Orginally published in 1953, Fahrenheit 451 is one of Ray Bradbury's best known novels.
This dystopian novel brings together a collection of ideas that Bradbury had been forming during the McCarthy era in the United States. His concern about censorship was coupled with a handful of other short stories and ideas based on excessive and inhibitive policing and the marginalisation of literature by new media that was blossoming at the time. This is infused with the theory of knowledge transfer within the cyclical nature of mankind's 'development'.
Bradbury sees himself not as a future predictor but as a "preventer of futures". 'Spoilers' (on a theoretical level) inevitably follow...
In Bradbury's not to distant future life moves at a faster and more demanding pace where people have less time to read and seek the perceived ideal of instant gratification - often better achieved through other media. The censorship of books, which is the novel's central theme, was not in fact initiated by the government and for the most part the process of abridging and degradation of book content was conducted by the free market. The state then took advantage of this sea change. In a way it seems capitalism has planted the seeds for the destruction of liberal values.
The suppression of knowledge and expansive thought is seen to dumb down the population which after one generation of success can have drastic conditioning consequences where ethics, morals and perception can be entirely reversed. Conversation and social interaction deteriorate and as a result relationships lose meaning/purpose.
Toward's the end of the book Bradbury talks of the legendary phoenix analogy (the endless cycle of life, death in flames and rebirth). Mankind seems to make the same mistakes over and over again and knowledge and books are the only things that can continue to live eternally if not in print at least passed in our minds (for a book is just a vessel and not the knowledge itself). Continually, the book is infused with the enchanting mysticism of fire and its symbolism of passion, protest and rage.
Beyond suppression of intellect there are some other suggestions of the way the state controls the masses through media but not to the extent that perhaps Nineteen Eighty-Four
goes to. Nor does this book really home in on the political motives or sociological ramifications in any detail; I expect that this removal of detail here is intentional as it would distract from his main theme.
Furthermore, where Bradbury may fall short on the scope of his future predictions he certainly makes up for in his descriptive writing prowess. In fact whilst the first half of the book spends a lot of time constructing the ominous society the second half of the book is full of vivid and lucid descriptions of the antagonist's feelings, emotions and personal experience.
Sixty years since its publication this is a concise and powerful novel that, like the best of it's genre, has become more important and accurate today as Bradbury may have wished.