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If I had to pick just one science fiction novel to call my favorite, it would almost certainly be Ray Bradbury’s futuristic stunner Fahrenheit 451. It doesn’t revolve around aliens, robots, or mutating viruses. The primary focus is mankind… and the dangers inherent to a society that’s gone almost completely brain-dead.

Minority Report (2004) is an edgy, thought-provoking science fiction film that feels much more realistic than most other films of the same genre, simply because the premise is so alarmingly plausible. Similarly, Fahrenheit 451 hits home in a unique way because the implications are chilling; because Bradbury’s world could very easily become our world.

I suppose this novel might be considered apocalyptic, but certainly not in the typical sense of the word. The story is set in the future, and in this futuristic world books aren’t for reading: they’re for burning, along with houses in which they are hidden. And fireman don’t put out fires: they start them. The irony is a bitter one, indeed.

Enter Guy Montag, a fireman of ten years. He burns books with zeal. He never questions the pleasure of midnight raids nor the joy of watching pages consumed by the flames. He never questions until he meets a 17-year-old girl named Clarisse, who describes a past when people weren’t afraid. Then he meets a professor who tells him of a future in which people could think, really think for themselves. These meetings turn Montag’s world upside down… and he soon begins to realize what he must do.

Bradbury’s world is a vividly painted hell. It’s a place where happiness is the chief aim of life. Trivial information is held up as good; knowledge, learning, and ideas are all condemned as bad. The following quote from Fire Captain Beatty sums it up:

You can’t build a house without nails and wood. If you don’t want a house built, hide the nails and wood. If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those things than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of the state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so d— full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy. Any man who can take a TV wall apart and put it back together again, and most men can, nowadays, is happier than any man who tries to slide-rule, measure, and equate the universe, which just won’t be measured or equated without making man feel bestial and lonely. I know, I’ve tried it; to hell with it. So bring on your clubs and parties, your acrobats and magicians, your daredevils, jet cars, motorcycle helicopters, your sex and heroin, more of everything to do with automatic reflex. If the drama is bad, if the film says nothing, if the play is hollow, sting me with the theremin, loudly. I’ll think I’m responding to the play, when it’s only a tactile reaction to vibration. But I don’t care. I just like solid entertainment.

Heavy stuff.

Yet Bradbury’s world is not without hope. There is resistance from certain “outcasts” of society, like Montag – outcasts who refuse to swim downstream with everybody else. They’re going against the flow. They’re challenging the norm. And they’re making a change, however slow, in society.

This book isn’t for youngsters (due to mature themes, some drug-related content, and language). Nevertheless, for those old enough to tackle it, it is a must-read. And you don’t have to be a knuckle-dragging sci-fi buff to appreciate it, either. The warnings are timeless, and the lessons are as prescient today as they were 50 years ago when the book was written.

By all means, read this book. It will probably haunt you, but that’s pretty much the point.

“There is a way that seems right to a 
man, but its end is the way to death.” 
(Proverbs 14:12)


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Published on 16 July, 2011. Last updated on

13 Comments

  1. Corey P.

    Fahrenheit 451 may resemble those books in some ways, but in other ways, it is quite different. It makes for a fresh and compelling read even if you’ve read Huxley or Orwell.

  2. Will

    I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury at the SB writers conference a few years ago. It was very brief, and I was awestruck. I don’t remember what I said but I sounded like a fool. Fahrenheit 451 is one of the great seminal works of literature, up there with 1984. Its the same sort of premise as that work too, although I don’t think many see it so.

  3. Corey P.

    @Will: You got to meet Mr. Bradbury? Wow. I’m envious. Bradbury is one my favorite authors. 🙂

    @Caleb: It is indeed an excellent book – one of the best I’ve ever read. You should read it. 🙂

  4. Andrew J.

    This really makes me want to read the book. I wonder if they have an e-book copy available? Just given the premise, it reminds me of something HG Wells would come up with. Definitely sounds interesting, at any rate.

    Andrew

  5. Jennifer

    A few months ago I listened to an audio version of this book and loved it. It’s so interesting, and more plausible then most people might think. Great review!

  6. Corey P.

    @Andrew: Last time I checked, the book wasn’t available for the Kindle, but Amazon is selling a nice edition for just $6.99. It’s well-worth the price. 🙂

    @Jennifer: Thanks! You’re so right: the premise is much more plausible than people want to believe… which is why the book is entertaining *and* unsettling.

  7. Eustacia Tan

    Oh! I love this book, having studied it for 2 years(:

    I think right now, Fahrenheit 451 is actually scarier than other books like 1984, because Orwell was writing about the threat of communism (which is almost non-existent now), while Ray Bradbury writes about the decline of reading, which is a much more apparent threat in society.

    What’s your favourite quote from the book?

  8. Corey P.

    Hmm… that’s a tough question. There’s just so much quotable material in F451! 🙂

    If I had to choose, though, it would probably be the excerpt I shared in the review. I think it perfectly describes the way so many people prefer the trivial to the substantial.

    “Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so d— full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving…”

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