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Brave New World Paperback – October 17, 2006
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“[A] masterpiece. ... One of the most prophetic dystopian works of the 20th century.” (Wall Street Journal)
From the Back Cover
Aldous Huxley's tour de force, Brave New World is a darkly satiric vision of a "utopian" future—where humans are genetically bred and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively serve a ruling order. A powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations, it remains remarkably relevant to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying entertainment.
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The protagonist of Brave New World is Bernard Marx, an outsider in this seemingly perfect world where everyone has their place. Although he was born an Alpha Plus, the highest tier in this New World’s society, he’s never felt that he fit in. He feels that he’s always had to fight for respect, whereas with any other Alpha, it’s automatically given. Despite this fact, he doesn’t particularly identify with the lower level Epsilon’s or any other caste, for that matter. Nor does he really fight against these social constraints. Bernard’s main companion is Lenina Crowe, a nurse in the “nursery” where all the lives in this world come from. Unlike Bernard, Lenina is only too happy to accept things the way they are.
The main idea of Huxley’s world seems to be to erase emotion and sentiment in its entirety. There’s no place for love or monogamy, for hate or passion, for any type of longstanding commitment or relationship, including family. This society thrives on logical thinking, therefore all evidence of history and deities have been erased. The closest thing to a belief system or god they have is Ford Company founder, Henry Ford, known for his innovation, vision of the future, and ability to get things done. Huxley’s choice of Ford as a messianic figure goes to show that the most important value of this world is production.
So why has Brave New World withstood the test of time? Why hasn’t it faded into obscurity like so many other dystopian novels just in the last ten years? I think there are two main reasons. The first, and the one that astounds me most about this book, is its timelessness. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this book was written and published yesterday. The language Huxley used is still incredibly modern and easy to read. That along with the ideas he fearlessly writes about, such as promiscuity and recreational drug use, aren’t something you’d expect from a book written in the early 20th century.
Secondly, there is the premise of the book. The idea of all of humanity being a godless, loveless people, is a challenging thought to say the least. On the other hand, it has restored my faith in our race. Surely, we’d never let this happen. And our steadfast faith is for the better, right? My conscience wants to say yes, but logic says we’d be better off without the sentiment. The fact that it got me thinking about these things is why this book is still relevant. It challenges everything we know and hold dear about humanity and the way we are.
All of that leaves the question; is Brave New World a good book? For arguments sake, I’m going to say yes. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, it’s not the best science fiction book ever written, and at times the science side of things is complicated and tends to drag on. However Huxley made his point here, which I think was to leave us with questions. What if this was the way things were? Cold, godless, ignorant and adolescent in many ways. This novel is so exceptionally well written that it held my interest despite the fact that it’s not something I’d choose to read outside of an academic setting. One of my favorite quotes was during Bernard’s introduction, which summed up Bernard’s character as well as any of us who have ever felt like an outsider. “Those who feel despised do well to look despising.”
In conclusion, I think I can easily say that Aldous Huxley was a visionary. He envisioned and created a world not entirely unlike our own, and fearlessly wrote about things that could make literary critics today shudder. Brave New World is an adventure, despite its like of action, and a poignant look at what exactly makes humans, human.
“Taos and Tesuque; over Nambe and Picuris and Pojoaque, over Zia and Cochiti, over Laguna and Acoma and Enchanted Mesa, over Zuni and Cibola and Ojo Caliente…” are all New Mexican place names mentioned by Huxley in one sentence; all so “exotic” and unknown to me in 1962, and now they are literally part of my landscape and reference frame. Why was New Mexico chosen, by this scion to a famous English family? Admittedly it is speculative on my part, and I would welcome comments, but Huxley associated with the Bloomsbury literary group and was a friend of D.H. Lawrence. Figure it was the Lawrence connection, whose remains are still vitrified, some 30 miles north of Taos that led Huxley to place a portion of his novel in this “exotic” location. I just finished reading David Robert’s The Pueblo Revolt: The Secret Rebellion That Drove the Spaniards Out of the Southwest which was led by a shaman from the San Juan pueblo, Popé. In Huxley’s novel, Linda, fresh from London, was left behind in New Mexico, would “go native,” and married a Popé.
Huxley’s novel is a dystopia, one of the two classic visions of the future, along with George Orwell’s 1984 that were de rigueur reading in the ‘60’s. Huxley’s vision was control through the “soft glove,” and, in general, seems to have been a truer insight that the brutal control depicted by Orwell. In “Brave New World” the family is obsolete. All children are “hatched,” that is, created in test tubes. Society’s objectives are stated on page 01: “Community, Identity, and Stability.” From birth, and even before, individuals are designated to a particular level in society; it is a rigid caste system. Drugs are the answer! Specifically “soma,” which seems to be modeled on mescal. The opioid addiction depicted in today’s headlines was foreshadowed by Huxley some 85 years ago. It is difficult to believe that Huxley, writing in the depths of the Great Depression, could have foreseen the mindless consumerism of today, and I smiled when reading the scene in which students are trained to have a horror of flowers and the open countryside since they are free, and would distract from the “duty” to consume, and help someone else “make a buck.”
In Huxley’s world, there were only two billion people. Overpopulation was a theme, somewhat, in BNW, but in “Revisited,” the author articulated his position with much more precision:
“Unsolved, that problem will render insoluble all our other problems. Worse, still, it will create conditions in which individual freedom and the social decencies of the democratic way of life will become impossible, almost unthinkable.” We are currently at seven billion, and the topic of overpopulation is largely ignored.
No question, Huxley was a visionary of the future problems of human society. In terms of his novel however, I felt that his characters were too wooden, and the action too contrived, including the ending. The reader, no doubt as intended, will identify with the outlier, Bernard Marx, who, rumor has it, had a bit too much alcohol poured into his test-tube when he was being “hatched.” Overall, I found the very straightforward exposition of society’s problems, including the promotion of politicians as well-marketed commodities, as set forth in “Revisited” to be the far better read. As for the original, 4-stars.
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