And the Republicans are actually a lot better on the nitty-gritty protection of free speech than the Democrats right now), and it will take a lot more than a Trump or a Hillary to get us anywhere remotely close to the kinds of scenarios you’re trotting out.

    • Oh, you mean the checks and balances such as the court order putting a stay on the muslim ban, and DHS ignoring the court and deporting people anyway? Note that the one phrase “The Department of Homeland Security will comply with judicial orders” buried at the bottom contradicts all the rest of the statement, strongly summarized at the top as “President Trump’s Executive Orders remain in place—prohibited travel will remain prohibited”. So it’s not even poor communication–they know full well about the stay, and refuse to obey it.

      https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/01/29/department-homeland-security-response-recent-litigation

      (You should also realize that Trump is not a Republican. Not even Tea Party. He’s a loose cannon being advised by outright neo-nazis. Bannon has been proclaiming for years that the best way to ‘improve’ the US is to destroy it, then rebuild it in his racist image.)

      It’s good book list. Many have long hold lists for the epubs at our library.

      Let us only hope–but not ONLY only hope. — Piet Hein

  5. In a sermon I heard recently, the young minister mentioned a similar list of books and movies, then pointed out that from a Judeo-Christian perspective we already live in a dystopia, a fallen world that will not be fully redeemed until the end of time. Gives you a different perspective on surviving in the present.

  6. In a sermon I heard recently, the young minister mentioned a similar list of books and movies, then pointed out that from a Judeo-Christian perspective we already live in a dystopia, a fallen world that will not be fully redeemed until the end of time. Gives you a different perspective on surviving in the present.

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