Bradbury's lifelong passion for books began at an early age. After graduating from high school, Bradbury's family could not afford for him to attend college so Bradbury began spending time at the Los Angeles Public Library where he essentially educated himself. As a frequent visitor to his local libraries in the 1920s and 1930s, he recalls being disappointed because they did not stock popular science fiction novels, like those of H. G. Wells, because, at the time, they were not deemed literary enough. Between this and learning about the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, a great impression was made on the young man about the vulnerability of books to censure and destruction. Later, as a teenager, Bradbury was horrified by the Nazi book burnings and later by Joseph Stalin's campaign of political repression, the "Great Purge", in which writers and poets, among many others, were arrested and often executed. For further details on the history of book burning, see Bonfire of the vanities.
Shortly after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the conclusion of World War II, the United States focused its concern on the Soviet atomic bomb project and the expansion of communism. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), formed in 1938 to investigate American citizens and organizations suspected of having communist ties, held hearings in 1947 to investigate alleged communist influence in Hollywood movie-making. These hearings resulted in the blacklisting of the so-called "Hollywood Ten", a group of influential screenwriters and directors. This governmental interference in the affairs of artists and creative types greatly angered Bradbury. Bradbury was bitter and concerned about the workings of his government, and a late 1949 nighttime encounter with an overzealous police officer would inspire Bradbury to write "The Pedestrian", a short story which would go on to become "The Fireman" and then Fahrenheit 451. The rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy's hearings hostile to accused communists, beginning in 1950, deepened Bradbury's contempt for government overreach.
The year HUAC began investigating Hollywood is often considered the beginning of the Cold War, as in March 1947, the Truman Doctrine was announced. By about 1950, the Cold War was in full swing, and the American public's fear of nuclear warfare and communist influence was at a feverish level. The stage was set for Bradbury to write the dramatic nuclear holocaust ending of Fahrenheit 451, exemplifying the type of scenario feared by many Americans of the time.
Bradbury's early life witnessed the Golden Age of Radio, while the transition to the Golden Age of Television began right around the time he started to work on the stories that would eventually lead to Fahrenheit 451. Bradbury saw these forms of media as a threat to the reading of books, indeed as a threat to society, as he believed they could act as a distraction from important affairs. This contempt for mass media and technology would express itself through Mildred and her friends and is an important theme in the book.