Books and Influence?


The Orwell Society is pleased to be one of the organisations who have contributed to a discussion in the New York Times on factual works that have influenced a classic work of literature. We spoke about two influences on George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

The first work we identified was James Burnham‘s The Managerial Revolution, which had been re-issued in Britain as a Pelican (part of the Penguin group) paperback. George Orwell wrote two essays on Burnham: “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution” in 1946, and “Burnham’s View of the Contemporary World Struggle” a year later.


The second work we identified was H J Mackinder‘s Democratic Ideals And Reality, which was also re-republished as a Pelican paperback. This work (originally published in 1922 as a response to the Treaty of Versailles – like John Maynard Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace) was corrupted into the Nazi theory of geopolitics by Karl Haushofer and his student Rudolf Hess.


In 1943 Mackinder made his last contribution to his field with a new article in the journal Foreign Affairs. He defined a new area of power, in the words of by Francis P Sempa: ‘Midland Ocean, which he [Mackinder] described as “the North Atlantic and its dependent seas and river basins.” It consisted of a bridgehead in Western Europe, “a moated aerodrome in Britain,” and the United States and Canada.”‘ An area which seems to match the Oceania of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and a similar vision for Airstrip One.

As the scans of these two war-time Pelican paperbacks reveal – ideas can be forgotten, but in printed form they can be recovered many years later.

More of the Orwell Society’s contribution to such influences can be found in Blinklist magazine’s article.

Uploaded November 27 2018


3 thoughts on “Books and Influence?

  1. I recently found some similarities from 1984 and The Iron Heel by Jack London. Such as the date 1984, and the idea of a boot endlessly smashing a face .. and a BIG surprise to me was reading ‘newspeak’ in works of William Shirer before ww2. It seems that news cables were sent in those days in what looks to be a form of Newspeak.


    • Orwell was a great admirer of Jack London. In The Road to Wigan Pier he mentions London’s book People of the Abyss. At the beginning of WW2 Orwell wrote a review of several “Prophecies of Fascism”, including London’s The Iron Heel. It’s an essay worth reading, and also deals with Ernest Bramah who is discussed on this website.


      • Newspeak’s relation to “cablese” is said to be discussed in Totalitarian Language: Orwell’s Newspeak and Its Nazi and Communist Antecedents. By John W. Young. (University Press of Virginia, Virginia, 1991), but we haven’t seen a copy to comment.


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