Many observers linked the anti-book-burning message and that “Fahrenheit 451” was published at a peak moment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s (R-Wis.) anti-communist crusade. Mr. Bradbury said “Fahrenheit 451” was not necessarily about top-down censorship.
“The real threat is not from Big Brother, but from little sister [and] all those groups, men and women, who want to impose their views from below,” he told the Times of London in 1993. “If you allow every minority to grab one book off the shelf you’ll have nothing in the library.”
“Fahrenheit 451” continued to spark controversy. It was on the American Library Association’s list of the 100 most-challenged, although not necessarily banned, books of 2000-07. The book’s critics objected to what they considered its inappropriate language and anti-establishment message. It remains, however, a popular selection for schools’ required reading lists and community-wide literary programs.
Ray Douglas Bradbury, who was born Aug. 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Ill., was shaped in many ways by a horrific car wreck he saw as a teenager.
He never learned to drive and grew compulsively wary of the potential dangers of modern mechanized life; he took his first plane trip in 1982, and only then after drinking three double martinis.
He developed a love of books at an early age, with favorite authors including Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, and spent many nights at the local library. In a 1985 interview with the Los Angeles Times, he recalled that he was “fairly poor” — his father was a lineman who had trouble finding work — and that he used the scraps of paper provided by the library for reference notes to write down bits of short stories.
He was inspired to write his first story at age 12 by Mr. Electrico, a performer at a traveling carnival. The performer sent an electric current through the boy’s body, proclaiming, “Live forever!,” and later said they’d known each other in one of Mr. Bradbury’s previous lives. The experience evolved into the novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1962), the basis for a film of the same name starring Jonathan Pryce as a diabolical circus owner.
Rejected by the Army during World War II because of poor eyesight, Mr. Bradbury lived with his parents and made money by selling stories to pulp magazines. In 1946, he walked into a bookstore carrying a briefcase and trench coat, and a sales clerk suspected him of being a book thief. The employee was named Marguerite McClure. Mr. Bradbury asked her out for coffee.
“I’m going to the moon some day,” Mr. Bradbury announced. “Wanna come?”