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Farenheit 451 [Paperback]

Ray Bradbury


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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even more relevant now than when first written 17 July 2009
By Hilarie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Farenheit 451 was first published in 1953, so as I started on my first reading of the book I wondered if it would feel dated. After finishing it, I've decided that this book is even more relevant today than when it was first written.

Farenheit 451 is set sometime in the future (Bradbury wisely chose not to set a specific date for his story), and is the story of Guy Montag, a professional book burner, or "fireman." In Montag's time, American society now focuses primarily on constant pleasure seeking without inhibitions of any kind. Intellectual pursuits such as reading or writing are strongly discouraged, and those found owning any banned piece of literature (which by this time includes almost any piece of literature) are punished by imprisonment, while their homes are burned with the offending books inside. It is a time of apathy and lawlessness, and most of the population spends almost their entire lives focused on vacuous entertainment which massages the minds of the masses into an intellectual sleep. Montag's contentment with this existence is disrupted one day when he meets a young girl, Clarrise, who engages him in a conversation that begins to awaken in him the desire for a more meaningful life. Ultimately, Montag rebels and finds himself a fugitive from the very society that has created him.

To be upfront, I will admit that I hate modern television, specifically the drivel of reality tv that consists of watching the antics of dysfunctional individuals in all their horrific glory. I will be the first to admit that I enjoy television shows like Lost and Battlestar Galactica which actually seem to have a story driven plot, and are delightfully complex. Still, I am blown away by a recent statistic that states that the average American spends 7 hours a day watching television. At this point, you are probably wondering, what does television have to do with Farenheit 451? This is not a novel about censorship, although that certainly is present in the novel. Bradbury has stated that the novel is primarily an exploration of how the obsession with television and mass media can or will destroy our desire to read. I find Bradbury's idea of the future frightening, especially when I consider that so many of my own acquaintances can't even remember the last time they read a book for enjoyment. In fact, that is the reason I was primarily attracted to book blogging. I wanted to find a place to share my love of books with others, and I couldn't seem to fill that need in my local community.

I found the coda that Bradbury added in a later edition to be especially interesting. As I was listening, it was spooky when I considered how many aspects of the novel have an equivalent in our modern society. One example that jumps out to me is the "seashell" device that Montag's wife Mildred is wearing almost continuously throughout the novel. Bradbury later wrote:

"In writing the short novel Fahrenheit 451 I thought I was describing a world that might evolve in four or five decades. But only a few weeks ago, in Beverly Hills one night, a husband and wife passed me, walking their dog. I stood staring after them, absolutely stunned. The woman held in one hand a small cigarette-package-sized radio, its antenna quivering. From this sprang tiny copper wires which ended in a dainty cone plugged into her right ear. There she was, oblivious to man and dog, listening to far winds and whispers and soap-opera cries, sleep-walking, helped up and down curbs by a husband who might just as well not have been there. This was not fiction."

This book is a classic, and it deserves to be. If you haven't ever read this book, or if it has been a while, give it a try. If nothing else, it will give you plenty to think about.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dystopian cautionary tale 28 Jan 2012
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most famous works of science fiction, and with "Brave New World" and "1984" represents one of the most memorable and haunting dystopias. In a future world, books are banned and firemen actually set fires instead of extinguishing them. The state exercises a form of social control through controlling what sort of information people have access to. It turns out that not all books are banned, only those that we would today consider "great works" - Plato, Shakespeare, The Bible, Darwin, etc. For me one of the biggest surprises about Fahrenheit 451 was the rationale that was offered for the burning of those books. In a nutshell, they offended politically correct sensibilities and the authorities felt that they would undermine the social cohesion. This expunging of the classics from the culture has an uncanny resonance with the attempts over past few decades to expunge them from the undergraduate liberal arts curriculum. And rationale is also similar: these books are not "diverse" enough and may offend the sensibilities of an ever-increasing list of "minorities." It is hard not to wonder if a milder, softer version of dystopian future that Bradbury was worried about in the early 1950s has not in fact arrived.

Bradbury's writing and ideas are somewhere between those of George Orwell and Philip K. Dick. His style is very engaging, and even poetic. His writing is at its best when one of his characters engages in a prolonged monolog. However, the plot development could use some improvement. There is very little in terms of transition from one scene to the next, and most scenes are overly compressed. It is very hard to follow the plot developments at times. Nonetheless, Bradbury is a wonderful stylist and unlike much of science fiction this book is a pleasure to read on a purely literally level as well as for its sweeping ideas.

As a last note, I found it incredibly ironic that I read this book on Kindle. Based on this alone I am fairly optimistic that reading and great books will not only survive but in fact thrive well into the 21st century.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True Dystopian 24 Oct 2013
By StrangePegs - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is not the first time I've read Fahrenheit 451, but it has been, oh, about 30 years, and you can forget a lot in 30 years. I had. In fact, I had forgotten what a wonderful book it is and, actually, how relevant it remains, now, 60 years later. It's also amazing to see all of the foresight Bradbury had into the world that would be, which is now the world that is. [It was not amazing to see how much of Fahrenheit made it into Snow Crash and not in a good way. Not in an homage way. In a "I really like this and am going to take it and use it in my book" way. Like the mechanical dog. I didn't think it was possible for my view of Snow Crash to fall any farther than it already was, but Stephenson surprised me yet again. Not in a good way.]

The thing that stood out to me most is the true nature of the dystopian world of the Firemen. I'm not a fan of dystopians, but that's because I'm not a fan of current dystopians, which are not dystopians at all. Almost across the board, they are post-apocalyptic. The Hunger Games is not a dystopian story; I don't care how it's marketed or what publishers say or whatever. [And the distinction and where it went wrong is a post unto itself, so I'm not going to go into that now.] But Fahrenheit is in no way post-apocalyptic (although you could say it's pre-apocalyptic, I suppose). It's not even a government imposed dystopian. No, the Firemen and the book burning is something that came from the people, and that's what makes the book so scary.

And, possibly, real.

There are so many things in our current society that Bradbury was only glimpsing when he wrote the book, but they are so much worse, now, than then. I'll focus on two things:

1. We don't like to make people feel bad. About anything. This has been a growing trend over the past few decades with our movement toward positive thinking and making everything "politically correct," but it doesn't stop there, because we've started to stop allowing kids to experience losing. Losing feels bad. Over the past few years, there has been a growing trend in kids' sport teams (like my daughter's old softball team) to not have any losers. No scores. Just two teams of kids who are all winners. And many schools have begun adopting grade-less systems, because bad grades make kids feel bad.

In Fahrenheit, one of the reasons that people don't read is that reading makes them feel bad. As a society, the people want to have fun, and they can't get that through reading.

2. Thinking is hard work. And it makes people feel bad. If they read, they will think. If they think, they will realize just how not very special they are and how much they don't have and that makes them sad. Thinking about anything for too long becomes a bad thing; it's thinking they're really trying to get rid of, not the books. And I'm not talking about the government; I'm talking about the society. Books get shorter and shorter because no one wants to think (and we all know about the current TL;DR crap). Eventually, books become anathema to the society, so they start burning them. They burn them until it becomes a law.

I was looking over a survey recently dealing with people and whether they like to have "intellectual conversations" and 80-90% of people responding say no. I think the numbers where slightly higher for women, but that could be cultural (men want to appear smarter and women want to appear less smart than men). The most common response to the question was, "I don't like to think that hard."

That Bradbury was tackling these topics back in '53 (actually earlier, because Fahrenheit was based off of a short story he wrote in the 40s called "The Fireman") says a lot. It says that we've been struggling over the loss of books in our society for much longer than we normally think. It also says that, although these issues have grown in the decades, books, even if not physical, are still a strong force in our society, and that's a good thing. Of course, the metaphor that Bradbury is making is that the loss of books, the loss of knowledge, the loss of thought will lead man to his doom (a fiery apocalyptic doom in Fahrenheit), and I don't think that he was wrong. His warning is still as applicable today as it was then, just before the greatest wave of censorship the United States has ever seen would was across the country (something the Tea Party would like duplicate, I'm sure).

All of that aside, the language of Bradbury is superb, his language exquisite. Things like, "...under an ancient windmill that whirred like the sound of the passing years overhead." I can hear that sound in my head when I read it, and it gives the passage a weight that just isn't found in a lot of modern books. And my favorite passage:
She had a very thin face like the dial of a small clock seen faintly in a dark room in the middle of a night when you waken to see the time and see the clock telling you the hour and the minute and the second, with a white silence and a glowing, all certainty and knowing what it had to tell of the night passing swiftly on toward further darkness, but moving also toward a new sun.
It's full of foreshadowing and beauty. Very evocative. And the book is full of that stuff.

There's a reason this book is considered a classic, but many books that are no longer relevant are classics. This one surpasses those in that it is a classic and still relevant. I'm quite sure this is a book that more people should still be reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Cautionary Story for Your Consideration 15 July 2013
By kone - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Ray Bradbury writes a fast-paced futuristic story about a society where the goal is for everyone to be happy and satiated. Nothing wrong with that you ask? Well, in order to achieve that "utopia" of happiness, all controversy, and all dissident thought must be eliminated. In order for this to be accomplished, books, the collected repository of millennial thought, must be eliminated. And so, the central character in this novel (Guy Montag) has a job as a fireman where he routinely gets called to burn books. To fill up the information gap from the lack of books, the government supplies 24/7 big screen television programing that is eerily similar to reality tv today. There is also a 24/7 radio program that transmits soothing non-informational sounds that lull the populace into unconsciousness. The ultimate goal is to dummify the population so there is no questioning, no dissent, and no opposition to government policy. All goes well for Guy Montag until he meets Clarisse, a 16 year old neighbor who opens his eyes to the lack of real relationships, love, and intellectual thought. Montag realizes the plight he is in, and the rest of the story is his struggle to break away without being killed in the process.

This is a surrealistic look at our depersonalized future, with similarities to Orwell's "1984" and Huxley's "Brave New World". The similarities to our present-day world are quite stunning, with people plugged into their own personal music channels (locking out the distractions of the world around them), cell phones and Facebooks which offer "electronic" friendships, and mindless tv programming that neither elevate nor educate the public. With people more concerned about what is happening with the Kardashians than the war in Afghanistan or government scandals, Bradbury's book is prophetic in nature.

kone
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered?" 27 Mar 2013
By Crystal Starr Light - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered?"

Guy Montag is a fireman. His night job is to respond to calls and burn down homes with books. He's going along in his life pretty hunky-dory until he meets Clarisse, his quirky neighbor, who abruptly jolts him out of his hum-drum life (and wife who is addicted to an interactive TV family and overdoses on sleeping pills).

In my endeavor to read a classic book a month, I chose this short book, a classic scifi/dystopian work. With all the dystopian books coming out after the success of "The Hunger Games", it's nice to go back to the roots and see the foundations of this genre. (And read some decent dystopians that aren't fluffed with stupid romances.)

Unlike 1984 or Brave New World, this book has a distinct writing style. Bradbury's work is much more poetic and flowery than either Huxley's or Wells'. At first, this was jarring and annoying - not unlike my reaction to the Tahereh Mafi's fairly recent release, and romance masquerading as dystopian fiction, Shatter Me. (At least now I kinda understand where Mafi may have taken inspiration for her story from.) There were points when I nearly quit this book because the metaphors bounded off into the sunset with Tonto and his 8 flying reindeer (that is my sad attempt at a ridiculous metaphor, sorry). But after awhile, the language grew on me; it actually seemed to have a point, to showcase Montag's erratic mindset and do more than go, "Oooooh, look at these two kids, they are so in luuuuuuurve!"

Also unlike a lot of other dystopian relatives, "Fahrenheit 451"'s dystopian society doesn't arise from a tyrannical government. Instead, it comes from people censoring each other (the coda makes it clear that this was a concern very close to Bradbury's heart). It wasn't some wizard behind a curtain; it was society itself.

In this day and age, when groups actively try to ban books like this one (talk about the height of irony!) from school reading lists or libraries, the message rings loud and clear. I'm not saying I believe all censorship is necessarily bad; I do believe that 12 year olds shouldn't be reading books like "Fifty Shades of Grey" nor do I think that 7 year olds should be watching rated R films. And people who don't want to listen to music with explicit lyrics or movies with violence and sex can by all means censor themselves - that is their prerogative and I would never want to force a person to do something they didn't feel comfortable with. But whenever you start censoring, you have got to wonder: where is the line? Who gets to draw it? What should be censored and what shouldn't be and who owns the knowledge?

The other portion of the novel that stood out to me was how the people in this world, such as Mildred, Guy's wife, substituted the knowledge you get from books and thoughtful conversations with other people with the vapidity of TV families and mass entertainment. I think you can see where I am going with this; our society has made some people millions for being idiots or doing stupid things. Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, and Snooki all come to mind. They aren't famous and wealthy because of their shrewd business acumen or a discovery of a cure for cancer or their dedication to the fight for equal rights. No, they became famous and household names because they acted like idiots, and we could laugh at them, pretending we were better than they are.

The character that I found the most interesting was Fire Chief Beatty. Here is a guy that is obviously well read, and yet he has no problems burning books. How does a guy get to that place? What scarred him? Bradbury, in the afterword, hints at Beatty's story, but I almost wish for more.

As fascinated as I was with Beatty, I found myself largely disinterested in the rest of the cast. We have the male protagonist who learns the truth and forges his own path (surprisingly, Guy acts far more human and cowardly than I would have expected a male character to have been written in this time period), the young woman who incites the rebellion, the woman who tries to hold him back, the male mentor that tells him to rebel, the other male figure that tells him to obey, etc. It's all pretty standard stuff.

Honestly, this book is more remarkable for the thought provoking discussion points than the actual characters, conversations, or plot. I thought the situations the book addresses - media, the place books have in our lives, and censorship - are more meaningful now than ever. So if you get a chance, give this book a read - and I would heartily recommend finding a person or two to read with you so you can talk about some of the topics this book presents.

Brought to you by:
*C.S. Light*
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