Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams Hardcover – 3 Mar 2003
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The untimely death of Douglas Adams was a sharp reminder of what a protean talent (and remarkable character) the man was. As MJ Simpson's Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams reminds us, when The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy appeared as a radio series, few could guess that its gifted author would, in the space of several books (and adaptations in various other media), single-handedly inaugurate a whole new genre: the sardonically funny, outrageous science fiction parody that combined the sharp-edged sensibility of Monty Python and a marvellously jaded view of British life (taking in some hilarious philosophical asides along the way). Many writers continue to be influenced by Adams, and a new film of Hitchhiker's Guide has been much discussed. So the time is right for this exhaustive and sympathetic biography.
Although several such books are in the pipeline, genre specialist MJ Simpson (a cofounder of the glossy SF magazine SFX) is the perfect chronicler of a strange and eventful life. Adams' quirky personality comes brilliantly to life (thanks to Simpson's impressive research, which he began before Adams' death). We are taken back to his auspicious beginnings as a comic talent in the Cambridge Footlights and through his phenomenal later success (not ignoring the man's pathological inability to meet a deadline). Simpson's writing style is never academic, and sounds the same wry and witty note as his subject effortlessly found. By interviewing a host of friends and associates (and consulting exclusive archives), Simpson paints a picture of this complex and fascinating man that is unlikely to be beaten for quite some time. --Barry Forshaw
'A fascinating biography... his style is as sardonic and sharp-edged as that of Adam's own work, and perfectly complements his subject.' -- Good Book Guide, March 2003
'Douglas's latest and most comprehensive biographer ... Simpson's style is easy and informative.' -- Daily Telegraph, 8th March 2003
'M.J. Simpson has written an engaging and unbiased study of his subject, who emerges as a shy and frequently distressed genius.' -- Evening Standard, 10th March 2003
'[A] solid and very readable biography... [M.J. Simpson] has written a thorough and fair-minded biography of a dazzling if frustrating talent.' -- Literary Review, March 2003
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Top Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed it but I’m not sure many people will. This is a book for the real hardcore fan. The kind of person who understands the reference “I just wondered how he knew they were size nine”.
As a result it assumes you’ve read, marked and inwardly digested all the books and radio series, I listened to the radio series from the first transmission and while never enough of a fan to attend a convention or wear a silly suit and make ‘beep beep’ noises, have actively sought out everything Douglas Adams wrote. Yet without having read around the subject I don’t know what made the Kamikaze sketch so funny and I felt a bit left out.
It makes depressing reading, MJ Simpson is too close to the subject and takes Adams’ brilliance as a given and there are few quotes or examples to enjoy, instead it’s a 300 page story of missed deadlines and displacement activity which is an uncomfortable way to learn about a hero.
It’s a cliché to say that you laughed and cried at a book, but with The Salmon of Doubt (Adams posthumous collection) I did both and had to stop to compose myself. It’s a much better tribute to the man.
Elsewhere, he gives us "for the first time ever", the story of what really happened about those early LPs. And guess what, the story is incredibly dull. THAT's why it hadn't been told before!
Still, there's a few details I hadn't known before, like Mr Adams working on a South Bank Show special about his inability to finish the 5th HHGTTG novel, instead of actually finishing the novel!
So as a fan I bought M J Simpson's book with the intention of softening the blow of Adams's death by reading all about his life and enjoying myself at the same time. I was so very, very wrong.
Simpson's effort reads like a text book. It's an overly pedantic time line of events and anecdotes that have been entirely stripped of their warmth and humour. I am aware that Simpson was endeavouring to be as honest as possible and he certainly knows his facts.The reader is positively gagging on honest facts by the end of the book.
What really perplexes me is this; Simpson is an emormously loyal fan of Douglas Adams, yet he fails to capture any of the spirit of the man he admired so much. Douglas Adams was not accurate. He was intelligent and creative and funny. This book reflects none of thoses characteristics. It manages to make the story of the life of an extremely interesting man, dull. That is some acomplishment.
I cannot fault Simpson's astounding knowledge of facts, figures and dates but after being pelted with them for 340 pages I finished this book unsatisfied, bored and irritated.
Compared to Nick Webb's "Wish You Were Here", Simpson's book comes across as being more for the true fan than the general reader. Webb, having access to Adams's private files, is better on the details of his subject's lovelife, but, despite being a friend of Adams, shows a worrying ignorance about the works that made his name. For instance, Webb thinks the middle-management people repopulating prehistoric Earth are themselves from a future Earth and that this is some wacky Adams paradox. He's got this badly wrong. They're from an entirely different planet (Golgafrincham as anyone who's read the books can tell you) and the fact that Webb doesn't seem to know or care seems at best bizarre and at worst sloppy, and where it is accurate it often retreads ground from the excellent book "Don't Panic" by Gaiman et al. As the Hitchhiker fanclub's archivist, and stickler for accuracy to boot, you know Simpson's facts are going to be checked, and that what he tells you is not going to be some "definitively innacurate" fairytale, but as close to the truth as he can get.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I read the book three or four years ago. Like a lot of other reviewers I found it boring and pedantic and obsessed with finding out the precise number of computers Douglas Adams... Read morePublished on 25 April 2010 by Eva Therese
We never met, drat the bad luck. In our first encounter, Douglas was flashing his bum at me as he ran naked into the sea, shucking fistfuls of money in all directions. Read morePublished on 16 Jun. 2007 by Stephen A. Haines
Simpson says at the beginning of this book and towards the end that he doesn't think Douglas Adams was a liar. But the vast bulk of the book doesn't support this qualification. Read morePublished on 31 Jan. 2007 by ABQChris
M J Simpson's unauthorised biography would appear to be thorough - atleast, anyone who has read Simpson's previous writings on the same subjectwill find the usual shopping list of... Read morePublished on 26 April 2004
I'm not actually that big a Douglas Adams fan. Of course, the radio series are truly inspired, but, after that, there is, for the most part, a definite feeling about Adams's life... Read morePublished on 20 Jan. 2004 by P. M. Cray
This book provides a fascinating insight into the man whose success was almost a precursor to J. K. Rowling - a writer of a cult book series (in this case originally a radio... Read morePublished on 13 Oct. 2003 by Brian Clegg
This is a superb summary of Douglas Adams life & work, superceding earlier apocraphyl & wildly inaccurate accounts of Doug's life. Read morePublished on 13 July 2003 by Russell Devlin
I was amused by the reviewer on this site who commented that if "...you want to know about the [sic] Douglas Adams and haven't read either this or Neil Gaiman's book yet, then get... Read morePublished on 19 May 2003 by Eric Lemon
I am no major fan of Douglas Adams, but I know a good bit about his life, having gleaned considerably amounts as a member of ZZ9, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy... Read morePublished on 12 May 2003 by James Bacon