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Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Published: 4th August 2008 (1953)
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Pages: 192
Readership: Adult fiction
Genres: Science fiction, dystopia
Challenge: Classics Challenge – #7
Rating: ★★★★★
Buy: Paperback
More: Goodreads

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires. And he enjoyed his job. He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs or the joy of watching pages consumed by flames, never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid. Then Guy met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think. And Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do…

I chose Fahrenheit 451 to be my seventh classic book because I read Brave New World earlier in the year and so it was the only one of the ‘big three’ classic dystopian novels left for me to read (1984 also being one of them, which a read a few years ago). It was also extremely good timing because John and Hank Green chose it to be their Summer Book Club book (and also not-so-good timing as Ray Bradbury died a week after I purchased it…).

My knowledge of Fahrenheit 451 was actually quite limited. I’ve never studied it and only met one person (!) that has actually read it. I knew, vaguely, that it was about a fireman who actually caused fires instead of putting them out, and that it was because of government regulation that books were banned. I was actually slightly wrong about this: the citizens in Fahrenheit 451 police themselves; conformity is widespread and accepted across society.

An aspect I found particularly fascinating was that even though Ray Bradbury is hailed as being a huge supporter of physical books (and anti any type of e-reader) that is not what Fahrenheit 451 is about. Perhaps it would be if it was written now as there was no need to comment on the physicality of books because there was nothing else to compare them to (e.g. I have never seen so many people on the Internet talk about the smell of books, the feel of a book, etc as much as I have after the Kindle became popular). But what I took from the novel is that it is the content — the words a book holds  rather than what form it takes — that is the greatest loss in the novel, that is what is mourned, rather than the fact that it is illegal to display one’s own personal library:

‘It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books… No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for… There’s nothing magical in them at all. The magic is only what books say.’

Now, as I’ve said, I’ve never studied the book and so I may completely wrong. I do not usually eagerly dissect metaphors, and so maybe I am taking it too literally, but I understood it as demonstrating to us how important knowledge is, what the lack of universal education, and fiction, and poetry; a post-literate future, can do to a society, rather than about the loss of books themselves. And as much as I absolutely love and adore physical books and would never give them up, I think the former message is much more important.

The back of my copy says Fahrenheit 451 is a ‘prophetic account of Western civilisation’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity’. Clarisse, I think, is seen to be the opposite of this and I really liked her character; her inquisitive nature. John Green says that she is not a realistic character, which I agree with, but I also agree with Hank that the entire book is full of unrealistic characters. I did not see her as someone who represents those who feel/are ‘superior’ enough to see past blind conformity, but as a way of showing us just how much was kept from the people in Guy Montag’s society.

Fahrenheit 451 is a novel that is at first deceptively simple, but one I can see myself reading again and again, extracting new meanings from each time. It now has a space on my mental ‘favourite dystopian novels’ list and I urge everyone else to read it! I have learned, if nothing else, how to spell ‘fahrenheit’.

You can watch the VlogBrothers videos here:
Feeling More Alive: Fahrenheit 451′s The Hearth and the Salamander
An Army of Mindless Drones

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14 comments on “Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  1. I need to read a classic for a challenge and I think this might be perfect! Thanks for sharing your review

  2. Dear Stacey:

    As a long time friend and colleague of Ray Bradbury’s, I want to congratulate you on a fine piece on Fahrenheit 451. Your take on the book is absolutely correct — it is not about government censorship as much as it is about the government acquiescing in its citizens‘ desires for simple entertainments, instead of the more complex, thoughtful, and critical matter that one finds in good books. It’s the the government just wanting to keep the people happy by denying to them the books they are essentially rejecting themselves, books that make educate, entertain, and enlighten by subjects and thoughts that may be disturbing, new, critical, or inspirational, but never, ever mind numbing.

    Ray and I talked about this on several occasions, and I sure he would have been delighted with you piece.

    As to e-Books — yes he became know for rejecting them, and even said he loved the feel and smell of “real” books, which may have started the phrase going and has been used by so many in a knee-jerk reaction against e-books. Ray’s reaction, I’m sad to say, was also knee-jerk, but I maintain it was more a result of his advance age than the true Ray. Indeed, after his death on a tribute to him on CBS Morning News here in the United States, they ran an old clip of him from the Eighties, I believe, where he essentially predicted the e-reader, saying someday people could have complete libraries on such a device and put them in their pocket. “It just that it wouldn’t look like a book,” he said, obviously not unhappy over the prediction.

    The Kindle people actually sent him one, which he rejected and gave to one of his daughters — who loves it. He did like, though, the fact that the type size could be enlarged, for he was nearly blind by the end. But he had staked out his territory and he wasn’t about to give it up. But as you may know, he finally relented and allowed 451 to be made available as an e-Book.

    You are right in what you wrote that what Ray really cared about was the content, that’s what mattered, that’s why books became people at the end of 451 — the package was different, the content remained the same. Indeed, in his last years, because of his poor eye site, he had many friends who would come over to read to him.

    I have written a blog on e-Books — A Book By Any Other Cover: on E-books and “Real” Books — that very much is in agreement with your feelings, I believe, and you might find it interesting. You can find it at: http://stevenpaulleivasthisnthat.blogspot.com/2010/11/book-by-any-other-cover-on-e-books-and.html

    In 2010 I created and organized RAY BRADBURY WEEK in Los Angeles, a week long series of events honoring Ray on his 90th birthday. Ray managed to attend four of the events, and they were his last public appearances. I maintain a Facebook page dedicated to the week, plus related updates, and it has photos and video from the week. You can find it here: http://www.facebook.com/raybradburyweek
    Once again — congratulations on your fine review of 451.

    Best regards,

    Steven Paul Leiva

    • Hello Steven, Thank you very much for taking the time to visit Pretty Books and comment on this review. I was very much surprised, and then delighted, at the messages in Fahrenheit 451. I really did expect it to mourn the loss of books as a physical entity rather than because of what’s in them, especially because of the quotations I’ve seen around the Internet. People reblog, on Tumblr, quotes and images with Ray Bradbury’s words to show why e-readers are ‘evil’ and ‘bad’ and so I had a very different view about him than I do now. Thank you also for sharing your post on e-books, which I am about to read!

      Best, Stacey

  3. I find it very difficult to put together my thoughts on this book, but there’s so much packed into such a small amount of space! I think it is definitely a book that can be read again and again with different messages jumping out at you each time.

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  5. I actually find the idea of minority-populist censorship not only plausible but recognizable. Now, I have to admit I haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 (I now commit one of the great sins of science fiction), I don’t actually like Bradbury very much, so I’m only commenting on what you have presented and not what’s is in the book.

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