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Fahrenheit 451 is a dystopian vision of a future in which books are banned, making their possessors criminals. The vast majority of society has no problem with this, preferring to veg out on wall-sized big screen TVs perpetually showing what sounds like a combination of reality TV, cheesy variety shows and soap operas. Somewhere in the background the threat of nuclear war looms but nobody seems to care.

So who are the heroes here? Well, mostly literature professors and English majors. Is it any wonder Fahrenheit 451 is so popular with these groups? Instead of being the bookish weirdo everyone avoids, you suddenly get to be the last best hope of mankind.

My biggest problem with Fahrenheit 451 is that Ray Bradbury's dystopian society is utterly unconvincing. Basically, the only reason books are banned in this society is because Bradbury's theme requires it. No cogent explanation is ever given other than that they muddle people up. Maybe they should ban algebra too. And the infield fly rule...


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Another problem is Montag, the purported hero, who repeatedly risks exposure by advertising his illegal book hoarding activities. He seems to act without any sense or any impulse control and it's hard to identify with such a dumbbell. Compare him with Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984. Orwell's Oceania is much more plausible than Bradbury's unnamed society and Smith's thoughts, motivations and self-questionings are intricately analyzed by Orwell so that we see a realistic person and can identify with him. By comparison, Montag is barely a cartoon.

Supposedly, Bradbury penned Fahrenheit 451 in reaction to the blacklisting of the Hollywood 10, screenwriters with Communist sympathies who couldn't get jobs in the movie industry because of their political views. I find that the supreme irony. Bradbury wrote a book condemning censorship in support of people whose ideology practices wholesale censorship.