Byzantine Reality

Searching for Byzantine failures in the world around us

Fahrenheit 451

After reading the incredibly long books The Foundation and Atlas Shrugged, I figured that this time I’d go with something a bit shorter. So with that in mind, I picked up an old classic that I read back in school a long time ago: Fahrenheit 451. And while it’s not as deep or moving as the previous two books, it is still well worth the price of admission and has a lot of valuable things to say.


Fahrenheit 451 takes place in a world where reading is forbidden, but unlike the dystopia found in George Orwell’s 1984, it’s not something that’s imposed on the citizens by the government. In fact, it is the converse: people simply find that it takes too much effort to read books and prefer to waste away their days watching their big screen TVs. Considering that Ray Bradbury wrote this more than fifty years ago, it’s strange to see how right on he was here. With people not caring about books, the government finds it to be a simple task to round up all the books of the world and destroy them (while a meager few do survive).

Strangely enough, this world is similar in a lot of ways to that of Atlas Shrugged. In both worlds, the majority of people are stagnant and don’t care to do any work (since they hate their jobs) and idealize coming home and doing nothing. And in both worlds, this ideal is realized in a destructive manner: their worlds simply fall apart as the few people who do do meaningful work vanish under the weight of the world (and from being shunned by the second-handers), and power falls into the hands of a government too eager to take it from a public that simply doesn’t care to take responsibility for themselves.

But here’s where these worlds diverge. While Atlas Shrugged focuses on the struggle of the truly working man to save a world that doesn’t care, Fahrenheit 451 shows us the inability of these men to save their world from itself. And while in Fahrenheit 451, hope is expressed that the world will “come around”, it’s said that it’s essentially cyclic: sometimes people care, sometimes they don’t. So while there is hope for saving the world (and the end of the book brings about events that show great promise to awaken the sleeping public), any gains are temporary; the world will again be lost, and saved, and lost again.

Yet it’s done in a very compelling way. Fahrenheit 451 lacks the enormous speeches of Atlas Shrugged but in its few speeches is able to accomplish quite a bit. It’s a short read that you can likely blow out in a day or two, and if you haven’t read it, you’ve got no excuse. You may be able to say “I don’t want to read Atlas Shrugged because it’s over a thousand pages” (the Signet edition I have is at least) but Fahrenheit 451 is about one hundred and fifty pages with a relatively large font, so it’s easy to knock out and well worth reading. And besides, who can go wrong with a deep story and with guys with flamethrowers?