The best books whose dystopian visions were eerily prescient

The Books I Picked & Why

1984

By George Orwell

1984

Why this book?

Donald Trump and his minions (who can forget Kellyanne Conway’s “alternate facts”?) brought this 1949 book back in vogue, but even before Trump was elected, Orwell’s oracle of the future had only risen in relevancy. We can attribute much of that to social media, which has allowed for alternate realities, lies, conspiracies, and misinformation to be spread like wildfire. The book will only continue to be a cautionary tale for all of us as autocratic regimes in Russia, China, and, disturbingly, factions within our own country learn to perfect the art of propaganda on an unwitting populace.


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The Handmaid's Tale

By Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Why this book?

The Handmaid’s Tale shares a lot in common with 1984, in which information is controlled by a select few under a rigid government. Though an acclaimed book when it came out in 1985, its story of enslaved or diminished women in a patriarchal society took on a whole new meaning with the rise of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements (and continues with restrictive anti-abortion rulings that further control women’s bodies). I also like the fact that Atwood is not a sci-fi writer, per se. The success of her book – and the subsequent TV series – are a testament to her keen understanding of human nature, making the fantastical, dystopian elements that much more believable and horrifying.


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Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

Lord of the Flies

Why this book?

I recently reread this 1954 book about a group of boys stranded on an island, trying to govern themselves, for the first time since middle school. It was chilling in the context of the times we live in. Left unchecked, human behavior tends toward self-interest, greed, and power, often with fatal ramifications. It all resonates in today’s world with those in positions of authority who spread falsehoods to divide others in order to gain more power, to say nothing of Covid-19 deniers, anti-vaxxers, and others who see self-sacrifice for the greater good as weakness…and bullying as strength.


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A Clockwork Orange

By Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange

Why this book?

Published in 1962 but set in the near future, A Clockwork Orange was a satirical response to society’s fears of British hooliganism by nihilistic juveniles. But beneath the satire were serious themes that take on a new wrinkle today. Movements are afoot to completely rethink how we handle criminals and repeat offenders, calling for measures that are less punitive and more rehabilitative. Ah, but therein lies the catch: In attempting to remake protagonist Alex’s “Droogs” as functioning members of society, is the government simply stifling self-will by enslaving its subjects with society’s rules, whose inequitable policies often lead to people seeking a way out (i.e., crime) to begin with? A morality tale with no easy answers.


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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Why this book?

With the success of Ridley Scott’s 1982 movie, Blade Runner, the original 1968 book tacked on that main title to reissues. Both are populated by a futuristic metropolis in which automation has led to alienation. Is there a more defining strain sweeping our country than that of displaced workers who have lost their purpose in life? What do we lose when we try to perfect society through genetic engineering and globalized efficiency? In some ways, it doesn’t even matter if Rick Deckard is a human being or a replicant. Either way, he’s dead inside.


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