Ray Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451", which was first published in 1953, is an unsettling dystopian novel about a society in which books are no longer allowed and in which the firebrigade's only task is to hunt down citizens who still own books and burn down their houses. The title refers to the temperature at which paper is subject to spontaneous combustion.
The story centres on Guy Montag, a model citizen and fireman, who, after meeting a ruminative young girl by the telltale name of Clarisse and being asked the simple question "Are you happy?", begins to doubt the tenets upon which his society is built. After he witnesses how an old lady is burnt with her treasured-up books, because she is unwilling to leave them to the flames, he is shocked even more and, hoarding some books, he starts to read them. Unable to fully understand their contents, he remembers an old university professor named Faber, whom he contacts in order to learn from the books. From his new mentor he learns about the quality and power of literature, and his cynical and jaundiced superior Beatty tells him why society changed the way it did. In the end, enlightened by his new knowledge and embittered by the fact that Clarisse was conveniently run over by a car, Montag is sure that he will no longer be able to go on living his old life of shallow and empty pleasure, and together with Faber he plans to re-print books and plant them in firemen's houses in order to sabotage the system. However, his wife betrays him, telling Beatty that he owns forbidden literature, and suddenly Montag is called on to burn down his own house ...
Bradbury's language is unassuming, but full of beauty and hidden meaning, and for all the book's comparative brevity there is a richness in atmosphere and texture that astounds me considering that the author wrote the first version of his book on a university typewriter which had to be fed with dimes, thus putting Bradbury under the pressure of working against time. Let me give you an example of what I mean from the very beginning of the book, where Montag remembers one of his gruesome missions:
"[Montag] strode in a swarm of fireflies. He wanted above all [...] to shove a marshmellow on a stick in the furnace, while the flapping-winged books died on the porch and lawn on the house. While the books went up in sparkling whirls and blew away on a wind turned dark with burning. Montag grinned the fierce grin of all men singed and driven back by flame."
A few pages later, Clarisse is introduced, and with her the imagery of dewy nature and human curiosity that goes like a fresh breeze full of life. Bradbury's language really makes it clear what we are losing by turning our backs on literature.
Another strong feature of the book is the author's uncommon power of foresight. Written in the 1950s, this book anticipates many of the technological and social developments of our time. People are cut off from their neighbours by music coming from plugs in their ears and a 24-hour-programme of insipid TV entertainment, they no longer care for each other but only for the next mindless thrill, but in their hearts of hearts they feel unhappy and are potential suicide candidates, or grow up to be cruel and thoughtless teenagers. One of the spooky highlights of the novel is Beatty's account on just how literature fell out of public favour, where he mentions the implications of mass markets, the increased pace of life with its hunting for fun mentality, misunderstood and exaggerated political correctness and fear of controversy and of man's dormant grudge against intellectualism. Now I do not want to seem too much of a cultural pessimist, but when reading "Fahrenheit 451" I thought that the writing of all this is already on the wall. Never has a dystopian novel convinced me so perfectly of its author's power of anticipation, except, maybe, "Brave New World".
The only point about the book I somehow dislike is the tone of optimism it ends in, but this may be the result of Bradbury's convincing way of describing the advent of Fahrenheit 451 society.
To put things in a nutshell, I can strongly recommend this powerful novel. Read it as long as you still may.
am 10. November 1999
Of all of the books I have ever read, Farenheit 451 made me think the most. It's an easy to read enjoyable story, but it also makes you think along the lines of "What would life be like if . . ?"
Most books that take place in the future involve alien warfare and voyages through space. This futuristic story, however, takes you to future earth, where books are illegal to own.
After reading this book I wanted to go out and read all the classics I could find. It has been about five years since I read the book, and every time I read a classic, I think about the characters in farenheit 451 who couldn't.
I've always appreciated books, but after reading Farenheit 451, I cherish them. It's one of those books where after you turn the last page, you say "Wow." And then you just sit there, contemplating how real this unreal story actually is.
It's true that books are still legal, and hopefully always will be. But, I wonder, is it also true that in the age of e-mails, websites, and cell phones, can we lose interest in simple things like letter writing, non-email greeting cards, and books? I would say yes. And, I think that in Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury says yes too.
am 10. November 1999
This book should not merely by its face value. It is a "good" book on its plot and development alone. Its insight into life, however, knocks it up a step. It is very profound and warns us of an ignorant, entertainment society.
am 31. August 2015
und heute aktueller denn je. Auch die Verfirlmung ist sehr beeindruckend. Das Buch ist in einer Reihe zu nennen mit George Orwells "1984" und Aldous Huxleys "Schöne neue Welt". Sehr gut dazu paßt auch - Stichwort Gedankenpolizei und Desinformation - das "Heerlager der Heiligen" von Jean Raspail aus dem Jahr 1973, gerade eben in zweiter Auflage neu übersetzt erschienen. Wer diese Bücher gelesen und verstanden hat, wird seine Sicht auf die heutige Politik und Politiker mit einiger Wahrscheinlichkeit grundlegend ändern.