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First Impressions of F451

1fahrenheit

Ray Bradbury named his most famous book, Fahrenheit 451, after “the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns.” Does paper really burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Not quite. It would take a few minutes for a sheet of paper to burst into flames upon being placed in a 480-degree oven, and much longer than that for a thick book. The dense material in the center of a book would shunt heat away from the outside edges, preventing them from reaching the auto-ignition temperature. This is also why it takes so long for a campfire to reduce a log to ashes. (I never knew what the title refers to, since I never read it in school.) Anyway…

The dystopian novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. It has been the subject of interpretations primarily focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas. In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury stated that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States.

It’s speculative fiction, but it’s not about predicting the future. It’s more a cautionary tale, a warning, rather than prediction. The human race has a habit of listening to predictions for what the future will bring and then doing something quite different. It’s an “If this goes on…” story.

One Response

  1. Bradbury has always been one of my favorite authors. His observations about human nature were always spot-on and astute.

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