This is a book review for Alduous Huxley’s classic Brave New World that I originally posted on GoodReads.
The year is A.F. 632 and the World Controllers have created a perfectly stable society. Viviparous reproduction is no longer allowed and humans are grown from lab-fertilized embroyos in bottles which precisely simulate the conditions required for the growth of babies of a whole range of castes, from the epsilon semi-morons to the top alpha-plus-plusses. The children are conditioned through neo-pavlovian training and hypnopaedic repetition, ensuring that the thoughts and instincts they will have will make them happy and the society stable. Everyone is happy now, and everyone belongs to everyone else.
Brave New World is probably the most important book I have ever read. Perhaps not the book I have enjoyed the most, but important all the same. Important in the sense that it is one of those books that everyone should read. There’s the saying that people who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. While maybe that is true, I think good works of dystopian (or is it utopian?) fiction are even more important, because they warn us about possible futures before we have to suffer them. In a sense, they present us ‘alternative histories’ to learn from. They stand as glaring examples of what a society should not be like. If well-read and well-understood, they guide us away from resemblance with their worlds. No wonder that “Orwellian” is such a common, and such a powerful word in modern-day discourse.
The book is also important because it makes you think, it makes you question your complacent place in the society. I found myself thinking about how much of my thinking was really independent and how much was due to subliminal ‘conditioning’ that I wasn’t aware of. I thought about whether today’s tech giants are the new world controllers, pulling the strings of their distraction machines to condition us for their profit. I thought about how much evil we can inflict on ourselves as a whole if doing so makes us feel good.
Besides the immense philosophical significance, the book is also great for its style. Huxley’s writing is vivid and evocative, and that can be felt right from the first paragraph. One section I really liked was the part when he uses the text equivalent of the ‘cross-cutting’ used in cinema. Mustapha Mond lecturing the students, Bernard seething at his colleagues’ comments, Lenina talking to her friend in the changing room, and all three scenes narrated simultaneously, alternating lines devoted to each. And I found the whole Fordianism thing amusing and a bit hilarious, from people gasping ‘Oh Ford!’ to words like ‘Fordship’ and ‘Unfordly’, and of course the holy ‘T’.
I finished reading Brave New World 41 days after starting it for the second time. During this time I avoided opening GoodReads, lest it should remind me of my procrastination. There were week-long stretches during which I didn’t open the book at all. After years of being a chronic procrastinator without fully realizing how bad a state I was in, I have recently started to be started to be more aware of my thoughts and actions, and have taken major steps towards recovery. However, the experience of reading this book was a painful reminder - in multiple ways - of how fallible the human mind is and most importantly of our incredible capacity to forgo and forget everything important when in comfort, when in that blissful cocoon of pleasing distractions.