Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
Simon & Schuster: NY, 2003.
*Original publication. Wikipedia says Ballantine Books in 1953. The copy I read says copyright 1951. This refers to the novella The Firemen published in 1951 by Galaxy Science Fiction magazine of which this is an extension.

This is a case where I saw the movie before reading the book. I think I was in middle school, and it seemed strange but also interesting. I'm sure I didn't understand it fully. I'm just now getting around to reading it, though I've checked it out from the library before and thought off and on about reading it.

It is a dystopian novel that was most certainly politically induced. I was struck by the number of issues still a concern today, or again. Censorship, in this case book burning, seems to be an ever-present issue. However, I was surprised by the firemen captain's explanation for the burnings. First, just propaganda, that people naturally stopped reading after the dumbing down of books (which we are seeing again in publishing) and censoring to protect minorities, and that the burnings had been so since the beginning of the country. He explains later that books that force you to think cause the majority to feel inferior and unhappy, so the burnings are to protect people from thinking, and therefore, being unhappy. Burnings are not normally the standard mode of censorship for societies, but the book was written not long after WWII and Nazi burnings, and McCarthyism was already happening. Less known is that the U.S. has a long history of censorship, it just doesn't normally follow such an extreme course.

Another idea in the book is the use of television as a drug, which has become the greater part of some of the characters' lives, also a criticism today. In the book, the interactive television is the walls of a room. This would have been sci fi at the time, but exists today, and television has become as inane as the story suggests, though, as in the book, it has the potential for more quality. Faber, an old professor, explains to Montag, a fireman awakening from his empty life to knowledge, that it isn't the books themselves that have value but the quality of what is in some of them that should be saved.

The story also includes the subjects of suicide, peer pressure, exposing of neighbors for investigation and a lack of trial to go along with that, and a robotic dog used to sniff out the pursued. Another surprise, one I don't remember from the movie, is the comparison of the phoenix to atomic bombings, though there is no discussion of radiation. 1950 was near the end of the U.S. occupation of Japan. There must have been rebuilding of the cities to some degree previously. Obviously, the phoenix would be a much more hopeful representation than the after effects of an atomic bombing. And to say that the U.S. helped rebuild would be an oversimplification of facts.

I enjoy Bradbury's style of writing. He has easy, flowing language, though filled with metaphorical description. This book has a quick pace; I had to slow down and reread metaphors to fully appreciate the book. It is also quite short, making it simple enough for young adults to read for pleasure or assignment.

For me, books are a favorite motif in stories, adding to my enjoyment of the novel. I didn't expect the historical connections either. Though they are not specified in the story, they are historical occurrences that I knew enough about to make a connection and investigate to make sure I was correct in my thinking. This copy of the book has 3 introductions by Ray Bradbury, in which he also discusses his association with libraries and books and the inspiration for some themes. Interestingly, Wikipedia says Bradbury stated the book is not about censorship but the social effects of television.

I'm looking forward to watching the 1966 movie again, and there is a remake scheduled for release in 2012.

related-book burning, censorship, totalitarianism, state-sponsored terrorism, atomic warfare, television
RL=YA-adult, adult book

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