Orwell's 1984 sixty years on

The classic was published on 8 June 1949 – and has had a deep impact on millions. Andrew Johnson talks to writers about it – and asks them to cite their favourite reads


Robert Harris
1984, George Orwell

1984, I think, is the most influential book ever written, and so you could say the greatest book ever written. I remember reading it as a teenager and being completely enthralled by it. It made political ideas exciting – it highlighted the way human nature can impose itself on politics. When I read it recently (to write the foreward to the anniversary edition) I was struck by the simplicity of the prose. The book lacks any artifice. Serious literature today is so much about the self. Orwell's prose is not trying to show off, but trying to stand out of the way so that the ideas are much stronger. Orwell turned political ideas into a work of art that's transcendent, even after 60 years.

Alexei Sayle Animal Farm, George Orwell

I find 1984 a very upsetting book. It's a very unsettling story, the story of Winston Smith itself is very sad and hopeless. Being the child of communist Stalinists I felt personally responsible for his predicament. Both my parents were Stalinists and I kind of went along. If you believed in that kind of ideology it was kind of aimed at you. It does shape you if you do believe in that stuff. A more profound influence on me was Orwell's Animal Farm because I thought: "This is me and my family." It's very poignant, particularly the horse, Boxer, when he realises he's being taken to the knacker's yard and tries to kick out the doors of the van, but he hasn't the strength. It's heart-breaking.

Philip Pullman The Bible

1984 set a climate of opinion on the way we regard totalitarian states and ideas about language. If we reduce the words available your capacity for thinking is reduced. It is a very important novel, but is it of the same rank as Bleak House, or Middlemarch? I'm not sure.

The most influential book for me is the Bible. That was all around me when I was a child and I absorbed the stories of the Old and New Testaments at a very early age. They are part of how I think and feel. I don't believe they are the word of God. As a literary work it has great poetry, dramatic stories, myths – and it's the work of so many different hands, too.

Joanne Harris Wuthering Heights, Emily BrontË

I studied 1984 at school, and revisited it a couple of years ago. When I read it recently I was much more struck by the doomed relationship between Winston and Julia. They have no means of having a relationship, and nothing in common except the circumstances that have brought them together. It's a milestone book, but I'm not sure that it influenced me. Wuthering Heights was a book I really loved. I was obsessed by it at 15 or 16. I reread it recently and it stood up so well. There were things I picked up on that I hadn't seen before. At 16, I saw the love story between Cathy and Heathcliff, but the bigger love story is with the environment. Her descriptions of the Yorkshire moors are the ultimate love story.

Ruth Rendell Complete works of Shakespeare

I don't think people believed 1984 would ever happen, and it hasn't really. We don't have Room 101 with white rats. Animal Farm did show people that totalitarianism was a reality. Animal Farm made me much more aware of how the world could be, and it is full of great truths. The book that influenced me most was The Complete Works of Shakespeare. I've always read Shakespeare and I still read him. It would be the book I'd miss most. I love his poetry of course, but also his understanding of human nature, which never ceases to amaze.

Andrew Motion The Prelude, Wordsworth

1984 never weighed very heavily with me, less than George Orwell's essays, which I kept on my bedside table as a teenager. The Prelude by Wordsworth was there too, the 1805 version, and that's still beside me now – one of the poems that made me a poet, by showing the nobility and power of little local things.

Deborah Moggach To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

I read 1984 so long ago that I can't remember anything about it. It's not so much the books that are influential, but when you read them. One is very permeable and open to experience as an adolescent. DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolf were influential, partly because they were great modernists and rebels. I remember, on page two of To the Lighthouse, Woolf describes poplar leaves as "whitening before rain". I thought "what a wonderful sentence" because I didn't think anyone in the world had noticed that – I didn't think I'd noticed it until I read it.

Will Self Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand CÉline

1984 is an alternative-world book, and I write alternative-world books. It's an alternative London book. I think the success of his parallel world is where its appeal lies. So, the Chestnut Tree café was modelled on a café in South End Green. It's a bricolage of London in 1948. I wouldn't say it's in the top 10 that have influenced me as a writer, but it's probably in the top 20 or 30.

Louis-Ferdinand Céline's Journey to the End of the Night had a great influence. He wrote, not about reality, but the hallucination reality provokes. I took that as a motto for my work. It liberated my thinking.

Lisa Jardine Catch-22, Joseph Heller

1984 did influence me. We all had to do it at school. But it wasn't a formative influence. Catch-22 had a much greater impact. I was an anti-Vietnam War twentysomething and it caught a mood and energy. It gave an understanding of the relationship between passionate commitment and bodily failings. It was much more intense for me than 1984. I thought that was far too analytical.

Ann Widdecombe Who moved the stone, Frank Morison

I wouldn't call 1984 the most influential book I've read, but it's an influential book. Its lessons haven't been learnt. It was saying we're all subject to state surveillance and we now have state surveillance bigger than George Orwell could have dreamed of. Even he didn't come up with microchips in wheelie-bins.

Who Moved the Stone?, which I read when I was 14, is the most influential book I've ever read. It's an examination of the resurrection. I found it very convincing and easy to understand and it made a lot of the minor characters in the Gospels come to life. I was already religious-leaning, but I think it convinced me.

Jenny Colgan How to win friends and influence people, Dale Carnegie

1984 is, along with Lord of the Flies, one of the most horrible set school books there is. It's the education system saying, "Right, you 'orrible lot, you may think life is all Blyton and Follyfoot, but we're here to tell you it is absolutely horrible and can only get worse." We did it for O-Grade [in Scotland], and it has a lasting effect on me even now, which shows the power of its ruthlessly simple language that heightens the dystopian horror. But the book that actually had the greatest influence on me is highly embarrassing. By mistake, aged 11, I borrowed Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I realised self-consciousness, while an unavoidable part of adolescence, isn't really necessary, but good manners always help. It's helped me immeasurably in life. I think everyone should read it.

Terry Pratchett The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

Orwell was ruined for me by being a set text. The Wind in the Willows had, by far, the most influence. People think of it as a children's book, but that's not all it is. What seared my imagination was its surrealism. The rat, the mole and badger could talk, but they could also change size: a badger could crawl down a rat hole, a toad could drive a car. At nine or 10 that fascinated me and that made a deep impression on my career.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable