Thursday, July 15, 2010

Classic Review - Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (4/5 stars)

It's hard to believe this book was written in 1931, Huxley is awfully accurate on some of his futuristic visions of how society could end up.

This book basically describes a society that appears to be Utopian at first glance.  Humans are made at certain genetic intelligence and caste; they are conditioned to be grateful for their place in life.  Of course humans being humans there are occasionally those who divert from the norm.  The story focuses mainly on Bernard Marx, an Alpha who is born too short, and as such ostracized and isolated in a society based on community and on Lenina a woman who is a fairly average society girl who agrees to travel with Bernard to Reservation.  At the reservation they meet a Savage named John who travels back with them to "proper" society.   What ensues is basically disaster.

The kind of creepy thing is that Huxley is pretty spot on about some of the things in his Utopian society.  There is a lot genetic engineering going on, subliminal messaging, regulated drug use to promote serenity, etc.  The beginning of the book is the most shocking because they explain how they modify the chemical make up of the fetuses to make them smart or stupid, strong or weak.  This is followed by a discussion of how they condition the infants to like or not like certain things based on what function they will have in society.  It is a society where everyone is equal but no one gets to make any decisions.

The people in the society are encouraged to be somewhat infantile in their decisions; time not working is spend playing games or engaging in sexual activity.  Despite the society being depicted as somewhat British the members are encouraged to give into their baser natures whenever they want...emotion makes for unhappy people so it is best to not think about it too much.

What happens when John, a Savage raised by a (gasp) mother, a man who loves and hurts is brought into this society is fascinating but predictable.  He has a hard time making sense of a society where "mother" is an indecent word and love is a foreign concept.

The book is very readable and well-written.  The story is engaging.  I am sure at the time this book was written it was ground-breaking.  Unfortunately most of the factors of society that are discussed in this book I have read discussed in more current books.  For me what set this book apart from other dystopians was the fact that it was written so long ago, also the fact that Huxley didn't pull any punches on the human conditioning...they are pretty ruthless, and lastly how reasonable he makes the set-up of such a society sound.  There is a portion towards the end of the book where the Controller explains to John how their society evolved to what it is today; the Controller explains what they tried and what actually worked.  The Controller's argument sounds disturbingly reasonable and almost makes you understand how a society set-up like the one in this book might work out well for a large amount of people.

Overall I enjoyed the book and I am glad I read it.  None of the ideas really blew me away and the story was engaging, but not absolutely incredible.  It is a book that makes you think; especially when think of the time frame in which it was written.  The topics discussed are something which will make you take pause but some of the ideas presented aren't that far away from where we are today (genetic engineering, etc.).  Definitely something to read and something easy to relate to.

This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
- The 100+ Book Reading Challenge
Brave New World 

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