By Ray Bradbury
Wheeler Publishing, Large Print Edition (2008) 265 pages.
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - January 7, 2010
This book is a classic that should be reread from time to time and pondered. It is interesting and its message is significant. It is a sermon that few clergy would dare make.
I read the story as a parable that denounces the ancient but still existing wrong-headed notion that it is better, far better, for people to be ignorant.
Governmental leaders and thinkers have known since the beginning of time that most people are constitutionally unable to understand many truths. Several ways were developed to manage the masses. One, discussed even by Plato in the fourth century BCE, was to reveal complex real truths only to intellectuals, but to teach the general population only "essential truths," essential to keep them safe, but not really true.
An example is the false notion that God becomes angry when he sees people sinning. This is wrong. A superior dispassionate all-knowing God would never become angry. Anger is a human not a divine emotion. God has no emotions. But clerics teach their congregants that God becomes angry because it helps control the otherwise uncontrollable masses who, if they did not fear God's anger and punishment, would rob, steal, kill and commit other wrongs.
A second way of handling these people is stop them from learning the truths about the world. This is why the ancient Roman Catholic Church kept people from knowing the Bible, why they fought against translations other than in Latin, which non-clergy did not understand. This is why Europe existed, if we could use a word suggesting life, in the "Dark Ages," in ignorance, like zombies, like cattle munching grass in the fields, until they awakened when they smelt the fresh air of the enlightenment. This is why books were censored and burned during the middle ages. This is why people, human books, were burned during inquisitions.
Having this terrible dehumanizing notion in mind, the leadership of the future world in Fahrenheit 451 believed that people would be able to live a better life without books because books, they were convinced, caused wrong ideas, disharmony, confusion and unhappiness.
Guy Montag was a government fireman whose job was to burn books. He didn't need to stop fires because homes were fireproof. Burning books seemed right to Montag. It seemed natural and rational. He knew nothing else. This is what he was taught by those who were much smarter than him.
But one day a girl woke him up. She was like the child in another parable who was able to see that the king was naked. She told him that people once read books, learnt from them and improved themselves and society. She told him that people could think for themselves and did not need others to tell them what to think.
Is the book outdated? Have people finally learned that they are closing their minds? Unfortunately people still need the message of Fahrenheit 451. Most people are still convinced that God becomes angry and, what is worse, far worse, they are still burning books today when they ignore new ideas.
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes weekly samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.