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Brave New World Revisited by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World Revisited (1958)

by Aldous Huxley

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The last six weeks I've been studying learning and memory in humans as part of my curricula for my psychology degree. In one of the chapters on conditioning the author brings up the conditioning done in A Brave New World in which babies are shown books and roses. Just as the babies are showing awareness and interest in the beauty of the roses and in the pictures in the books they receive a series of electrical shocks from the floor. They'll be continued to shock until just the sight of a book will make them upset. The point being, these people were being conditioning to not think, to not have ideas.

Anyway, I found a text version online to read and read it quickly last week. It was a very interesting story. There is no individuality at all. Everyone is connected to each other, kind of like the Borg from Star Trek.

The story is wonderfully dystopian. ( )
  wendithegray | May 1, 2017 |
Aldous Huxley

Brave New World Revisited

Vintage, Paperback [2004].

8vo. xxii+154 pp. Introduction by David Bradshaw, 1993 [ix-xix]. Foreword by Aldous Huxley [xxi-xxii].

First published, 1958.
This Vintage edition, 2004.


Chapter I: Overpopulation
Chapter II: Quantity, Quality, Morality
Chapter III: Over-Organisation
Chapter IV: Propaganda in a Democratic Society
Chapter V: Propaganda Under a Dictatorship
Chapter VI: The Arts of Selling
Chapter VII: Brainwashing
Chapter VIII: Chemical Persuasion
Chapter IX: Subconscious Persuasion
Chapter X: Hypnopaedia
Chapter XI: Education for Freedom
Chapter XII: What Can Be Done?


The very existence of this book is special. How many books can think of in which an author reflects on his own novel that has become a classic? I can think of exactly none. Though this short, eloquently written and very readable collection of essays is the obvious companion volume to Brave New World (1932), it is by no means necessary to have read the novel in order to enjoy “revisiting” it. Huxley usually takes the trouble to explain the parallels with his famous work, but few of them are essential. This book can be read with just as much, and perhaps with more, pleasure and profit as a great writer’s reflections on civilisation and its discontents in the middle of the last century.

One of the most fascinating things is that, being first published in 1958, this book is post-1984. Magnificently devoid of false modesty, Huxley observes that Orwell’s dystopian classic “was a magnified projection into the future of a present that contained Stalinism and an immediate past that had witnessed the flowering of Nazism”, but now, in 1958, it does seem less convincing, and indeed less probable, than Brave New World. Fifty-eight years later these words have only become truer:

In the context of 1948, 1984 seemed dreadfully convincing. But tyrants, after all, are mortal and circumstances change. Recent developments in Russia and recent advances in science and technology have robbed Orwell's book of some of its gruesome verisimilitude. A nuclear war will, of course, make nonsense of everybody's predictions. But, assuming for the moment that the Great Powers can somehow refrain from destroying us, we can say that it now looks as though the odds were more in favour of something like Brave New World than of something like 1984.

The chapters (essays?) on propaganda and advertising (the same thing really) are some of the finest. In a world that at least approaches sanity, advertising would not exist in the first place; much less would it become a huge business. Virtually all versions of it, from book blurbs to TV commercials, are based on blatant misrepresentation of the facts, which is a polite euphemism for “lying”. Any fairly reasonable human being is bound to ask the obvious question. Does anybody believe this nonsense? The answer is unfortunately positive. If nobody believed it, there would be no reason for its existence and it would be, ergo, non-existent. Nor is there any reason to believe that many people do not believe it repeatedly. Huxley’s beautifully crafted prose is ageless; his concrete examples might well have come from modern commercials:

Irrational propaganda depends for its effectiveness on a general failure to understand the nature of symbols. Simpleminded people tend to equate the symbol with what it stands for, to attribute to things and events some of the qualities expressed by the words in terms of which the propagandist has chosen, for his own purposes, to talk about them. Consider a simple example. Most cosmetics are made of lanolin, which is a mixture of purified wool fat and water beaten up into an emulsion. This emulsion has many valuable properties: it penetrates the skin, it does not become rancid, it is mildly antiseptic and so forth. But the commercial propagandists do not speak about the genuine virtues of the emulsion. They give it some picturesquely voluptuous name, talk ecstatically and misleadingly about feminine beauty and show pictures of gorgeous blondes nourishing their tissues with skin food. "The cosmetic manufacturers," one of their number has written, "are not selling lanolin, they are selling hope." For this hope, this fraudulent implication of a promise that they will be transfigured, women will pay ten or twenty times the value of the emulsion which the propagandists have so skilfully related, by means of misleading symbols, to a deep-seated and almost universal feminine wish – the wish to be more attractive to members of the opposite sex. The principles underlying this kind of propaganda are extremely simple. Find some common desire, some widespread unconscious fear or anxiety; think out some way to relate this wish or fear to the product you have to sell; then build a bridge of verbal or pictorial symbols over which your customer can pass from fact to compensatory dream, and from the dream to the illusion that your product, when purchased, will make the dream come true. "We no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not buy just an auto, we buy prestige." And so with all the rest. In toothpaste, for example, we buy, not a mere cleanser and antiseptic, but release from the fear of being sexually repulsive. In vodka and whisky we are not buying a protoplasmic poison which in small doses may depress the nervous system in a psychologically valuable way; we are buying friendliness and good fellowship, the warmth of Dingley Dell and the brilliance of the Mermaid Tavern. With our laxatives we buy the health of a Greek god, the radiance of one of Diana's nymphs. With the monthly best seller we acquire culture, the envy of our less literate neighbours and the respect of the sophisticated. In every case the motivation analyst has found some deep-seated wish or fear, whose energy can be used to move the consumer to part with cash and so, indirectly, to turn the wheels of industry. Stored in the minds and bodies of countless individuals, this potential energy is released by, and transmitted along, a line of symbols carefully laid out so as to bypass rationality and obscure the real issue.

All this talk about propaganda naturally leads to the vital question of government. Absolutely the same principles that induce you to buy cosmetics also induce you to vote for this or that politician. Huxley recognises that “self-government is in inverse ratio to numbers”, which is rather obvious, but he is less convincing when he argues that human beings, irrational creatures as they are, “seem to be capable, if given a fair chance, of making a reasonable choice in the light of available evidence.” This is doubtful for both obvious psychological reasons and less obvious practical ones. The latter consist chiefly of the difficulty in ensuring that the people who present the whole evidence to the masses would remain uncorrupted by their power.

Huxley’s discussion of self-government is prescient. It brings to mind something he could not have predicted at the time for the simple reason that it was highly impracticable, but which we are in the position to realise today, namely direct democracy. This means everything about the law to be voted by the whole population and parasitic institutions like parliaments, senates and the like not to exist at all. The voting could be done quite easily via Internet. It might be a job for the software magicians to process the data, but there is absolutely nothing impossible about it. Not that it matters. I entertain the cynical notion that direct democracy, as opposed to the widespread representative version, would never be successful for the simple reason that the vast majority of people simply don’t care that much. The “new” system would obviously require much greater dedication from the people. Even highly developed democratic countries, which pride themselves on their politically active citizens, would baulk at this theoretically so possible yet psychologically quite unattainable imitation of ancient Greece. People are generally very fond of complaining how stupid the politicians are, but I doubt they would take kindly to supplanting them. It would be a hard and time-consuming job. And constant direct responsibility is much harder to bear than the vague indirect one during elections once in a while.

The penultimate chapter is a particularly powerful one. Huxley proposes his own version of Social Ethic (his capitals) on the basis that “heredity is no less significant than culture” and that great individuals are just as important driving forces as social conditions. Stated like that, quite out of the context, Huxley’s proposition is likely, I guess, to win him more of the usual accusations of elitism, snobbishness, haughtiness, etc. This narrow-minded point of view comes either from deep prejudices or from careless reading, probably both. Huxley doesn’t know – and neither do we – which is more important, nature or nurture. He simply states that an ethical system should recognise both if it is to do more good than harm. Apparently he lived in times when human beings were viewed more in the mass than as individuals – which is just a step away from the depressing uniformity of Brave New World. He has little patience with a number of authorities, from the venerable Herbert Spencer to psychologist B. F. Skinner, who claimed that great men (or women, for that matter) were nothing more than products of the zeitgeist. I think Huxley recognised, though he never says so explicitly, that the historical period is certainly important, but no more – and possibly less – than the innate qualities of the individual. No Shakespeare could have lived after the Restoration, but, on the other hand, definitely not every dramatist from Elizabethan times became Shakespeare.

In short, Huxley’s “Education for Freedom” aims first and most of all at recognising individuality, including personal greatness, but it also goes much farther than that. For the benefit of narrow-minded and careless readers, I extract here the salient points (including an adorable reference to the Shakespeare Authorship Question):

All the available evidence points to the conclusion that in the life of individuals and societies heredity is no less significant than culture. Every individual is biologically unique and unlike all other individuals. Freedom is therefore a great good, tolerance a great virtue and regimentation a great misfortune. For practical or theoretical reasons, dictators, organization men and certain scientists are anxious to reduce the maddening diversity of men's natures to some kind of manageable uniformity. […] And even today we find a distinguished psychologist, Professor B. F. Skinner of Harvard, insisting that, "as scientific explanation becomes more and more comprehensive, the contribution which may be claimed by the individual himself appears to approach zero. Man’s vaunted creative powers, his achievements in art, science and morals, his capacity to choose and our right to hold him responsible for the consequences of his choice – none of these is conspicuous in the new scientific self-portrait.” In a word, Shakespeare's plays were not written by Shakespeare, nor even by Bacon or the Earl of Oxford; they were written by Elizabethan England.

More than sixty years ago William James wrote an essay on “Great Men and Their Environment,” in which he set out to defend the outstanding individual against the assaults of Herbert Spencer. Spencer had proclaimed that “Science” (that wonderfully convenient personification of the opinions, at a given date, of Professors X, Y and Z) had completely abolished the Great Man. “The great man,” he had written, “must be classed with all other phenomena in the society that gave him birth, as a product of its antecedents.” The great man may be (or seem to be) “the proximate initiator of changes… But if there is to be anything like a real explanation of these changes, it must be sought in that aggregate of conditions out of which both he and they have arisen.” This is one of those empty profundities to which no operational meaning can possibly be attached. What our philosopher is saying is that we must know everything before we can fully understand anything. No doubt. But in fact we shall never know everything. We must therefore be content with partial understanding and proximate causes – including the influence of great men. “If anything is humanly certain,” writes William James, "it is that the great man's society, properly so called, does not make him before he can remake it. Physiological forces, with which the social, political, geographical and to a great extent anthropological conditions have just as much and just as little to do as the crater of Vesuvius has to do with the flickering of this gas by which I write, are what make him.”[1]


The genetic standardization of individuals is still impossible; but Big Government and Big Business already possess, or will very soon possess, all the techniques for mind-manipulation described in Brave New World, along with others of which I was too unimaginative to dream. Lacking the ability to impose genetic uniformity upon embryos, the rulers of tomorrow's over-populated and over-organized world will try to impose social and cultural uniformity upon adults and their children. To achieve this end, they will (unless prevented) make use of all the mind-manipulating techniques at their disposal and will not hesitate to reinforce these methods of non-rational persuasion by economic coercion and threats of physical violence. If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided, we must begin without delay to educate ourselves and our children for freedom and self-government.

Such an education for freedom should be, as I have said, an education first of all in facts and in values – the fact of individual diversity and genetic uniqueness and the values of freedom, tolerance and mutual charity which are the ethical corollaries of these facts. But unfortunately correct knowledge and sound principles are not enough. An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling falsehood. A skilful appeal to passion is often too strong for the best of good resolutions. The effects of false and pernicious propaganda cannot be neutralized except by a thorough training in the art of analyzing its techniques and seeing through its sophistries. Language has made possible man's progress from animality to civilization. But language has also inspired that sustained folly and that systematic, that genuinely diabolic wickedness which are no less characteristic of human behaviour than are the language-inspired virtues of systematic forethought and sustained angelic benevolence.[2]

Huxley is not always that stimulating, alas. The chapters on manipulating individuals (VII to X) are no nowhere as interesting as, and rather more superficial than, the ones dedicated to mass indoctrination (IV to VI). The difference between individual and mass brainwashing is, of course, rather hazy: individual methods applied on a sufficiently large scale naturally produce mass results. Much of what Huxley says about the power of suggestibility, drugged blissfulness and subconscious persuasion feels like a rehash of Brave New World, elaborated to no good effect and today rather dated. I have no idea why he included a whole chapter devoted to hypnopaedia: the idea must have been dated even in 1958. The second chapter, “Quantity, Quality, Morality”, is just as nicely titled as it is worthless. Huxley recognises that eugenics is preferable to “dysgenics”, but disappointingly goes no further. Perhaps he was afraid he would offend the more maudlin types of “humanism”. The most fascinating parts of these chapters are several passages where Huxley, quite unwittingly, points out with deadly accuracy some major defects of 1984. For instance, the following description of the victims of coerced confession describes precisely why the ending of 1984 – the whole third part, in fact – makes no sense at all:

A hopeless neurotic is no use to anyone. What the intelligent and practical dictator needs is not a patient to be institutionalized, or a victim to be shot, but a convert who will work for the Cause.

Brave New World Revisited is by no means an essential read even for fans of the novel, of whom I am one, but it’s quite good enough to be recommended even to those who find Huxley’s dystopian fable unconvincing. Never one to mince words or shy from expressing unpopular opinions, Huxley is always fun to read – except for the second chapter where he is neither fun nor fearless. The rest may be occasionally dated, but considering how much faster non-fiction ages than fiction, it holds very well almost sixty years later.

[1] The essay by William James is titled “Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment”, was given as a lecture before the Harvard Natural History Society and published in the Atlantic Monthly for October 1880, and is very much worth reading. I think James underestimates the social factor almost as much as Spencer underestimates the individual, but it may well be that he was justified in doing this.
[2] Incidentally, language is the one point where Orwell improved, if only slightly, on Huxley. The author of 1984 realised that some manipulation of language would be necessary, or at least helpful, for the totalitarian state. So he invented “Newspeak” and tried, not very successfully, to turn it into a brainwashing machine. Huxley made no attempt in that direction, but, then again, he did a lot in other directions and, unlike Orwell, set his novel in the distant future. ( )
3 vote Waldstein | May 6, 2016 |
While written long ago, much of this sounds amazingly contemporary. "Propaganda in favor of action dictated by the impulses that are below self-interest offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the furious denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats, and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals..." Hmmm, yeah, anyone catch the most recent Republican candidate debate? ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
Brave New World Revisited is a companion piece to Huxley's dystopian fable, [b:Brave New World|5129|Brave New World|Aldous Huxley|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327865608s/5129.jpg|3204877] and in a series of essays he examines how much more the present world (the 1950s at the time of writing) is becoming like that of his novel. The startling thing is that even then during the late 50s, with advances in television, radio, mass advertising, and the already-increasing population, the reality of Brave New World was becoming more and more likely.

In today's society, with its addiction to television and media, overpopulation and over-organisation, the ubiquity of advertisements and mind-altering drugs, Brave New World is even more a prediction of modern society than 1984 ever could be.

Yet, Huxley provides a solution to the homogenisation and over-organisation of society that threatens individual freedoms and personalities. He advocates education for freedom and legalisation for freedom (to control the uses of subliminal advertisements and hypnopaedia); he also supports promoting effective birth control. These methods, he proposes, should help slow the progression to a Brave New World-esque future. However, Huxley is also concerned that young people, stricken by apathy, have no concern for democratic institutions or freedoms but rather would be content just with the prosperous lifestyle to which they are accustomed. All these points have disturbing similarities to our time, just as in Huxley's.

Therefore, this is why Brave New World is a more likely dystopia. Society's ever-advancing strides towards a more prosperous lifestyle deaden people's appreciation for democratic freedoms and allow people to be easily swayed by totalitarians. Huxley laments this and calls the reader to support education, legislation, organisation for freedom. It is, his says, our duty to resist the forces that menace freedom. In all, an extremely thought-provoking companion to an already thought-provoking piece. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |
I know some people don't care for this book much, but for me I just loved it to death. I will admit while reading this book I found it to be creepy and at times frightening. I will admit for the story that was written the book seems too short. I sort of wished it would have went on a little more and we could have explored more about the society created by this author. I also loved how some of the ideas of the "future" were more likely than others. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. ( )
1 vote Nick1967 | Apr 4, 2014 |
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In 1931, when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time.
But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government.
Meanwhile we find ourselves confronted by a most disturbing moral problem. We know that the pursuit of good ends does not justify the employment of bad means. But what about those situations, now of such frequent occurrence, in which good means have end results which turn out to be bad?
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060898526, Paperback)

When the novel Brave New World first appeared in 1932, its shocking analysis of a scientific dictatorship seemed a projection into the remote future. Here, in one of the most important and fascinating books of his career, Aldous Huxley uses his tremendous knowledge of human relations to compare the modern-day world with his prophetic fantasy. He scrutinizes threats to humanity, such as overpopulation, propaganda, and chemical persuasion, and explains why we have found it virtually impossible to avoid them. Brave New World Revisited is a trenchant plea that humankind should educate itself for freedom before it is too late.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:33 -0400)

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Huxley uses his tremendous knowledge of human relations to compare the modern-day world with his prophetic fantasy. Written thirty years after his classic novel of the future, Brave New World, this thought-provoking book is a trenchant plea that humankind should educate itself for freedom before it is too late.… (more)

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