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Fahrenheit 451 Paperback – January 10, 2012
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100 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Books to Read in a Lifetime
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“Brilliant . . . Startling and ingenious . . . Mr. Bradbury’s account of this insane world, which bears many alarming resemblances to our own, is fascinating.” —Orville Prescott, The New York Times
“A masterpiece . . . A glorious American classic everyone should read: It’s life-changing if you read it as a teen, and still stunning when you reread it as an adult.” —Alice Hoffman, The Boston Globe
“The sheer lift and power of a truly original imagination exhilarates . . . His is a very great and unusual talent.” —Christopher Isherwood, Tomorrow
“One of this country’s most beloved writers . . . A great storyteller, sometimes even a mythmaker, a true American classic.” —Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
About the Author
Ray Bradbury (1920–2012) was the author of more than three dozen books, including Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes, as well as hundreds of short stories. He wrote for the theater, cinema, and TV, including the screenplay for John Huston’s Moby Dick and the Emmy Award–winning teleplay The Halloween Tree, and adapted for television sixty-five of his stories for The Ray Bradbury Theater. He was the recipient of the 2000 National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, the 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, and numerous other honors.
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The most surprising thing about Fahrenheit 451 is that it's premise could, in the hands of a lesser writer, easily turn a condescending little lesson about the importance of reading books. But like any work of art that would be missed if it was burned, Fahrenheit 451 doesn't want to give you answers. The book wants you to ask questions.
The main point for me is not that books are burned. That is only the most dramatic side of something bigger: that society allows them to be burned, and that no one is interested in reading in the first place. The only sources of distraction for the denizens of Fahrenheit 451 are sports or soap operas in televisions the size of entire walls. The speed of television does not allow you to stop and think, just swallow that entertainment loaf. From this insipid entertainment are born people who literally talk to the walls and a society unable to question.
Montag's wife, Mildred is one example. She can't talk about anything other than the soaps or what threatens her financial security. She is a cattle-person, described as having an invisible cataract behind her pupils, afraid of anything different, incapable of thinking or feeling without directions from the TV or authorities. Montag discovers how they can't connect to one another because in the end they don't know their own history. And without that knowledge you can't even know who you are, or what you want.
Today is 2015, and the society described in Fahrenheit 451 seems even more palpable than when the book was written in 1953. The internet shortens our attention span towards shorter and simpler texts and videos. More than ever we more intelligent - we have access to an ocean of information literally at our finger tips - but we are not wise. We don't know what to do with our information.
And we have no memory. The social media timelines dictate the discussion of the day, what funny video is trending, what news we should be disgusted with, what meme will be the big joke for a day or two before it is once again forgotten. Fahrenheit 451 even reminds us of the "mass society judgments" that lead to self-censorship.
I believe reading is fundamentally important for wisdom, more than any other art form. Reading is solitary work. It demands silence, and to let your ideas absorb the author's, contest them, accept or adapt. Fahrenheit 451 says that you can't make others think, but I believe it comes with a good recipe for wisdom: "Number one, like I said, is quality of information. Number two: time to digest. And number three: the right to conduct your actions based on what we learn from the two previous items."
Bradbury is a master of the metaphor and that shines through loud and clear in Farenheit 451. The story develops rather quickly, and there are repeating themes that help the characters themselves and the overall story develop and move forward. Like all great writers though, Bradbury presents his story in such a way that even if these themes. motiffs and metaphors escape an average reader the story still stands on its own and keeps the attention.
Like Orwell, Bradbury writes of a dystopian future where the powers that be have eroded the personal rights of the people to almost non-existence. But where Orwell drew on the past atrocities of Stalin to try and warn us to take action to prevent this from happening, Bradbury looks to a future where it is already too late to prevent it - it has happened already. Bradbury gives us the answer to how to move beyond it. Orwell warns us of the possibility of a coming sickness; Bradbury gives us the medicine to cure it.
Although written over 60 years ago, this novel is still very relevant n our modern world of the early 21st century. Not only was Bradbury prophetic in his vision of many of the devices and technologies now present, but also his political and sociological views of a world where an increasingly powerful militarized police state encroaches on the rights of the private citizen on an all-too regular basis.
For Bradbury books are life. In the story books are a metaphor for life and for even the most basic of human rights. And Bradbury makes it clear that there is more than one way to "burn" a "book".
Buy this book. Read it. Then read it again. And again and again. It will speak to each successive generation until we either do something to prevent it from coming true or until we find ourselves immersed in the midst of such a world.