Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury’s classic warning about totalitarianism and the demise of the wisdom we gain from reading books. Is it still relevant today? Unfortunately, yes.

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I read Fahrenheit 451 as part of the 2023 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. January’s challenge was to read a book that takes place in the future. Ray Bradbury wrote this classic novel during the 1950s and was influenced by the emergence of television as an entertainment source and the oppression that was taking place in Stalinist Russia. He imagined a grim future in which the government kept its citizens happy and stupid, and therefore mindlessly compliant.

First, a quick summary of Fahrenheit 451:

Fahrenheit 451 takes place in an American city in the distant future. Books are illegal and, in a reversal of reality, burned by “firemen,” who are really government enforcers. In other words, firemen no longer extinguish fires, they start them. In fact, they inflict a storm of fire and chaos on anyone in possession of books.

It’s all in the name of keeping people ignorantly happy.

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. – Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451

A chance encounter with a free-thinking girl causes a change of heart in one of these firemen, Guy Montag. While he used to revel in burning books, Montag becomes curious about what information they contain that has the authorities so scared of them.

He begins his rebellion by keeping a few of the books he was supposed to burn. When he reads some poetry to his vacuous wife and her friends, he himself becomes a target of the firemen. Things escalate and Montag goes on the run, which connects him to a group of old scholars who are more or less also on the run. Montag discovers this group is part of a nationwide network of dissidents who have memorized books in preparation of a time when books will be legal again.

Fahrenheit 451 literally ends with a bang when the city Montag escaped from is flattened by an enemy’s bombs.

I really liked Fahrenheit 451 and its cautionary message. Although it centers around books, the theme is bigger than that. It’s really about thought control and government overreach.

The home environment can undo a lot you try to do at school. – Captain Beatty in Fahrenheit 451

According to an entry in Wikipedia, in a 1994 interview Bradbury “cited political correctness as an allegory for the censorship in the book, calling it “the real enemy these days” and labeling it as “thought control and freedom of speech control.””

Just think about how some of our larger institutions are controlling thought and speech these days. Recently, a California university banned the term “field” (as in “fieldwork”) from being used by its social work program because it claims the term has its roots in slavery (despite the fact that humans have been “working in the fields” for thousands of years and noble farmers of all colors still do it today.). And it’s now controversial to say things like “men can’t become pregnant.” Examples are plentiful these days, and it’s all about controlling speech and violators will be canceled. “Conform or be cast out” (yes, I just quoted the rock group Rush :)).

Ok, I’ll get off my high horse now.

Not only is the message good, but I really like Ray Bradbury’s style of writing. Although he never went to college, Bradbury was a voracious reader and wildly creative. In Fahrenheit 451, he creates a vivid world where people seek entertainment instead of knowledge. In his characters, we see the toll this takes on the human soul and society in general. And for readers who like action, there’s plenty of it, especially in the second half of the story.

All-in-all, Fahrenheit 451 is a short classic I wish I had read sooner. If you’ve read it, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

And if you took the challenge and read a book set in the future, please tell us all about it.

**Reminder – February’s challenge is to read a book of short stories since February is the shortest month. If you need a recommendation, try Homeland and Other Stories by Barbara Kingsolver. (Also, how is it already February???)

14 thoughts on “Book Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

  1. Thanks for the review! I have never read this one (she admits guiltily), so I appreciate the synopsis, your take, and the background on Bradbury. I didn’t realize he never went to college. Always intrigued when I hear that about creative people. And that cover!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read this one back in high school – almost 50 years ago! But I still remember how strongly it affected me. Still I had forgotten a lot of the plot details. Thanks for the reminder! And, I had no idea Ray Bradbury never went to college. Good reminder that fine writers can come from all backgrounds – thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review, Michelle! I’ve never read this but it’s going on my list. Also going to forward the review to my kids. They’re the ones who will inherit the world that’s being created.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great review Michelle! I too read this book for January and loved, loved, loved it. I don’t say that about too many books but this one really struck a nerve with me. What was most astounding to me was that Bradbury wrote this book in 1953. It was so relevant to our current era that I could believe that it was written in the past couple of years. I too did not know that he never went to college – good little tidbit there Michelle. The quotes you used in your review were excellent – and it seemed there were so many relevant and timely quotes in this book. Although this book (like our modern times) can be disturbing, I do take solace in the fact that 70 years ago, Bradbury thought the TV and the government was the end to all of us – much like how I feel about cell phones and social media today. So, perhaps it’s not as bad as it may seem? Anyway, great book and a great start to the 2023 Thoughtful Reading Challenge!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Michelle, enjoyed your comments on this book. I read it many years ago, but now I want to reread. Sure seems to apply to all the weird stuff going on today. Thanks ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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