40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 14 November 2004
It has been said that this short but unforgettable work represents Bradbury's only wholly successful novel. Personally I think Something Wicked This Way Comes is equally grand, and far more typical of its author, but there is no doubt that Fahrenheit 451 finds his narrative skills at their finest: the book drives forward with a clarity and urgency not found in any of Bradbury's other novels. His prophetic and visionary quality ranks alongside Orwell's, combining with paired down and super-efficient prose to create a nightmarish near-future where books are banned and burned upon discovery, and the firemen who destroy them 'custodians of our peace of mind'. Individuality is crushed and the masses satiated by the TV screens that adorn every wall of their living rooms. The protagonist is himself a fireman, until one day he begins reading a book and his world turns upside down. A brilliant and subversive piece of work, Fahrenheit 451 seems more relevent today than when it was written, not least because the world really has become increasingly as Bradbury foresaw. Short enough to be read in a single sitting, the book packs a punch that is never quite forgotten.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
I enjoy a good dystopian fiction novel, examples of the genre include 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Handmaids Tale and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, which each describe different horrors which might await us. Personally, it is the stories of this type which were written in the past but which project predictive visions of society as we know it today in a way which is both interesting and sinister, that I like most. As an example a personal favourite of mine is the E.M Forster short story 'The Machine Stops' written in 1909 which tells of a nightmare future in which humans depend on communicating with a machine, to work, to live, to listen to music, to travel and to talk to one another. The fascinating thing about this past vision of an oppressive future machine is that it is pretty much home computing as we know it today.
Despite its extremes Fahrenheit 451, written by Bradbury in 1953 is one such novel. The plot follows a character named Guy Montag who is a Fireman, but in Montag's world, Firemen don't put out fires they start them, they start them to burn books that people have hidden in their homes, and to take those hiding literature to prison. Books are banned and so is reading. There is of course the obvious allusion to the countries of post-war Communist Europe in which certain reading materials were banned and arrest for the crime of being an intellectual might occur should you be caught in possession of such literature. Bradbury takes this concept of state controlled reading and takes it a step further to a state were reading of any kind is not tolerated. Bradbury considers the implications for humans as individuals and for society as a whole. Worryingly, he hits the nail on the head for aspects of 2011 society as it stands with some of his ideas.
He speaks of a culture were subjects such as history, philosophy, languages and English spelling and grammar are no longer respected. We live in a time were many universities are closing their philosophy and/or language departments because the funding, and simply, the interest is not there to run them, students have become consumers in an education market rather than seekers of knowledge.
In a conversation between Clarisse and Montag, Clarisse says "My uncle says his grandfather remembered when children didn't kill each other. But that was a time when they had things different" The James Bulger Case caused an outcry nearly 20 years ago, but now child on child crime is becoming ever more commonplace. Some weeks ago I watched a harrowing documentary 'Scenes From A Teenage Killing' charting the amount of murders of teenagers over the last year by their own peers. The reactions of some London commuters whose journeys were interrupted by one murder showed only annoyance and irritation at the situation and no sense of shock or tragedy. Murder seemed to have become an unremarkable event.
In Fahrenheit 451 people use earphones to block out real world interactions with strangers or family with music or radio they enjoy like every iPod addict today causing the disintegration of real relationships. They mount multiple TVs to their walls and the characters feel like their true friends and family.
In one conversation Beatty speaks about how classic novels were once condensed into short articles or serial performances so that they would gain more attention. This made me think of the BBC adaptation of Bleak House some years ago. A great adaptation of a great book but, it was said, that it was to be shown in half hour installments in the hopes of creating a soap opera vibe, and attracting soap opera viewers. The TV programmes in the world of Fahrenheit 451 are short, snappy, often silly trying to keep viewers attention. When you look at some of the things on TV now, like that awful quiz show with the Hare that comes on before Doctor Who, amid complaints that Doctor Who itself is too complicated, you can see that our TV world isn't far off Bradbury's.
Beatty mocks intellectual thinking and is glad that it has become "the swearword it deserved to be" He talks about how it was always the bright boy in school who was hated and tormented. "We must all be alike." This reminded me of the modern trend for the celebration of ignorance, particularly ignorance in women. The kind of world where people take to their hearts reality TV contestants who think East Anglia is abroad and don't know if Shakespeare is alive or dead. The kind of world in which Jordan is a best selling author.
Bradbury really does come too close for comfort in Fahrenheit 451 to the worst of the now, the nightmares of the past are the commonplace of the present. That's a scary thought.
Outside of these projected visions that provoke thought, I wasn't sure how much I liked Fahrenheit 451 in terms of liking the main characters, Clarisse is really a great character wasted and should have had a greater role, Mildred is terribly annoying but I would think that's deliberate, but Montag is a desperate man whose desperation is clearly felt and well written. The book is also very visual, you can really see its events unfold in your mind. This is always the mark of a good novel.
I don't know whether the fact that Fahrenheit 451 is short is to its favour or its detriment. I almost feel like I was left wanting more, but isn't that a compliment to its writer really? The other good thing about this book is that I couldn't find it on iBooks or Kindle so i had to buy a paper copy. Although I love my iPad it is really nice to read in the old school way at times. 7/10
47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2004
I've been checking out some of the classics that I never gave a chance while in high school, now that I'm a much more aware and mature reader. "Fahrenheit 451" was something I always wanted to read but never got around to it. Well, I have finally read it and the time was very much well spent. Ray Bradbury offers a bleak and dim future where thinking for yourself is against the law.
Guy Montag's life had always been simple. He understood the order of things, and he understood the nature of his job. He was a fireman, and that entailed burning books and burning down the buildings that hid them. He never questioned it once and never felt guilty for what he was doing. Things take a different route when he meets a peculiar girl who asks the tough questions that he has never had to answer. And with those questions, he starts to think and wonder why things are the way they are. Ever since the meeting with this stranger, Montag is curious about the true nature of his job, leading to dangerous revelations that will put his very life in jeopardy.
Bradbury has created a magnificent piece of literature that attacks censorship and the numbing of society head on with no regrets and no remorse. He doesn't need to give us an exact year of this future, as that makes it all the more frightening. Even though this is a work of fiction, it seems so realistic and so possible that all of this could really happen to us. Think about it. We are now a "TV Generation" who spend a lot less time reading, people are trying to ban different types of books for different reasons, and anything that is deemed "unpleasant" is demanded to be "fixed" or "taken care of" so we can all feel happy and not deal with the pain and troubles of life. Bradbury captures all of this and does not give you a bitter rant about today's youth, but he uses all of that negative energy and creates something so profound and well established. It's no mistake that this fine novel has sold millions upon millions of copies and is forever deemed a classic.
The writing is simple to read and it is a short book. You will have to give it a few pages before you can really get into it all, but make sure that you stick with it. Once it gets moving, there's no stopping the pages. Bradbury is great with imagery and provides excellent descriptions--but never goes overboard with them. It's such a short read that you could most likely finish it in a day or two if you put the effort into it. Turn off that TV for just a few hours or so and pick this up! It definitely sticks in your head once it's all said and done, and you will be thinking about everything that has transpired in this book.
"Fahrenheit 451" is a tremendous work of fiction that is both thought-provoking and terrifying (in a subtle way). It really goes to show you how terrible things can get if censorship wins, and it really can happen if you think about it. If you haven't given this a read yet, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy as soon as you can. This is a book that I know I will be re-reading again in the very near future. -Michael Crane
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 2010
I have mixed feelings about this book.
The premise is very interesting. Ray Bradbury imagines a world where books are banned, and it's not very difficult to imagine this world actually coming to life. After all, books weren't banned from one moment to another - people gradually lost interest in them, in favor of other, more immediate forms of entertainment, that didn't challenge them emotionally or intellectually, and, therefore, apparently made their life much easier. Television, colors, fast cars, sports, all that was important was the fun. And, like Beatty, the firemen captain in the book, says, books are full of controversy, they don't agree with each other, they don't provide answers, they're not real, they take too long, they're too complicated and controversial. Gradually, people started rejecting them, and eventually they became outlawed because of the perceived unrest they caused.
It's really interesting to read about the difference books made in the life of the main character (although we realize, by the end of the book, that books are only a symbol, and the problem runs much deeper than the simple burning of books). And it's not hard to make a few analogies between the society that's described in the book and our own society (something about snippet-sized bits of fast, thoughtless entertainment rings a bell). That alone is chilling and makes one think, "What if?". Like all good books, this one raises questions, providing food for thought for us to make our own answers.
The only problem I had with this book was the way it was written (style, if you will). At times it was very good, but a lot of times it was filled to the point of exhaustion with metaphors. On a single paragraph I would count five, six metaphors, one for how the street looked like, another for how it smelled, another for the character's state of mind, and so on. It got a bit tiring. Then again, maybe that's a question of personal preference... But it was, in my opinion, a bit distracting from the actual story.
All in all, I'm very glad I read this book. The questions it raised will stay with me for a long time. I recommend it to book lovers, and anyone who is interested in the way society and media relate to each other.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 18 November 2010
This was one of those `classics' that I had just never got round to reading before. The notion of the story is one that has seeped into the public consciousness over the last 50 years, to the extent that many who haven't read the book could give you a quick appraisal of the story. But in such instances, it is easy for Chinese whispers to miss key elements of a story. So I felt it was important to read it for myself.
The style of the book is quite straightforward which makes it very easy to read and I got through the book in a single weekend. There is nothing in the way it written that instantly makes it stand out as brilliant; the characters, though not flat, aren't exactly full of depth. There are not many great quotes or aphorisms. The real power of the story is the idea of the narrative, which is what the author has spent the most time giving flesh to.
It is a stark warning against right wing totalitarianism, where free thought is forbidden. Yet it is not a 1984 clone. There is less of a fantastical tone about it, the curtailments of freedoms were very creeping, hence being all the more believable and frightening for it. There is one flaw in it, however. Whilst it is essentially an advertisement for books and for free thought, the only books mentioned are those that are generally considered great. It might have been rather different if the remnants of the intelligentsia had been trying to memorise Mills & Boon, Jeffrey Archer or Stephanie Meyer. That minor oversight could be applied to the book itself, as it undoubtedly a classic. The author states that the story almost wrote itself, and that is evident in the book, as it has the feel of a story that had to be told, rather than anything contrived.
A must read for all who value free thought.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 30 January 2006
One morning during my free period at college I was sat in the library and noticed they had three copies of Fahrenheit 451. I'd heard that it was hailed as a great dystopia (some even ranked it alongside Brave New World and 1984) and so decided to begin reading. The thing which immediately struck me was that it wasn't a hard piece of literature and very enjoyable, even peaceful, to read. By 10 pm that night I had finished it all.
The story is about a future society in which books are illegal. Anyone found in possession of one is either sent to jail or burnt alive with them. All houses are 100% fire-proof and so the Firemen come along with their hoses which pump kerosene rather than water and soak the whole inside of the house (the books are normally tossed in one big pile in the centre). Guy Montag is one such firemen, but after meeting a very strange girl which changes the direction of his life and the way he views things, undergoes a revelation that results in him trying to save some of the few remaining books. In many ways the society described is similar to that in 1984, though isn't quite as radical or extreme.
Many unexpected twists occur and Montag finds himself running from the law after committing some serious crimes. He just can't relate to the people around him and their ignorant little minds which have been moulded into what the government wants; they're trapped in an artificial world where "Everyone's happy". But, as with all dystopias, we know they're all really dying inside (Freud would have probably put it down to serious repression).
As well as undergoing an immense physical journey through this society, Montag also experiences a profound personal one which lead to some amazing insights into the nature of man. Could you imagine a world without books? Well, Montag learns that it's not really the books that are all-important, it's what they mean and say. So, it's no doubt that him and others like him come up with a way of passing the information through generations without the physical need of books. There's hope for Plato, Aristotle, Russell, Einstein, Shakespeare, and Ghandi yet.... not to mention the rest of them.
Fahrenheit 451 is a books with rare talent which can be ploughed through in a few days and will no doubt remain vividly in your imagination for years to come. I recommend it to people of all ages - not only the school kids, but adults alike. In fact, if anything, being a little bit older adds to the experience (16 onwards and you're on a winner). Enjoy!
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
"Fahrenheit 451" has a reputation as a modern and science fiction classic, and so I was expecting quite a lot from it and ended up somewhat disappointed. Whilst there are some fascinating ideas in this novel by Ray Bradbury, particularly its central theme of a future in which all books are banned and burned, the writing does not live up to the concepts.
Bradbury is open in the Afterword about the fact that the book was constructed from various short stories, and it really does become obvious when reading through that this is the case. At times, the joins between the different tales are too easy to see, and the central character of Guy Montag is inconsistent as the narrative moves from each set-piece situation to the next.
I did enjoy some of the discussion in this book, for example Montag's dialogue with a professor about what books mean and why they are so important. As a story and reading experience, however, "Fahrenheit 451" was for me, unsatisfying. None of the characters truly engage, the end sequence seems to lapse into incongruous fantasy, and overall, Bradbury does not provide the reader with a genuinely convincing story to partner his intriguing vision of a nightmarish, authoritarian, conformist regime.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 December 2012
Although well-known as a science fiction classic, I think Fahrenheit 451 is a book that could and should be read by anyone who wouldn't normally read that genre. What it's really about is culture, and how vital it is that we preserve it... something very applicable to today.
The story of Montag, as he transforms from book-burner to book-reader, is gripping and dramatic. But it is the world he lives in which really disturbed me, because in so many ways it felt like a recognisable 21st Century. Literature is considered boring and silly at best, dangerous at worst. Instead people rely on their wall-televisions to show them bland, short, predictable soap operas featuring characters so stereotyped they are considered 'family'. These shows seem to be addictive, and without them people are hopelessly lost. They are even interactive, with viewers responding to obvious prompts and contributing to their favourite shows in tiny ways that over-excite them to euphoria.
By the way, isn't the X Factor final on tonight?
The writing style in Fahrenheit 451 takes a little getting used to. Similes drench every paragraph like kerosene, and metaphors pound breathlessly across the page like the Mechanical Hound. Even Ray Bradbury concedes in his introduction that it is a bit much. But to his credit he always resisted the urge to rewrite it, fearful of losing whatever spark made the story combust in the first place. I found the style unusual but very fitting for a book that celebrates language and ideas.
Enjoyable and thought-provoking, I only wish I had read this years ago. I also wish it was available as a fireproof ebook! At what temperature does a Kindle melt?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2011
When Bradbury wrote Farenheit 451 in the early fifties he cannot have known how near to the truth his fictionalised vision of the future would get. People sapped of the power to make up their own minds, fed the official "truth" by an all-controlling mass media whose propaganda isn't challenged; is readily believed. The advent of ordinary people as "stars" on TV - and the advent of interactive TV. Contstant noise being piped into people's brains through some sort of earplugs (yes, he actually predicted i-Pods, it would appear!) The lack of peace and quiet. The lack of "just talking" - social discourse, chatting with one's elders about the world they knew and the way things used to be. The fact that everybody can believe that they have achieved some sort of "degree" with no mind paid to the quality or the effort put into that attainment. The fact that people have just stopped reading books. After all, in today's world, who bothers with a reference library when "all you need to know" is on the internet. Or is it? OK, people haven't quite "stopped" reading books, but it is less of a pastime than it used to be and we are weaning our babies on screens of one sort or another, which doesn't bode well for the future of reading the written word.
In Bradbury's nightmarish future USA, it is the abandonment of reading the printed word and the study of great literture, poetry, religious text, the classics, philosphy etc., by all but a dwindling intelligencia that gives the government the idea of banning books altogether. In this manner, it will be easier to control the popluation. People will not be given "ideas", people will be "happy" with mass consumerism - aiming for ever more gagdets with which to fill up their empty lives and vaccuous TV programmes to stifle any original thought. The people of this future are infantilised, controlled, unable and unwilling to think outside of the carefully defined boundaries that have been set for them. Scared witless by any association with anyone who doesn't conform to this "norm" they inform on neighbours and friends who harbour books, much the same way as communities broke down under Nazi rule in Germany, or with the constant threat of the Stazi - or come to that, during the "Witchfinding" era in Europe. Pointing the finger at someone else makes them a good citizen. It also makes them less likely to be the object of attack.
The main character is a "fireman". His job - a brilliant subversion of what we understand by the term - is to burn books and burn the properties of anyone harbouring books (book-harbourors are subsequently arrested and carted off to gaol). Since all properties have been given a protective fire-proof shield, there is no actual need for fires to be put out, merely to be started - and that is the job of the fireman. The fireman whom we follow meets a young girl - a free spirit who thinks differently to anyone he's ever met. She comes from a family where they actually have conversations and where her old uncle reminisces about "old times" and imparts to her a view of a very different world (one in which books were not villified and fireman actually put out flames). The fireman's curiosity is awakened and plants seeds of doubt in his mind. We also learn that from time to time he has been stealing books on the job and secreting them in an aircon duct in his home. He has not dared to read them. However, when the young girl and her family mysteriously disappear from the neighbourhood and he witnesses the horror of an old lady whom - unwilling to part with her books, sets fire to them and herself in front of the fire team - he begins to change his mind.
Things move rapidly after that and the thread follows a man he encountered previously and suspects of having owned books. He looks him up and is going to try to do something to "change the world". However, his new-found evangelism gets the better of him and he can't manage to do so intelligently and patiently and reveals himself to be a book-owner and dangerous subversive in front of his brain-dead wife and her friends. This is where the plot line gets a bit over-dramatic, but the upshot of it is that one of the wife's friends shops him to his boss and one night they get the call at the fire-station to turn up at his own home to burn it down. Knowing that crunch time has come, he murders his boss by turnig the flame-thrower onto him then escapes in dramatic fashion, followed by aerial TV cameras, a la OJ Simpson and hunted by a robot hound that supposedly never fails to get its prey. However, by twists and turns he manages to escape it. But justice must be done! The public have been viewing the chase avidly on TV and will not be content until the police have caught and killed the murderer. Having failed to get the right man, they simply pick on the wrong man - someone simply out having a walk (after all ... why would anybody want to do that? He must be a bit weird to be out for a walk). The bloodlust is sated and everyone goes back to watching TV, completely unaware that in less than 24 hours their city is going to be obliterated by a nuclear bomb.
Meanwhile, our "hero" goes to join hobos (ex-professors, scientists and the like) who are living rough in the countryside. They have all memorised entire books - some of them, multiple books. The new recruit has at least memorised part of Ecclesiastes from the Bible and joins their throng to begin his new life as an outsider. A while later, they are all witness to the city being destroyed by a bomb. End of story. Their work must continue ... they must try to keep the books alive in their heads until such time as a new generation might allow the printing presses to roll again. Off they trot into the sunrise.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Though I was long familiar with many of Bradbury's works, I had put off reading "Fahrenheit 451" in favor of other books until a friend lent it to me recently. After reading it, I'm angry with myself for having taken so long to pick it up. This book is a fantastic tale of a future society that abandons intellectual development and destroys its books. Like all great literature, it offers insight into our society today despite having been written over a half-century ago, and it continues to reward reading today.
This book is more than a seminal work of dystopian literature, however; it is also one of the most elegant meditations on the value of literature in modern society that I have ever read. In envisioning a society that destroys books, Bradbury has to explain what is lost as a result. His answer, as we see in Faber's expositions during Montag's visit, is the exact thing which makes this book worth reading - the insights we gain into our own world and our own lives through reading. Integral to this process, of course, is the fact that people must read them and put what they take from them to good use for a society to thrive; as Bradbury notes, the first step towards the world of his novel was taken when people stopped reading. It is this message which makes "Fahrenheit 451" essential reading, especially in a society where entertainment today bears an ever-closer resemblance to the noise-dominated media depicted in Bradbury's nightmarish future.