Amazon's best-seller list takes a dystopian turn in Trump era

"Alternative facts" are lies
"Alternative facts" are lies

The Sinclair Lewis novel "It Can't Happen Here," about a gradual fascist takeover of the United States, has joined George Orwell's "1984" on Amazon's list of its best-selling books.

The spike in sales is, at least in part, a reaction to the Trump presidency.

Lower down on the book seller's list are the dystopian classics "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood, "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley, "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury, and "Animal Farm," also by Orwell. Trump's "The Art of the Deal" is also on the list, at #12 on Saturday afternoon.

"It Can't Happen Here" broke into the top 100 on Amazon's updated-every-hour list of sales several days ago. On Saturday it surged into the top 10.

Related: Publisher printing more copies of George Orwell's '1984' after spike in demand

Around lunchtime it was ranked #5, and at mid-afternoon it was #4.

Lewis's novel was first published in 1935. The publisher, Penguin, calls it a story about the fragility of democracy: "Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler's aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press."

In last week's New York Times Book Review, Yale professor Beverly Gage wrote that the novel is "making a comeback as an analogy for the Age of Trump."

"At a moment when instability seems to be the only constant in American politics, 'It Can't Happen Here' offers an alluring (if terrifying) certainty: It can happen here, and what comes next will be even ghastlier than you expect," Gage said.

Amazon says "It Can't Happen Here" is now temporarily out of stock. The same thing happened shortly after Election Day in November.

A handful of observers invoked the novel's storyline about a presidential election during the primary season in 2016.

Famed journalist Carl Bernstein, who called Trump a neo-fascist last March, said on CNN that "fascism is about a maximum leader, who is contemptuous of real democracy, of real Democratic institutions, contemptuous of the press and a free press, who extols torture and violence, who incites hatred. And there's a great book, Sinclair Lewis' 'It Can't Happen Here,' published in the '30s, and we've never quite had a presidential candidate reach this level of prominence who embodies kind of what Sinclair Lewis was talking about in that book."

"Well," Bernstein, said, "maybe it could happen here."

"1984" and its lessons about language were also occasionally cited during the long campaign season.

"1984" reached #1 on Amazon's list earlier in the week after commentators compared Kellyanne Conway's invocation of "alternative facts" to Orwell's idea of "newspeak." The book has held onto the top spot for three days. It is also temporarily out of stock, according to Amazon, with new copies expected to be available in early February.

Books like "1984" that are staples of English classes are regularly reprinted, but due to the sudden demand the publisher, Penguin, is printing more copies than usual.

Penguin had no immediate comment on the spike for "It Can't Happen Here" on Saturday.


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