Fahrenheit 451 has long been on my to-read list. When I saw it at the library recently, I grabbed it! It is a dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury, published in 1953. It has stayed in print, sold many copies, and the book now has several intros that Bradbury has written over the years. I’ll write a brief review, and I think this book would pair perfectly with the non-fiction book Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Truly, I suggest reading these 2 books together – one being fiction and the other non-fiction – but with related content and concerns.
I rarely review fiction. This is a novel, but I will simply describe the world of this book in a straightforward way. I guess my “review” is a spoiler as I will basically summarize the story line of the book.
Guy is the main character, living in a future dystopian world. He is a fireman in this world, except in this world – fireman set fires! They don’t put them out. Specifically, they burn books – all books. People do not read or have books. When it is discovered that a home has a stash of books, the fire department is called and burns the books – often the home is burned down.
People in this world watch a lot of television on giant screens in their home. The goal is that the 4 walls of your living room would have 4 giant screens that completely cover each wall. Guy and his wife only have 3 walls with a giant screen, and are saving their money to finally afford the fourth one. The television technology is advanced, and it is programmed to speak to you personally by name.
One night while walking home from work, Guy meets a older teen girl who is…rather odd. He has never encountered such a person. She likes to talk and engage in thoughtful conversation. So does her family. When they get to her house, the lights are all on and everyone in the house is…having conversation. How strange. More than that, this teen girl talks about nature and going outside for hikes. Another unheard of activity.
Guy gets curious about books, and begins to secretly take a book or two before setting fire to books. He ends up with a small stash of books at his home. Long story short, he is discovered – his wife actually turns him in – and his boss at the fire-station was not clueless either. Apparently, on occasion, a fireman will get a little interest in books, but their interest is usually successfully squashed by the boss – but not Guy. Something in Guy has been awakened…
The odd teen girl and her family who liked conversation and nature? They mysteriously disappear. Apparently this happens to people who don’t toe the line.
Guy finds another individual who also wants to find a way to fight the current state of things. But Guy ends up killing his boss (not premeditated) and has to flee. A citywide manhunt looks for him, including a technological or robotic dog that is hard to evade. Even though they don’t catch Guy, it is reported by the news that they did catch him.
Guy ends up in the woods, away from the city, and stumbles upon some men near railroad tracks. They have also fled and live independently out in nature. They are mostly academics, or other educated types, who realize the importance of books and reading. Since there are no books, they have memorized books. Other such individuals are scattered about and there is a type of underground network. These people are often known by the name of the book they memorized. Guy, by the way, had acquired a Bible among the books he had secretly stashed at his home, and he had memorized a couple books of the Bible.
All in all, this was an interesting book! In one of the intros to the book, Ray Bradbury says that books can be burned without matches and fire:
“You don’t have to burn books, do you,
if the world starts to fill up with nonreaders, nonlearners, nonknowers.”
Again, I recommend you also read the non-fiction book: Amusing Ourselves to Death. I linked to my review of that book at the beginning of the post.