HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Brave New World
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, reprinted in 2006
Language level: 3 (I seem to recall some bad language)
Reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: 1 star (VERY POOR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World (published in 1932 by Chatto and Windus, London, England). Aldous Leonard Huxley (1894-1963) was an English writer and one of the most prominent members of the famous Huxley family. Best known for his novels including Brave New World and wide-ranging output of essays, Huxley also edited the magazine Oxford Poetry, and published short stories, poetry, travel writing, and film stories and scripts. Huxley was a humanist and pacifist, and he was latterly interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and philosophical mysticism. He is also well known for advocating and taking psychedelics. Born in Godalming, Surrey, UK, he was the third son of the writer and school-master Leonard Huxley and first wife, Julia Arnold who founded Prior’s Field School. His grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley, the zoologist, agnostic, and controversialist (“Darwin’s Bulldog”). His brother Julian Huxley was an evolutionary biologist. Aldous began his learning in his father’s well-equipped botanical laboratory, then continued in a school named Hillside. After Hillside, he was educated at Eton College then studied English literature at Balliol College, Oxford. Having completed his first (unpublished) novel at the age of seventeen, he began writing seriously in his early twenties. His earlier work includes important novels on the dehumanizing aspects of scientific progress, most famously Brave New World. In Brave New World, written in 1931 and published in 1932, Huxley portrays a society operating on the principles of mass production and Pavlovian conditioning, and it form the cornerstone of Huxley’s indictment of commercialism based upon goods generally manufactured from other countries. Also it helped form the anti-utopian or dystopian tradition in literature and has become synonymous with a future world in which the human spirit is subject to conditioning and control.
Set in London of AD 2540 (632 A.F. in the book), the novel anticipates developments in reproductive technology and sleep-learning that combine to change society. The future society is an embodiment of the ideals that form the basis of futurism. The vast majority of the population is unified under The World State, an eternally peaceful, stable global society in which goods and resources are plentiful (because the population is permanently limited to no more than two billion people) and everyone is happy. Natural reproduction has been done away with and children are created, ‘decanted’ and raised in Hatcheries. Recreational sex is an integral part of society. According to The World State, sex is a social activity, rather than a means of reproduction, and sexual activity is encouraged from early childhood. In its first chapters, the novel describes life in The World State as wonderful and introduces Lenina and Bernard. Lenina is a socially accepted woman, normal for her society, while Bernard, a psychologist, is an outcast. Bernard, desperately wanting Lenina’s attention, tries to impress her by taking her on holiday to a Savage Reservation in New Mexico. Upon his return to London, Bernard is confronted by Thomas Tomakin, the Director of the Hatchery and Conditioning Centre who, in front of an audience of higher-caste Centre workers, denounces Bernard for his antisocial behavior. After Bernard has left, Lenina is killed following a frenzy of beating and chanting that devolves into a mass orgy of drugs and sex. Almost thirty years after Brave New World Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited, a non-fiction work in which he considered whether the world had moved toward or away from his vision of the future from the 1930s. He believed when he wrote the original novel that it was a reasonable guess as to where the world might go in the future. In Brave New World Revisited, he concluded that the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he originally thought.
This is a book that I read in high school, although I cannot remember now offhand whether it was an assignment for a literature class or just something that I decided to read on my own. Even though the whole Huxley clan were all agnostic humanists, this futuristic social satire does have the benefit of showing what the effects of a totalitarian society can be like, especially in how Bernard tries to rebel against the sterile, antiseptic society that has evolved under world control. However, based on my experience it is not one that I could highly recommend. Betty Burger, in a Homeschooling Today review (Mar./Apr., 2002) did say, “This book is for mature readers. You should NOT hand it to your student to read if you have not read it first. Even then, we recommend it for 16-year-olds and up. After much discussion and prayerful consideration, we decided to use this book in spite of some sexual content, because it is, to our knowledge, the best description of the 20th century available.” Different people can have varying opinions, but after much prayerful consideration, we decided not to use this book in our homeschool.