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The Trump era's top-selling dystopian novels

  • 29 January 2017
  • From the section Magazine
Book jackets Image copyright Penguin/Harpercollins

Donald Trump has sparked a sales bonanza for publishers of dystopian fiction - as well as his own books on business success. Here are the titles currently enjoying a boost on the back of his arrival in the White House.

It Can't Happen Here - Sinclair Lewis

Sales: As of Friday, the eighth best-selling book on Amazon. It was out of print in the UK but publishers Penguin launched a new edition following the inauguration - promoting it as the book that predicted Trump - and has so far ordered three print runs, totalling 11,000 copies, a spokeswoman said.

Plot: A charismatic demagogue, Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, runs for president on a promise to restore American greatness, dragging the country into fascism.

The Trump factor: Sales of this relatively obscure 1935 satirical novel took off when critics began claiming it was essentially the Donald Trump story. Sally Parry, of the Sinclair Lewis Society, claims there are parallels with Trump in the way that Windrip targets his message at disaffected white working class males - The League of Forgotten Men in the book - sweeping to victory on a wave of anti-immigrant, nationalistic sentiment.

But she adds: "Some of his satire is not necessarily towards Buzz Windrip, the fascist character, but towards the lazy intellectuals, the lazy liberals who say 'well, things will go along' and the constant refrain of 'it can't happen here', this is America, we are exceptional."

Parry herself admits she initially fell into this category: "I thought how can so many people fall for this guy?"

But the comparisons only stretch so far, says Parry. Lewis was writing at a time of far greater economic turmoil than today and against the backdrop of the rise of fascism in Europe. He was also a member of the America First committee, which opposed America's entry into World War Two.

Key quote: "My one ambition is to get all Americans to realise that they are, and must continue to be, the greatest Race on the face of this old Earth, and second, to realise that whatever apparent Differences there may be among us, in wealth, knowledge, skill, ancestry or strength - though, of course, all this does not apply to people who are racially different from us - we are all brothers, bound together in the great and wonderful bond of National Unity, for which we should all be very glad."


1984 - George Orwell

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Sales: As of Friday, the best-selling book on Amazon. Since Donald Trump's inauguration, sales have increased by 9,500%, according to American publishers Signet Classics, which this week ordered an additional 100,000 copies of Orwell titles, including 1984 and Animal Farm. In the first three weeks of January sales increased by 20% in the UK. The book has never been out of print since it was published in 1948, selling close to 30 million copies to date. The last sales spike occurred in 2013 during Edward Snowden's spying revelations.

Plot: A man crushed by a totalitarian, surveillance state - presided over by the all-seeing and possibly non-existent Big Brother - attempts to rebel.

The Trump factor: Orwell's classic dystopian narrative shot to the top of the Amazon sales charts after Donald Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway said the White House was issuing "alternative facts" in a row over the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

A key part of Orwell's book is the way that the Party uses simplistic slogans to warp reality, so Black is White, 2+2=5, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

But it was written, in part, as a warning against Soviet communism and America is not a one-party state with no personal freedom. Andrew Simmons, a writer and English teacher from California, who uses 1984 in the classroom, thinks people are reaching for Orwell's book and other nightmarish visions of the future as a "safety valve," enabling them to "freak out and think about the worst possible destination for American democracy".

"The cultural mood in America is dystopian, particularly among people who read a lot of classic fiction," he adds. But he also argues that for some readers 1984 contains echoes of Trump in its attitude to "scientific progress" (in 1984, science doesn't exist) and the way he has played on Americans' fears about foreigners.

"The president's promise that he was the only person who could protect them does potentially echo for people the Party's pattern of whipping up fear among the populace and then presenting them with a narrative trumpeting victory over the source of said fears."

Key quote: "And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed - if all records told the same tale - then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.' And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. 'Reality control,' they called it: in Newspeak, 'doublethink.'"


Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

Sales: Another dystopian novel that was not in Amazon's top 100 sales chart two years ago but which is currently in the top 10.

Plot: Set in 2540, it depicts a world where the population are willing slaves to totalitarianism, kept docile and compliant by drugs, constant entertainment, technology and a surfeit of material goods.

The Trump factor: For some cultural critics Huxley's 1935 novel provides a far more accurate representation of our cosseted, anaesthetised times, than the world portrayed in 1984 or Animal Farm.

"Orwell feared we would become a captive culture," writes the late Neil Postman in his 1995 book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

"Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy."

Key quote: "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."


Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

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Sales: Currently tussling with Donald Trump's book (see below) for the 15th slot in the Amazon chart.

Plot: A 24th Century fireman Guy Montag, whose job is to burn illegally-owned books and their readers' homes, starts to question the value of his profession and his life.

The Trump factor: Another warning about the dangers of censorship, propaganda and the stifling of free thought. Bradbury's 1953 book predicts the death of the written word and its replacement by screens. TV is the bogeyman, however, not social media.

Key quote: "With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word 'intellectual,' of course, became the swear word it deserved to be."


The Art of the Deal - Donald Trump

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Sales: As of Friday, this was the 15th best-selling book on Amazon. First published in 1987, it spent 51 weeks in the New York Times best-seller list. He went on to publish several other books, some of which have also seen an increase in sales in recent weeks.

Plot: A work of non-fiction, the Art of the Deal is Trump's personal manifesto, offering readers 11 steps to business success.

The Trump factor: As a primer in the way Donald Trump thinks and operates, the Art of the Deal is seen by many readers - and the man himself - as hard to beat. "The voice that sprang from the pages was entirely original, seemingly candid, relentlessly boastful and refreshingly unafraid to take swipes, settle scores, and opine with an I-am-what-I-am gusto," wrote Timothy L O'Brien in a biography of Trump.

That voice was crafted by Tony Schwarz, who unusually for a ghost writer received half of the royalties and got a credit on the cover. Schwarz, a lifelong Democrat, has since spoken of his "deep sense of remorse that I contributed to presenting Trump in a way that brought him wider attention and made him more appealing than he is".

Key quote: "The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration - and a very effective form of promotion."

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