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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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's review
Jan 19, 2010

liked it
bookshelves: classic, 1001-books-list, sci-fi-and-dystopia

Is this book really all that?

I was underwhelmed. But, strangely enough, that's why I'm giving it 3 stars. The ideas were all so familiar to me, like I've seen and read it all before, when actually this is one of a few early books that inspired all those other stories. Now Brave New World seems as unoriginal to me as Shakespeare feels cliche. So it really is a founding giant and a classic dystopia. That fact alone raises my rating from 2 to 3 stars.

There are a couple of reasons why I thought this book to be over rated. Ok, hold it there for a second. I already feel as though I need to put in a disclaimer for what I am about to say. So:

The following comments are merely written in response to the overwhelming number of reviews I have read about this book reflecting today's society and/or the need to use it as a warning for where we are inevitably headed. I am very aware that Huxley was writing a piece of fiction and thus the predictions about western society that he used this book to make were purposely exaggerated for dramatic effect :).

Ok, thanks, I feel better now. Where was I? Oh yes, so many reviews I've scanned over talk about Huxley's prophecies echoing (or even being fulfilled in) today's society and how we need to take more notice of his warnings. Usually they refer to the use of technology to control society and hedonism through drug use and sex. It makes me wonder if I'm missing something. The general consensus today, as far as I am aware, is that the use of mind altering drugs (something that is prevalent but has been going on for many hundreds of years) is actually rather unhealthy and a little bit illegal. The thought that the state would ever think of enforcing a drug to make us all 'happy with our servanthood' is laughable. I am in no way pretending that illegal drug use is not a serious problem today, rather I am suggesting that our view of drugs actually being a problem reflects that we are far from heading down the path that this book is supposedly prophesying. There's a difference between hedonism (which is also no new concept) and enforced 'happiness' by a totalitarian state.

Also sex. Yes, in the last century the western world has generally become much more openly promiscuous. However the descriptions in the book of enforced erotic play among children and group orgies as a standard religious practice? Stretching it a little. I would have thought that today's society actually supports the protection of children from violation more so than in the past. And yes, technological advancements have been huge, but they have generally served the public rather than controlled it, haven't they? Particularly in terms of scientific advancement.

Yes, I do see propaganda being used (through technology) to influence, but the odd Colgate add that makes me want to buy their latest toothbrush, or the add that warns of the ills of smoking or drink driving is sort of in a different league to years of state imposed sleep hypnosis. I'm just never really a fan of doomsday warnings. I don't think, as Huxley suggests in his foreword, that the state has no choice but to become intensely totalitarian within a few generations.

And the second thing that bugs me is that Huxley was actually in favor of a few of these ideas.The very same ideas that people use his book to warn against. Having thought up Brave New World in the midst of a depression and what he saw as chaos, he proposed that the only solution was to control the masses through 'propaganda as a legitimate tool of the state'. He believed society could be controlled in a 'humane' way by making people blissfully happy in the process (hence soma and the genetic engineering and sleep conditioning--all of which Huxley believed would in some way occur and actually supported the use of). Read the intro and foreword. It's in there. He held a 'contempt for democracy and a conviction that mass society must be reorganized as a hierarchy of mental quality controlled by an elite caste of experts'. I actually think I give us all more credit than that. Consequently there are no real protagonists in the story. The most sympathetic character is the world controller, Mustapha Mond, which I think is saying something. The only given alternative to this 'Utopia' is the bizarrely superstitious and primitive world of the 'Savage' which ends, in the case of the character John, in self-mutilation and suicide. Nice options.

But in saying all that I think it's a great book to provoke discussion. I just wouldn't go so far as to label it one of the 'most important books published post war' (as the Daily Telegraph titles it on the back of my copy). Nor would I say, considering the political opinions of the author, that it is a particularly urgent appeal for the freedom of humanity.

And thank you for listening.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Keith One possible counter to only one of your points: consider soma analogous, not to street drugs, but to the rise of Big Pharma and the ubiquity of anti-depressants, and you might see that one element differently. Otherwise, good points.

Abigail I totally agree with you. Read my review, too, if you want. My point is basically that the savage lifestyle- filth, disease and premature death- does not seem like a great option.

Bill Wellham I am glad you made your points, against the general Huxley adoring nature of most reviewers.

I personally love dystopian novels; but only in so far as they make an entertaining read. I really believe that humanity as a whole will not be so easily controlled as BNW makes out. There will ALWAYS be a large minority of people who will ALWAYS say NO.

There is a corporate endorced drug culture out there; but it is not controlled by the government. Sleepy people spending their lives on a sofa watching television is not really such a useful state for any government.

Also, BNW seems to assume that the status quo would be equally the same througout the world. But even today there are so many different status quos of freedom or non-freedom, depending on which regime is running the show. I cannot see a day when all cultures of humanity are at the same level, and are all happy to be sleep walked into some happy state of control.

BUT... Brave New World is a great book, especially considering its age; and I will always love it.

message 4: by Gergana (new)

Gergana I read your review with interest and it made me think about how much of every fiction is actually reality. You sound optimistic that the author described rather unlikely future. Hope it stays that way. But it seems to me that some powerful leaders and "masonic" organizations would do anything to have control over the masses and make them play their rules - even if this includes offering sick entertainment as love orgies etc. (imagine the leader of the futuristic world is kind of crazy). Unfortunately there are similar things on a smaller scale of course even today - child prostitution in third-world countries, rich people ordering "shows" for themselves - and many seems to like the slutty, freestyle sex culture promoted on screen. However, I think you made your point well about the drugs, it's a little bit naive. At least a dictator would impose drugs for fear and/or loyalty. Who cares if the masses are happy as long as they obey? Just sharing thoughts:)

Mark thanks for that review. Though I do love the book and do think there is some amazing prophetic work going on I think you make a really powerful argument for the fact that a) some of that prophetic inspiration might be in spite of Huxley not because of him and b)He might hold with some of the very things he decries. Really interesting take on the novel. Thank you

Ruth Interesting review. I agree that the book is a fantasy. It has not and will not come to pass. Huxley was writing an allegory for his contemporary public and using the future setting to analyse some of contradictions implicit in societal trends. The book is in the tradition of Swift, and similarly satirical. The long conversation between John and Mustapha Mond summarises the philosophical conundrum implicit in the story, but Huxley does not resolve it, choosing instead to leave the irresolution in the minds of his readers. I find it a very clever, cool-headed book but understand that others might find it unappealing for those very reasons.

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