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This book is published to coincide with a one-day conference on "Orwell and the American society" to be held at the New York Public Library November 7, 2007 sponsored by the Open Society Institute and the graduate schools of journalism at UC Berkeley, Columbia, and the Annenberg School at USC. This year is chosen because it is near the 60th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's famous essay, "Politics and the English Language" (1946).

But what this book is really about is the perversion of truth by the Bush administration and the concomitant failure of the American mass media to do anything about it or to even comprehend what is going on. Editor Andras Szanto writes in his "Editor's Note," "the deans of five prominent journalism schools...were worried about what was happening to political language, which seemed to be divorcing itself from reality at an alarming rate." (p. ix) This book with essays by 18 heavyweight political thinkers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, journalists and others is an attempt to address that worry.

Aside from the many Ministry of Truth sort of lies cynically concocted by the Bush administration, there is the striking and very scary fact that Bush is acting out the Orwellian nightmare in that he has put the United States on what appears to be a permanent "war" footing just as was the case with Oceania in Orwell's novel, 1984, and for pretty much the same reasons. As several of the contributors have noted, George W. Bush has invented an endless and fraudulent "war on terror" as a means to keep the populace in fear and to control both the Congress and the media in order to enhance his own power as chief executive.

But there is much more. As Drew Westen notes in his essay, "The New Frontier: The Instruments of Emotion," there is the example of "Polluters" drafting "a bill which became law," which was "named, as if in cynical tribute to Orwell, the 'Clear Skies Initiative.'" (pp. 75-76) Of course it was, and is, anything but. Westen goes on to make the salient point that "What Orwell could not have foretold is...Orwellian language can be as effective in a democracy as in a dictatorship." (p. 79) These are points that George Soros also makes in his essay, "What I Didn't Know: Open Society Reconsidered."

What strikes me is how corporate control of the media in all its aspects, including especially advertising and news reporting, can insure that only politicians sympathetic to corporate interests can possibly be elected, and once elected can work with their corporate sponsors to bring about something close to dictatorial control. Congresspersons and reporters in fear of losing their seats or their jobs are as easily controlled as citizens terrified of secret police and brown shirts. What Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove and the minions working for them have done--and this is the thrust of the book--is beyond what Orwell could possibly have foreseen. As George Lakoff explains in his essay, "What Orwell Didn't Know About the Brain, the Mind, and Language," we think metaphorically, and the many metaphors of life are charged with emotions that can be activated by certain political words or phrases, "War on Terror, tax relief, illegal immigration...abortion on demand...cut and run, flip-flop...," etc. These words "can activate large portions of the brain." (p. 70) He further notes, "every time such words and phrases are repeated, all the frames and metaphors and worldview structures are activated again and strengthened--because recurring activation strengthens neural connections." (p. 71)

Lakoff recalls how the word "liberal" was destroyed by conservatives through incessant repetition of such phrases as "tax and spend liberal, liberal elite, liberal media, limousine liberal," and so on. This is brainwashing postmodern style. Orville Schell in his introductory essay sees this sort of thing as "penetrating 'the inner heart' of individuals." (p. xx)

Nicholas Lemann in his essay "The Limits of Language" makes the point that the corruption of language, which is what Orwell was writing about in "Politics and the English Language," is one thing, but "an even more frightening political prospect" is "the corruption of information." (p. 15) Bush invaded Iraq under the auspices, as it were, of such a corruption of information. Lemann laments that "there often is no corrective mechanism at hand" when "the facts of a situation have been intentionally corrupted by people in power." (p. 15) Personally I am concerned about the truth hiding in plain sight, in news stories, in articles, in books, on the Internet, while remaining largely unrecognized and unappreciated amidst the massive information and misinformation overload that is burying all of us.

Mark Danner takes this quote from Orwell as the wellspring for his essay, "Words in a Time of War: On Rhetoric, Truth, and Power": "From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned." He goes on to show how this perfectly fits the mentality of Karl Rove, AKA "Bush's Brain." Quoting Ron Suskind, he reveals that Rove disdains what he calls "the reality-based community," opining that "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality...we'll act again, creating other new realities...." (p. 23)

I wish I had the space to say something about the other excellent essays in this collection, but I am up against Amazon's 1,000-word limit, so just let me say this is an outstanding book, wonderfully conceived, eminently topical and profound. I suspect it is going to appear on college reading lists all over America in the next few years, and hopefully it will help a new generation of Americans resist the kind of political propaganda and fact manipulation ubiquitous in recent years.

By the way, Orwell's famous essay appears as an appendix.
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on January 8, 2008
A book of galvanic essays written by noted journalists, authors, reporters, professors, and psychologists - What Orwell Didn't Know is truly a "must read" - especially before voting in the 2008 election. Prompted by the dismal state of "political discourse," today, five revered schools of journalism joined forces to create this anthology. Its 20 essays provide a vital resource to help readers and reporters alike to "disenthrall public debate from bias, hyperbole, bombast and lies."

Along the way, it enlightens readers about everything from brain research and the psychology of emotion to the devastating impact of the "Orwellian" Postal Reogranization Act of 1970 on small, independent opinion journals and magazines; the tragic and ironic consequences of the administration's "subservience of truth to power" in Iraq and in the US; the "carnivalesque media economy," the threat of corporate power, and our own willingness to look the other way when the Emporer has no clothes.

While I found a few of the 20 essays in the book somewhat less engaging, most were powerful, alarming, challenging and enlightening. And though Americans are more savvy today about the ways in which language can be manipulated and distorted for political ends, we can still be taken in....and we do ourselves, and our democaracy, a dangerous disservice if we do not question rigorously the medium, the message, the messenger the motives behind all we hear and read. "What Orwell Didn't Know" offers chilling evidence of our need for vigilance and action...I can't recommend it highly enough.
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VINE VOICEon February 19, 2008
"What Orwell Didn't Know" is an eye-opening compendium of pieces about the insidious use of propaganda in our time. Editor Andras Szanto presents outstanding works by eighteen intellectuals who compare Orwell's classic 1946 paper on propaganda, 'Politics and the English Language' (reprinted in its entirety) with the propaganda industry of today. Convincingly demonstrating how the science of propaganda has in fact metastisized into a very real threat to the Enlightenment ideal of progress, the authors implore us to sharpen our critical thinking skills as we seek to immunize ourselves to manipulation and struggle to keep our democracy alive.

Part One: Language and Politics includes six essays about how deceptive language serves political ends. Orwell believed that clarity in writing was essential to reasoned discourse and understood that fear is the gateway to despotism. The authors connect these concepts to the Bush administration's well-documented misrepresentations that have led the U.S. into its perpetual war on terror. Among many insights, we learn how the deceptive use of language has allowed the corporate-controlled state to deepen its control over the public consciousness and impose a far right-wing political agenda.

Part Two: Symbols and Battlegrounds contains six articles that explore how culturally-charged symbols are routinely exploited for political advantage. The authors discuss how post-Orwellian discoveries in cognitive sciences have demonstrated that reason is not just rational but emotional, complicating the task of disputation against the skilled propagandist. For example, the authors cite President Reagan's Star Wars proposal as an emotionally-appealing but unattainable solution to the overblown Communist menace that has distracted us from the real problem of nuclear proliferation. Similarly, the authors discuss how liberal causes such as women's rights and the environment have been revoiced in born-again Christian terms to the detriment of human progress and nature. Fortunately, the authors detect a growing challenge to the Christian Right by socially-conscious religious organizations and individuals such as Al Gore, whose cinematic jeremiad 'An Incovenient Truth' has succeeded in bringing attention to global warming by reframing the problem as a moral issue.

Part Three: Media and Message consists of five compositions on the dangers of concentrated media ownership plus an Epilogue by George Soros. Writing before television came into maturity, Orwell's concerns about the printed word seems almost quaint when compared with the ubiquitously persuasive powers of television on the public mind. The authors are appalled with the rise of the postmodern infotainment industry and the media's stakeholder role in promoting the spectacle of disaster; others voice their concerns about the lack of diverse perspectives and self-censorship practices which makes it more and more difficult to reach broad consensus on critical issues. And in an astute closing chapter, Mr. Soros concludes that the role of the media watchdog is more important than ever if we hope to curb dishonest reporting and reconnect the masses with reality.

I highly recommend this timely, thought-provoking and important book to everyone.
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on June 3, 2010
First, the Good. The Appendix has Politics And The English Language, which is a wonderful essay by George Orwell. This is the kind of straight forward thinking we need from all our authors.
Second, the Bad. The rest of the book is slightly boring. Nothing really new, not very clear, and, frankly, the title is incorrect. George Orwell guessed a lot of what they talked about - the use of images for example. Movies, photos, art work was all around during the early part of the 20th Century and was used in such books as 1984.
The Ugly is that I red this book only a few weeks ago and can't remember one thing that stayed in my memory. Which is no doubt linked to the boring part of the Bad section.
Buying this book is cheaper than getting a used copy of Politics And The English Language. That's all I can really say about it.
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on March 7, 2011
an eye opener. A must read book. you will enjoy life after you read this book because you will see through the propaganda of different entities easily.,
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on January 18, 2008
Very informative and thought provoking. Various authors give a 10-20 page essay on the topic from different angles. I gave several as holiday gifts to family and friends.
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on June 14, 2008
What's left to be said, after that wonderful expose/review by Mr. Littrell. Nobody was better able to articulate to the masses the way political propaganda works and how people are taken in and conditioned with its sublte processes. But Orwell wrote "Animal Farm" and then "1984" and exposes in raw realistic detail exactly how political propaganda works (even as the reader himself is unsuspecting). Twenty writers combine in this informative anthology to examine the manipulation and lies thrust on the American people by a criminal Bush administration, Orwell style. Though a more thorough and important book, Don't Weep for Me, America: How Democracy in America Became the Prince (While We Slept) is available for seeing the evasive and magnitude of current political deception through the eyes of George Orwell, "What Orwell Didn't Know" is a good primer.
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on April 23, 2010
Most of the essays contain important conceptional points that should be considered
by all writers and most critical readers. Orwell's essay at the end of the book is
a 'MUST READ' any who take up the pencil, pen, or keyboard as a tool to communicate
ideas in a concise, relevant manner.
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on June 11, 2015
The book was okay. A little off the wall
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on January 7, 2008
This is a fascinating collection of essays by the best political thinkers. Required reading for political junkies.
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