Do books benefit Montag in Fahrenheit 451 or do they just ruin his life?

Quick answer:

Bradbury presents us with a future world that is so horrific that the reader can easily empathise with the main character, Montag. This is because Bradbury shows us exactly what it is that makes his society "work" and why he would be so happy to get out of it, although he has to become an outcast and criminal in order to do so.

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It is perhaps easy to understand why it is possible to say that books are the reason for Montag's problems. However, whilst arguably it is his books that ruin his life, and cause him to become an outcast for society, it becomes clear as the novel progresses that society in this future dystopia is definitely something that deeply dissatisfies Montag and that is killing him slowly. He above all has a real need to communicate, and what he finds in books are words and emotions that he can relate to and actually have meaning, rather than the quasi-communication that occurs through the constant bombardment of media in this world. Note what he says to Faber when he asks him to explain books to him:

Nobody listens any more. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me. I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough, it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.

Bradbury presents the reader with a nightmare future world where communication has become debased and superficial, and nobody is able to talk about what is really happening in their lives and what they are actually experiencing. This is communicated through the high suicide attempt rate and also the false cheeriness that Mildred experiences through watching her "family": normal relationships have been replaced with simulated ones, and it is this that Montag finds so deeply disturbing. Books to him point to a real world and real issues that "make sense," and Montag above all else desires a world that "makes sense" and where he can communicate with others around him. Even though the price of achieving this is drastically high, this is a price that Montag is happy to pay. When the dystopian world which he inhabits is considered in its whole, it is easy to understand why he is willing to do so. 

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