At What Temperature Do Books Burn?

Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury best known work, and perhaps the most misunderstood. For decades, teachers, critics, and students have read the book as an indictment of censorship. Virtually every reader’s guide and study notes pamphlet has reinforced that reading.

It was a shock to the world of scholarship and teaching when Bradbury, in comments made in 2007, asserts that Fanrenheit 451 is not about censorship, but how television destroys interest in reading literature. Censorship is not his primary concern today. “There’s no reason to burn books if you don’t read them.” Given the news on literacy in the United States, perhaps he has a point.

Whatever the author intended for Fahrenheit 451, and whatever the reader and critic read into the book, it is an iconic volume in both American literary history, and in the history of science fiction and fantasy.

The Cushing Library is fortunate to have several interesting editions of Fahrenheit 451, featuring a variety of cover art, and ranging from the mass market true first edition to a boxed and illustrated special edition.

The true first, according to bibliographers, is the 1953 Ballantine paperback.

This copy is doubly interesting because the title page is signed by Ray Bradbury.

The Cushing Library has several other editions, including the hardcover first edition, published just after the paperback first edition in 1953.

This copy is inscribed to “Jim” by Ray Bradbury.

Paperback editions varied in cover art over the years. These two examples show some of the variation. The first is a 1972 printing.

The second is from 2003.

For the last example of varient editions in the collection, the “Silver Edition,” is a slipcased limited edition of Farhrenheit 451, featuring several color plates illustrating scenes in the book. The silver is quite striking; this image does not do it justice. The cover image is followed by one plate, titled “The Burning Woman.”

And the “Burning Woman.”

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