The trouble started when they threw the book in the fire. It was on the day when over 200 refugees had streamed into the Pleasanton Community Library seeking shelter from the climactic changes that had plunged the world into its second Great Ice Age.
No one knew who’d kindled a small fire beneath the skylight in the ceiling but soon others scurried about, ferrying cartloads of books towards it. A small, bespectacled man in a tweed suit pushed his way through the mass of bodies, seeking, with minimal success, to be heard over them.
“Stop! Please, stop. You can’t do this. What you are doing is wrong, terribly wrong. Please, listen to me! You have to stop.”
One man detached himself from the crowd, a de facto leader perhaps, and strode purposefully over. It was plain, by his demeanor, he was accustomed to getting his way by dint of sheer size and intimidation.
“Now, you listen here. We got us a whole lot of real cold folks here. What we don’t have is no time to waste listenin’ to yer pansy-assed, philosophical arguments. If we gotta burn these books to stay warm than burn ‘em we will, ya hear me?”
The man looked confused. “Hello, I am Orville Quint, Chief Librarian of this facility, and I suspect you misunderstand me good sir. I don’t object to your actions on a philosophical but rather upon a practical basis. To whit, books will simply not burn in the manner you imagine.”
“The hell you say! I may not be no ivory-tower egghead like you but I ain’t no complete dumbass neither. We read us a book way back in 10th grade by some fella was all about burnin’ books! Said they burned at a good 450 degrees or so and that oughta go a powerful way towards warmin’ up these womenfolk and little ones.”
Orville sighed with the infinite patience of an educated man confronted by misassumption. “A fine book of Mr. Bradbury’s, indeed, albeit one based on a flawed premise. You see, the 451 degrees the book spoke of did not, as you’ve surmised, refer to the heat a burning book might well generate. That number is the flash point at which paper would spontaneously combust without the application of flame to it. In practice, due to their condensed nature and the lack of air flow between the pages, a book is quite unlikely to burn without some accelerant added. Smolder yes, burn no.”
The leader, as well as many others, did not want to hear any such thing and Orville found himself pushed aside as they continued in their ultimately hopeless endeavor. He huddled in an alcove, secure in the knowledge the coming night temperatures would see most of them dead of hypothermia long before any sunlight might, otherwise, succor them.
He spent his final hours reflecting that while the light of Truth could not be forever extinguished, neither, it seemed, could the angry heat of ignorance be banished easily.