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    Review of FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury

    Ballantine Books, 1953

    Fireman Guy Montag is happy with his work--burning books--until he runs into a teenaged neighbor who really talks to him, questions him, and starts his mind working in directions that don't feel comfortable and that lead him to question his entire existance. In Ray Bradbury's futuristic dystopia, books are illegal and wall-sized television sets, constantly babeling and even allowing user interactivity, rule the world. But, as we learn from the story, this isn't the result of harsh government sanctions, but of popular consensus only supported by the government when books were already almost extinct.

    Author Ray Bradbury is a powerful and effective writer. His use of the language adds color to a straightforward, if fascinating plot about a man's struggle to come to terms with himself in a world where comfort and 'happiness' are deemed more important than questioning and thought. Like George Orwell's 1984, FAHRENHEIT 451 survives because of its eternal message, its strong writing, and its insights into the future--a future that Bradbury might recognize as something similar to our own present. In an era where book reading declines each year, and where a greater and greater percentage of those books sold are best-sellers by a few favorite writers, Bradbury's message is certainly worth another look.

    Two characters make this novel--Guy Montag, with his doubts but also his hopes for the future, and fire chief Captain Beatty. Beatty knows the truth, knows more about books than Montag or even most intellectuals, and is willing to argue against them--but does so using arguments from the books themselves. Beatty's arguments are subtle and definitely worth stopping and thinking about--only if we are willing to pay Beatty's price can intellectual freedom survive and Beatty is right--few are really willing to pay.

    Although most reviewers focus on the book burning and anti-intellectualism that Bradbury describes in FAHRENHEIT 451, there is also a strong anti-war message that runs through this novel and much of Bradbury's early work. As in our own era, wars are expected to be easy and cheap, at least for the Americans. Bradbury argues that expectations don't always make the truth.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 5/05/03

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