Fahrenheit 451 (1953), by Ray Bradbury, is a short read about a fireman called Guy Montag who burns books for a living. I’ll spare you the cliche ‘in a dystopian world where firemen start fires rather than put them out…’ Wait, no I won’t. The title of the book refers to the apparent temperature at which book paper catches fire, and did I mention it’s about a fireman who starts fires instead of putting them out? I read Fahrenheit 451 right after finishing Brave New World and in my opinion the two meshed together seamlessly as the world that Ray Bradbury moulds resembles a stepping stone to the vision Huxley had imagined in his own book. The inhabitants of Fahrenheit 451, similar to those of Brave New World, cling to a life of mindless ‘fun’ and total ignorance of the sharp corners of reality as they instead immerse themselves in passive entertainment.
Both works of fiction also share the banning of books in common, but because of Fahrenheit’s smaller scope it is able to invest more time and attention into the concept. Unlike Brave New World where society had long been conditioned to be happy with the way the world was, Fahrenheit 451 shows a society that is attempting to walk this path but hints at cracks beneath the surface. The biggest crack being that there is a war going on; a war that people choose not to talk about and pretend is no big deal, but is occurring nonetheless. Amidst this strange and chaotic setting the protagonist meets and befriends an ‘abnormal’ teenage girl who embodies the free spirited nature of society’s past. Their friendship plants the seed in Montag’s mind that maybe he and everyone he knows is living a false happiness and that burning under every man and woman’s skull are existential questions whose answers might’ve once been found in books. What follows is an exciting page turner that erupts with beautiful prose and imagery. I think it’s fair to say that Fahrenheit 451 is a fitting tribute to the powerful combination of words on paper, and at the very least will make you stop and appreciate how lucky we are to have books to read in the first place. Let’s just hope that firemen don’t read it and think otherwise.
★★★★ 4 stars