In 1954, Galaxy Science Fiction reviewer Groff Conklin placed the novel "among the great works of the imagination written in English in the last decade or more." The Chicago Sunday Tribune's August Derleth described the book as "a savage and shockingly prophetic view of one possible future way of life", calling it "compelling" and praising Bradbury for his "brilliant imagination". Over half a century later, Sam Weller wrote, "upon its publication, Fahrenheit 451 was hailed as a visionary work of social commentary." Today, Fahrenheit 451 is still viewed as an important cautionary tale about conformity and the evils of government censorship.
When the novel was first published, there were those who did not find merit in the tale. Anthony Boucher and J. Francis McComas were less enthusiastic, faulting the book for being "simply padded, occasionally with startlingly ingenious gimmickry, ... often with coruscating cascades of verbal brilliance [but] too often merely with words." Reviewing the book for Astounding Science Fiction, P. Schuyler Miller characterized the title piece as "one of Bradbury's bitter, almost hysterical diatribes," while praising its "emotional drive and compelling, nagging detail." Similarly, The New York Times was unimpressed with the novel and further accused Bradbury of developing a "virulent hatred for many aspects of present-day culture, namely, such monstrosities as radio, TV, most movies, amateur and professional sports, automobiles, and other similar aberrations which he feels debase the bright simplicity of the thinking man's existence."
In the years since its publication, Fahrenheit 451 has occasionally been banned, censored, or redacted in some schools by parents and teaching staff either unaware of or indifferent to the inherent irony in such censorship. The following are some notable incidents:
- In 1987, Fahrenheit 451 was given "third tier" status by the Bay County School Board in Panama City, Florida under then-superintendent Leonard Hall's new three-tier classification system. Third tier was meant for books to be removed from the classroom for "a lot of vulgarity". After a resident class-action lawsuit, a media stir, and student protests, the school board abandoned their tier-based censorship system and approved all the currently used books.
- In 1992, Venado Middle School in Irvine, California gave copies of Fahrenheit 451 to students with all "obscene" words blacked out. Parents contacted the local media and succeeded in reinstalling the uncensored copies.
- In 2006, parents of a 10th-grade high school student in Montgomery County, Texas demanded the book be banned from their daughter's English class reading list. Their daughter was assigned the book during Banned Books Week, but stopped reading several pages in due to the offensive language and description of the burning of the Bible. In addition, the parents protested the violence, portrayal of Christians, and depictions of firemen in the novel.