Why Should We Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451? A New TED-Ed Animation Explains

Ray Brad­bury’s Fahren­heit 451 envi­sions a future where “fire­men” are sent out not to put out fires, but to burn up any books they find with flamethrow­ers. To stu­dents assigned to read the nov­el today, the idea of an Amer­i­ca that has out­lawed books entire­ly might seem like an intrigu­ing if far-fetched notion, per­haps more suit­ed to the real­i­ty of the 1950s than the real­i­ty of today. Even if we’ve nev­er read Fahren­heit 451, near­ly all of us know the basic out­line of its sto­ry by now, so why should we still read it? In less than five min­utes, the ani­mat­ed TED-Ed video above by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madis­on’s Iseult Gille­spie offers an answer to that ques­tion.

Fahren­heit 451 depicts a world gov­erned by sur­veil­lance, robot­ics, and vir­tu­al real­i­ty, a vision that proved remark­ably pre­scient, but also spoke to con­cerns of the time,” says Gille­spie. “The nov­el was pub­lished in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.  The era kin­dled wide­spread para­noia and fear through­out Brad­bury’s home coun­try of the Unit­ed States, ampli­fied by the sup­pres­sion of infor­ma­tion and bru­tal gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, this witch hunt men­tal­i­ty tar­get­ed artists and writ­ers who were sus­pect­ed of com­mu­nist sym­pa­thies. Brad­bury was alarmed at this cul­tur­al crack­down. He believed it set a dan­ger­ous prece­dent for fur­ther cen­sor­ship, and was remind­ed of the destruc­tion of the Library of Alexan­dria and the book-burn­ing of fas­cist regimes.”

These con­cerns, though rel­e­vant to the era in which Brad­bury wrote Fahren­heit 451, are essen­tial­ly time­less. As with all dystopi­an fic­tion, the nov­el “ampli­fies trou­bling fea­tures of the world around us and imag­ines the con­se­quences of tak­ing them to an extreme.” Some of the trou­bling fea­tures of the world 65 years ago have dimin­ished, but some have great­ly increased, and we would do well to bear in mind that in Fahren­heit 45“it was the apa­thy of the mass­es that gave rise to the cur­rent regime. The gov­ern­ment mere­ly cap­i­tal­ized on short atten­tion spans and the appetite for mind­less enter­tain­ment, reduc­ing the cir­cu­la­tion of ideas to ash. As cul­ture dis­ap­pears, imag­i­na­tion and self-expres­sion fol­low.” Cul­ture may take many more forms now than it did in the 1950s, but with­out our con­stant vig­i­lance, all of them could still be extin­guished, just as eas­i­ly as paper goes up in flame.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ray Brad­bury Reveals the True Mean­ing of Fahren­heit 451: It’s Not About Cen­sor­ship, But Peo­ple “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Father Writes a Great Let­ter About Cen­sor­ship When Son Brings Home Per­mis­sion Slip to Read Ray Bradbury’s Cen­sored Book, Fahren­heit 451

An Asbestos-Bound, Fire­proof Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 (1953)

New Edi­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Fahren­heit 451 That’s Only Read­able When You Apply Heat to Its Pages: Pre-Order It Today

A Teas­er Trail­er for Fahren­heit 451: A New Film Adap­ta­tion of Ray Bradbury’s Ever-Rel­e­vant Nov­el

Hear Ray Bradbury’s Clas­sic Sci-Fi Sto­ry Fahren­heit 451 as a Radio Dra­ma

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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