Fahrenheit 451

Arguably Bradbury’s most well-known work, Fahrenheit 451 deals with themes of authoritarianism, censorship, and the powers and pitfalls of communication technology. Bradbury combined two early short stories, “The Pedestrian” and “Bright Phoenix,” into “The Fireman,” a novella published in the February 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction. The expanded novella became Fahrenheit 451, which was published with two other short stories — “The Playground”, “And the Rock Cried Out” — in both hardcover and paperback by Ballantine Books in October 1953, with a limited special edition run of 200 copies bound in asbestos boards (to make the book ‘unburnable’). The following year Hugh Hefner paid $400.00 for the serial rights, and the serialization in Playboy added credibility to the fledgling magazine and gave Bradbury broader publicity. In 1965, François Truffaut adapted the novel to film, and many subsequent authors and artists have alluded to the novel’s influence.

Though much of the inspiration for the novel can be found in Bradbury’s own life and times, as a culture we seem to have learned little from the past, and Fahrenheit 451 has proved enduring, influential, and perpetually prescient. As a child Bradbury reports that he wept when he learned of the burning of the Library of Alexandria, as a teenager he was appalled by the news of the Nazi book burnings, and as a young man working in publishing and screenwriting he was angered and disgusted by McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee Hearings. The novel’s themes of oppression, suppression, and disconnection continually speak to the cultural crises and dystopian fears of our present moment, and Fahrenheit 451 may be more important now than ever.