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Fahrenheit 451 | Study Guide

Ray Bradbury

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Author Biography

Learn more about Ray Bradbury’s life and the personal experiences that inspired his novel Fahrenheit 451 in Course Hero’s video study guide.

Ray Bradbury | Biography


Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on August 22, 1920. He enjoyed a long and highly productive career, publishing some 30 books and 600 short stories along with poems, essays, and plays. He also wrote for theater, television, and film, most notably screenplays for The Ray Bradbury Theater and the screenplay for John Huston's film adaptation of Moby Dick. Among his many honors are the 2000 National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters and a 2007 Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.

Bradbury's great-grandfather was a printer and worked for newspapers, establishing a family tradition of working with words. Bradbury's grandfather continued the tradition, also working in the publishing business. Bradbury's family introduced him to a love of books, especially those that portray imaginary worlds or alternate realities. His aunt Neva gave him his first fantasy book, a collection of fairy tales. She also read him an array of fantasy classics: Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, L. Frank Baum's Oz books, Edgar Allan Poe's stories, and the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales. With this background it is little wonder Bradbury started writing early; he knew he wanted to be a writer by age 12. Unable to afford to attend college during the Depression, he read extensively in public libraries in order to educate himself and published his first professional story, "Pendulum," in 1941.

Bradbury was already famous for having written the 1950 story collection The Martian Chronicles when Fahrenheit 451 was published. Bradbury has said that he got the idea of people burning books from Adolf Hitler, who as chancellor of Germany had burned books in the streets of Berlin when Bradbury was 15. Bradbury was also consciously writing in response to one of his contemporaries, Arthur Koestler, whose 1940 novel Darkness at Noon directly shaped Fahrenheit 451. Koestler's plot revolves around an imagined version of Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. The protagonist is put on public trial for treason even though his guilty verdict is predetermined—part of a widespread tyranny meant to manipulate the population. According to Koestler's novel, ideological critiques of dictatorships fall short because they fail to expose the dictatorships' lack of humanity. Bradbury made this lack of humanity central to Fahrenheit 451 , calling Koestler's book "true father, mother, and lunatic brother" to his novel.

The widely praised Fahrenheit 451 was Bradbury's biggest seller, winning the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature (1954), the Commonwealth Club of California Gold Medal (1954), and the Prometheus Award for libertarian science fiction (1984). He continued publishing and overseeing new story collections until close to his death on June 5, 2012. His obituary in the New York Times predicted his name would appear "near the top of any list of major science fiction writers of the 20th century."

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