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Wish You Were Here: The Official Biography of Douglas Adams Hardcover – 6 Oct 2003
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"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" launched Douglas Adams to instant superstardom when it came out in 1978, becoming a success as a novel, radio and TV series. Like all his best work it was funny, but seriously funny. But Adams the comic writer, who worked with Monty Python among others, is only part of the story. He had a probing scientific mind and was happy discussing ideas with the likes of Richard Dawkins or Stephen Pinker. And his ideas in "Hitchhiker" helped inspire the techies of the IT revolution. Here, Nick Webb has created a portrait of a larger than life character who is still mourned by his millions of fans around the world.
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Webb writes in a an engaging style that takes one along at a good pace, exploring the wide universe of interests and influences that surrounded Adams. Webb, himself, has an Alpha mind ( doubtless necessary if you were a friend of Adams) and I very much hope he will find another subject, or topic, upon which to write as he is a serious talent. This is a "must read" even if you know nothing about Adams - and infinitely more rewarding than reading about punctuation, boobs, miscellaneous lists or whatever else is deemed to be a la mode.
Wish You Were Accurate might be a better title as the book is peppered with small but careless errors. People's names are misspelled, titles are misquoted, and Webb manages to get the name of Adams's private rock concerts wrong even though he was there himself. He claims a definition in The Deeper Meaning Of Liff refers to an event in 1985 - but that definition was first published in 1983! Webb's knowledge of Doctor Who seems minimal, and he has researched Adams's schooldays by simplying reading one book and flicking through a few old school magazines. The Hitchhiker's Guide computer game gets only a couple of passing references and the Illustrated Hitchhiker's Guide isn't mentioned at all.
Unlike most biographies, this doesn't start with Adams being born and end with him dying but instead it rambles all around the houses. And the footnotes! Almost every page has one or two lengthy footnotes, many of them serving no purpose but to show off the author's erudition. Without them the book would be half as long.
Although Wish You Were Here was published several months after M.J. Simpson's Hitchhiker - A Biography Of Douglas Adams, Webb doesn't appear to have read the other book and presents as true several well-known anecdotes which Simpson has already shown to be the products of Adams's imagination. The only place where Webb scores over Simpson is in a few pages near the start where he explores Adams's strained relationship with his father. But to get to that good stuff the reader has to plough through a tedious, irrelevant guide to the Adams family tree going back almost to the stone age.
If you want a lightweight, entertaining, well-written account of Adams's life as told by Adams himself, read the updated edition of Neil Gaiman's Don't Panic. If you want a detailed history and analysis of who Douglas Adams was, what he did and why he did it, packed with insightful comments from everyone who ever knew him, read Simpson's book. It's difficult to know who would want to read Nick Webb's book, which is hard work and ultimately deeply unsastisfying, which is a shame.