Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: A review

Tenth book reviewed as part of the 130 Challenge.

I really like books that philosophize. I don’t know if I’ll like the heavy-weights (Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche comes to mind) but I really enjoy stories with a philosophical bent. That is why perhaps, two of my most favorite books are Animal Farm and 1984. Both of them discuss important moral and philosophical questions, that of the greater good and the question of who gets to decide what that is supposed to be.

Brave New World Cover

Brave New World delivers quite well on this front and that is why I found it to be a very interesting read. What is even more interesting is that unlike 1984 and Animal Farm, the book doesn’t end on a Dystopian sad ending, but rather on a mixed one that allows the reader to interpret it. Another distinction is that the book doesn’t make any judgement on either of the views presented in the book. There are two opposing views presented and the author has put forward the pros and cons for both.

Comparing two books is not a good way of reviewing, but I’m doing this because so many comparisons have been made between 1984 and Brave New World that one can’t mention either without comparing the ideas presented within. So here goes..

In the Brave New World, Huxley presents a view and a counter-view through a Utopia and an alternate Dystopia called the ‘savage reservation’, that has somehow existed alongside the Utopia. That is not the case with 1984. That book scares you with visions of a Big Brother so ferocious and unforgiving that you wouldn’t want to be under his glare. Brave New World on the other hand, talks of a story that sounds quite possible and quite like our own and thus, sounds much more believable.

In the book, he has presented a stark picture of what a Utopia would be like. So stark, that it looks like a Dystopia, but I don’t think it is. This is not something that you would expect or even appreciate, but it does make sense. The caste system in the book is very similar to our ‘unwritten’, yet prevalent class system. While we may not have been conditioned to be brilliant or stupid, or rich or poor, there is no denying the fact that our conditions at home are quite important in determining what we become, so there’s the conditioning that Huxley talks about in the book. Even the world controllers are not too different from the leaders that we have come to worship (leader of the free world etc).

The loss of individuality, the idea of a world culture, the modular structure of society, the division of labour based on skill and the formation of hierarchies based on that division, are all quite eerily similar to our own setup. So, the Brave New World is quite similar to ours.

It also refrains from painting too grim a picture and even the ‘world controller’ in the book is not so bad as the Big Brother of 1984. In fact, he seems to be a very wise man (with an amazing name – Mustapha Mond), who has a very enlightening discussion with a curious person from the savage reservation, named John.

The story in the book is that of a certain Bernard Marx from a futuristic London, who happens to be aware of his situation and doesn’t like the conditioned and ‘perfect’ world that he inhabits. He sets out to discover on his own what it is like to not be conditioned to live like he does and discovers a lot of things that make it necessary for the world controller to step in and prevent him from disrupting the order that they have so meticulously maintained.

The characters are quite good and the story has a nice pace and realism to it, but Huxley uses too much jargon. That really put me off sometimes. Even the description of the mundane activities was a bit too much and is really just filler where it is not required. While it does it in a sort of mocking way, the book raises a lot of good questions about utilitarian ethics and tackles them admirably well through analogies and metaphors.

The book is a brisk read even though it is about philosophy and that is what makes it so good. The language is pretty good and Huxley doesn’t shy away from quoting Shakespeare or the Bible or other famous works. Even his own creations are quite poetic and there are quite a few poignant passages in the book. You can read the excerpts to see what I mean.

Rating – 8/10 (Must read. Especially if you’ve read 1984)

P.S. Talking about Orwell vs Huxley, I think you should definitely check out this comic which sums it up quite well.

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7 comments

  1. I don’t think you need to feel bad about comparing 1984 and Brave New World. I believe Huxley did so himself. To paraphrase, he said he completed what Orwell started in 1984.

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    1. That’s quite interesting. What do you think he meant by that?

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      1. When I first read it I thought it was an insult. But I’ve read other interpretations. He may have been saying it was the equivalent of a prequel. Which isn’t so bad.

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        1. Or maybe a sequel? Although it was written before the book 1984, it is set way ahead into the future in 2540 AD. So, it could be that Huxley was saying that after an authoritarian era, the world political order would transform into one that works towards the greater good and practicality as opposed to openly absolute control.

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  2. A pretty solid review. I haven’t ready Huxley, but have seen that comic (which is incidentally a comic adaptation of a Foreword written by some guy who wrote a book comparing/contrasting Orwell & Huxley) – and it is spot on! … Even though I haven’t read Huxley, based on the comic (and the source text of the comic), I am sold on the argument that Huxley got it right – his future is what the world is at present. Far from being deprived of information & imposition of some central control, we are all drowning in sensory-information-overload and distributed power centers … That said, there are parts of the world where Orwellian themes prevail … Reality is of course an amalgamation of Orwell & Huxley – but I see Huxley dominating more & more.

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    1. That’s exactly what I think too. Once in a discussion with a friend, I had remarked – what if we are in an Orwellian world where the powers that be want us to think that we’re in a Huxley world?

      But I think that would be too far fetched. Or would it? :P

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      1. Aah! Wouldn’t that be diabolical?! … Or to express it in an Indian context, “Kraantikaari. Bahut hi kraantikaari!” :P

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