Fahrenheit 451

July 5, 2017
Fahrenheit 451 Book Cover Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
Speculative Fiction
Simon and Schuster
June 2012
Hardback
249
Library
1953

Sixty years after its publication, Ray Bradbury's internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 stands as a classic of world literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Today its message has grown more relevant than ever before.

"Fahrenheit 451- The temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns."

Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television "family." But when he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn't live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.

The sixtieth-anniversary edition commemorates Ray Bradbury's masterpiece with a new introduction by Neil Gaiman; personal essays on the genesis of the novel by the author; a wealth of critical essays and reviews by Nelson Algren, Harold Bloom, Margaret Atwood, and others; rare manuscript pages and sketches from Ray Bradbury's personal archive; and much more. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature. 

(via Goodreads)

If you can believe it, this is the first time I’ve ever read Fahrenheit 451. As an avid book reader, this is the sort of dystopian literature that begs to be read. What would you do in a world where censorship and book burning are common place? What would I, Jackie B, do? This is my first foray into the works of Ray Bradbury, and it was a great place to start. Strong prose and powerful themes guided me from page to page through this classic novel.

I read the 60th Anniversary edition with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. His introduction is certainly noteworthy. Gaiman waxes eloquent on how relevant and important this novel has been, but he also explores the relationships between speculative fiction, science fiction, and dystopian fiction. This was fairly eye opening to me, honestly. He more or less thinks that how we define the book doesn’t matter; genre doesn’t matter. What matters is the intent of the novel.

There are three phrases that make possible the world of writing about the world of not-yet (you can call it science fiction or speculative fiction; you can call it anything you wish) and they are simple phrases:

What if…?

If only…

If this goes on…

Bradbury wrote an “if this goes on…” type of speculative fiction. In Fahrenheit 451 he explores what was happening in his present (1953), our past, to warn readers about what could happen in a future focused on electronic media instead of physical media. I picked this novel up expecting a great treatise on how essential books are to our future. And while Bradbury certainly covers that, the essential nature of writing is not the core of this novel. Instead, I found an exploration of how distant humanity gets to from each other through their obsession with television, radio, and other newly formed electronic media.

If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you’ll never learn.

Reading this today, it is easy to relate to 3D televisions, wireless headsets for audio programs, and the constant barrage of electronic media– including 24/7 news coverage and social media. But 1953 was the beginning of the “golden age of television”. I Love Lucy debuted in 1951. 1920 is the introduction of the first US and Canadian radio stations, 1927 the first talkie film is released, 1939 the TV astounds people at the World Fair, and it wasn’t until the late 1940s that televisions became commonplace in homes. The internet wasn’t publically available until 1991, mobile phones until 1973, 3D TVs in 2011. Bradbury saw a future distracted by technology where relationships fall apart and beauty is found in ignorance. He merely used books as a symbol to illustrate knowledge and intellect. And honestly, he wasn’t far from the truth.

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?

While I am astounded (as with most speculative fiction) at how many realities Bradbury was able to predict, and I was highly intrigued by many of the thoughts and concepts he proposed, I was left unimpressed with the overall execution. To me, it’s obvious that Bradbury had a ton of ideas in his head, but he wasn’t certain how they should all fit together. I feel like when he went to the UCLA library and rented that typewriter he just wrote down all his ideas. It’s not that Fahrenheit 451 isn’t brilliant- it just feels like three stories smashed together: Guy discovering his humanity and coming to terms with burning books, Guy the book fanatic who confronts the world in a mania about the importance of socialization and books, and the chase scene/conclusion.

The magic is only in what books say, how they stiched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.

Each section has something which appeals to me. The philosophical explorations of the importance in noticing the world around us struck me in “part one”.  It felt very Buddhist in nature. In part two, I enjoyed the world building. Learning about the technologies, the history, and how we came to this place really intrigued me. Bradbury’s writing left me wondering: could this really happen? And in “part three”, I adored the conclusion. The bibliophile in me loves the idea of memorizing literature to keep it alive. Adores it.

There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning hourse; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.

But, sadly, these “sections” stood out to me since the transitions were almost non-existent. I was often stopping myself and questioning, “Wait. What is happening here? Why is this character suddenly acting so differently?” I also felt like the world building got lecture-y at times. And that is one of my biggest pet peeves. These moments really jarred me out of my immersion in Fahrenheit 451.

In the end, this is an astounding story which really got me thinking. I’m glad I read it, but the experience didn’t bring me a ton of joy. I strongly recommend this to any lovers of classics, lovers of books, and those who fear that social media is destroying our ability to socialize in society.


What do you think?

  • Have you read this book? What are your thoughts on it?
  • Do you read the introductions and afterwards to novels? Why or why not?
  • What’s the last book you read which really got you thinking?

15 Comments

  • Sarah @ Reviews and Readathons July 5, 2017 at 9:17 am

    I have never read this book. It’s one I always mean to read but never get to. I don’t usually read forewords or intros, but I may give this one a go if I pick up this edition of the novel. Your review was great and made me want to get to this sooner!

    The last book I read that made me think important things was Hospital by Julie Salaman. She spent a year in a hospital in New York and it covers a lot of the administration/money/cultural side of health care, and was interesting given our present reality.

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel July 5, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Great review. I have not read the book but I have heard that every book lover must read this. I will keep in mind your heads up about the different sections not blending with one another when I pick the book up.

  • ichabod2014ic July 5, 2017 at 11:20 am

    They ALMOST got the cover right…

    I like the book blending into a box of matches…
    but
    wouldn’t it have been better if the book had blended with a ‘book’ of matches, instead?

  • KrystiYAandWine July 5, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    I’ve never read this one. It reminds me of my experience with 1984 how it was written such a long time ago, but the issues are so incredibly applicable to our current society. So glad you reviewed this one. Hope you’re enjoying your trip!

  • LizScanlon July 6, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    This truly is the BEST review I have read for the book! Brilliant, Jackie… super well done!
    I completely agree with you that the execution wasn’t the greatest, and it left me a bit unimpressed as well, but the ideas and the intent of the book is just bang on!

  • Grab the Lapels July 7, 2017 at 7:27 am

    I felt quite similarly about Brave New World and 1984. Both books are written by men who seem to think that sermonizing their warnings will get the message out more clearly. However, compare Fahrenheit 451 with something like Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, for which you have to do some digging to see what she means to say with her altered future. You can read just the first book and be fine or read the whole trilogy, which is referred to in total as MaddAddam. Do you follow FictionFan’s blog? She is always looking out for when a book gets too preachy instead of story-driven. She has a knack for it!

  • Dani @ Perspective of a Writer July 10, 2017 at 1:44 am

    What a great comprehensive review! I read this a long time ago and can’t remember a thing except I read it… well and that I was confused a lot. lol… so sad…

    • Jackie B July 13, 2017 at 9:47 am

      D’aw, thanks Dani! That means a lot to me.

      There are so many books I read many years ago I can barely remember. Sometimes, that means a re-read just because I feel like I need to recall it. Mostly for books I read in school. O_o

  • Laila@BigReadingLife July 10, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    This was a terrific review! I’ve never read it either (gasp!) Somehow I never was assigned it in school, and since then it’s one of those that I keep “meaning” to read… you know how that goes! But I think you’ve convinced me that I really should. Now I’ll know what to look out for!

    • Jackie B July 13, 2017 at 10:56 am

      Thanks, Laila! That means a lot to me. 😀 I get nervous writing reviews for classics since so many people have read them and have very strong options about these books — whether they have read them or not.

      I certainly would recommend this novel. It’s not perfect, but what novel is? 😉 I really got quite a bit out of it, too.

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity July 10, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    I always find it amazing that authors from ages ago who were writing sci-fi and dystopian novels predicted so much! It almost feels like hey were psychic and knew almost exactly what the future was going to look like. I wonder if our sci-fi and dystopian books will yield the same kind of results sixty years from now. That would be terrifying because I feel like the stories about the future now are even more hopeless.

    I don’t usually read introductions to novels, unless it’s by an author I have an interest in!

    It’s good that you enjoyed this one overall, Jackie! Great review 🙂

    • Jackie B July 13, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Thanks, Chiara! Yes– it’s pretty awful where some of these dystopian/speculative fiction books take our future. I hope that authors writing these horrible futures continue to only be correct about technological advancements rather than these terrible fates. Right? Right.

  • theorangutanlibrarian July 19, 2017 at 1:03 pm

    I’m glad you liked this overall, even if you found the transitions jarring and the experience didn’t bring you a ton of joy. It is a remarkable book. Great review!

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