Century of Books

My project to read the top 100 English-language books of the twentieth century.

Location: San Francisco, United States

I am an Australian writer and blogger living in San Francisco. Visit my professional site at caitlinfitzsimmons.com, or my travel and food blog at Roaming Tales or my personal blog at The Niltiac Files. I am also on Twitter as @niltiac. See the full list of books or visit me on BookCrossing.

04 June 2006

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

When it comes to dystopian visions of the future, George Orwell's 1984 gets all the attention but I think Brave New World is the superior book. It's thematically very cogent with a strong central argument and it's also scarily prophetic with many of Huxley's darker imaginings coming true.

I read this book virtually in one sitting on a plane journey on my way to a two-week holiday in Italy. The book was quite powerful and although the ideas it expressed and the problems it explored were not new to me, it still had me pondering them more deeply. It showed quite clearly and dramatically the deep flaw at the heart of the seemingly benign utilitarian principle of 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number'. But does it mean that happiness is not the point? This is Huxley's contention as he seems to be arguing for the existence of God and a striving for the divine and self betterment as being more important than mere happiness. I'm more or less an atheist so I don't have such easy answers yet the world of the novel is clearly abhorrent to me. Perhaps I can believe in a higher good than happiness without God or religion? Or perhaps it's a question of defining happiness and whether I think true happiness is possible without freedom and self determination?

The book was intended as a comment on both the Soviet Union (note the names like Marx and Lenina and Trotsky) and also, as the forward points out, the consumerism of the United States. And indeed the book has its strongest resonance not as a critique of communims but as a warning against the danger of corporate tyranny. It looks increasingly like the corporation, rather than the nation, will be the defining force of the 21st century and we need to think very seriously about how to retain autonomy and freedom as individuals and a society.

So much of the book is already coming true and not just the obvious stuff like the advances in genetic engineering. To name a few, there's the indoctrination from birth in rampant consumerism (it's axiomatic in Huxley's dystopia that 'ending is better than mending' and in our own society many toddlers can pick out the McDonald's logo before they recognise numbers or letters), the increased sexual freedom (which frankly is not all bad), the shallowness of mass entertainment (reality TV anyone?), the preoccupation with celebrity (note how they gush over the savage but shun his mother for being fat and old), and the crazy tabloid antics of the news media.

Brave New World is the template and inspiration for many, many similar works of the twentieth century. Reading it was quite a revelation.

31 down, 69 to go...

PS I am one-third (a bit over 500 pages) of the way through A Suitable Boy.


Blogger Old Spice said...

A Suitable Boy is wonderful. I finished it for the first time about a week ago, and feel an enormous sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. It took me about five or six weeks of reading all night and for much of the weekend - and my dissertation is well behind - but I'm glad that I did it. (My take on it, incidentally, is here.

6/05/2006 04:28:00 am  
Blogger Caitlin said...

I thought I would get more reading done on my holiday but we were so busy sightseeing and so tired in the evenings that it didn't happen. I got a solid chunk of reading done on the flight home and started really getting into the book. I'm really enjoying it now but unfortunately can't take it on the Tube (where I do a lot of my reading) and do have other things to read as well. I'm getting there though.

I read your blog. It's great that you've met him. I would be very interested to do so or to hear him speak about his work. Have you also read An Equal Music? It's one of my favourite books.

6/05/2006 09:08:00 am  
Blogger Old Spice said...

No, I haven't read An Equal Music. ASB is the first book of his I've read, although I have a copy of Two Lives (that's the next book of his I'm planning to read).

You can read what he's up to lately here.

6/05/2006 09:36:00 am  

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