What to read in a world of ‘alternative facts’

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Some people are drawing parallels between President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the sinister, totalitarian government of George Orwell’s novel “1984.” The book came out nearly 70 years ago, but last month it shot up Amazon’s best seller list.

Michael Silverblatt, host of KCRW’s show “Bookworm,” tells Press Play that we entered the world of “1984” as soon as Kellyanne Conway said “alternative facts.”

Silverblatt says Orwell was one of the most earnest, truth-seeking writers who ever lived, but today we are not living in honest times. “Cynicism characterizes these times, and during times of cynicism, you can’t call the shots. You can’t know what’s going to happen. Because people are eager to say ‘Oh this is just another lie.’ They shrug and say ‘Well what do you expect? That’s what government does — it lies.’”

He says “1984” opened his eyes to the question of whether it can happen here. “It’s 70 years on. Countries in South America, countries in Eastern Europe, countries in Asia. We’ve seen again and again that complete control is possible.”

He says it’s a useful book, but recommends other titles along a similar vein:

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“The Confidence-Man,” the last novel by Herman Melville, where corrupt figures keep appearing wherever you go. Silverblatt calls it a nightmarish book.

“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” a play by Bertolt Brecht, which talks about the rise of Adolf Hitler, but sets it in Chicago among gangsters.

“The Captive Mind,” a nonfiction work by the Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet Czesław Miłosz. The book is about the experience of living as a poet in Poland, where the country comes under totalitarian rule.

“Crowds and Power” by Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti, which Silverblatt calls painful and brilliant.