Aldous Huxley, born in England in 1894, is best known for his dystopian novel Brave New World, a dark vision of a highly technological society of the future. He published over 50 books, novels, travel books, histories, poems, plays, screenplays, and essays on philosophy, arts, sociology, religion, and morals.
His family was considered the blue-bloods of English intellectualism, well known for scientific and literary achievements: Huxley’s father, Leonard, was a renowned editor and essayist, and his highly educated mother ran her own boarding school. His grandfather. T.H. Huxley, worked with Charles Darwin, his brother, Julian Huxley, a biologist, founded UNESCO, and his half-brother, Andrew Huxley, won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for his work in physiology. When he was sixteen Aldous Huxley went to England’s prestigious Eton school and was trained in medicine, the arts, and science. From 1913 to 1916 he attended Balliol College, Oxford, where he excelled academically and edited literary journals. Huxley was considered a prodigy, being exceptionally intelligent and creative.
Huxley’s first book, Crome Yellow, was published in 1921, followed by Antic Hay (1923), Those Barren Leaves (1925), Point Counter Point (1928), and then in 1932 his most famous work, Brave New World.
With World War II on the horizon, Huxley, a committed pacifist, moved in 1937 with the guru-figure and intellectual, Gerald Heard, to the United States. The mild Californian climate would also help his eyesight, a longtime ailment. Huxley, Heard, and the young English novelist Christopher Isherwood became students of the Vedanta Society, exploring Eastern religions and philosophy. His literary interests also broadened from fiction to Hollywood screenplays, and essays.
Huxley’s later works include After Many a Summer Dies The Swan (1939), Time Must Have a Stop (1944), and The Devils of Loudun (1952), a brilliantly detailed psychological study of a historical incident in which a group of 17th-century French nuns were allegedly the victims of demonic possession. This was later adapted into a film by director Kenneth Anger. He also wrote The Doors of Perception (1954), a book about his experiences with the hallucinogenic drug mescaline. Soon after, Huxley became something of a guru among seekers of higher consciousness and those interested in Eastern philosophy.
Much of the last decade of Huxley’s life was spent exploring hallucinogenics and their potential to expand human consciousness, as well as writing books, essays, and articles on topics that are still relevant today, including mass consumption, overpopulation, and increasing warfare. Huxley’s lifelong preoccupation with the negative and positive impacts of science and technology on 20th-century life make him one of the most renowned writers and intellectuals of that century.
In his final novel, Island (1962), Huxley created a utopian, free-spirited paradise, the opposite of Brave New World. Island’s warning about religious fanaticisms, massive military power, and the geopolitical importance of oil were prophetic.
On November 22, 1963, a few hours after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, as Huxley lay dying of cancer, he wrote on a slip of paper, “100mcg LSD intramuscular.” His wife Laura administered the dose to him and served one last time as his guide, leading him peacefully from this life to another.