on 21 November 2013
This is a book about ambition. But not the sort of ambition we usually hear or read about - the climb over everyone else ambition of politics and is found in many organisations or the 'I want it so much' ambition of X factor. It is about the 'I've got to work hard' ambition.
Chris Hadfield wanted to go into space. But he knew things might not work out and he was not going to define his success in life by whether he got there. As he said (not an exact quote) he wasn't going to define his life by something that may happen once in 10 years, but by doing 10 good things every day. He valued working with people and not over them. He was happy to do seemingly menial tasks if it helped the greater goal of the team. He would be pleased for other people's success. And all the time he would go the extra mile to achieve success for himself (that's hours of hard work) - to be the best at whatever he did. He would work hard. Very hard. And when he got there he would give back.
But if you think this may be an 'Aren't I wonderful?' type book you'd be wrong. Although the book is about him, it certainly isn't an ego trip.
The title is not merely a lure into rocket anecdotes or a nod to Douglas Adams, though it's surely both of those. Hadfield does provide some solid life lessons, based not on a guru's revelations or the latest semi-scientific fad, but on decades of hard work and experience. For a book centred on space, it's surprisingly down to Earth.
Hadfield tells us about his life, from childhood through college, and his years as a fighter- and test-pilot. After that come his years with NASA. This period includes three trips into space, but Hadfield is at pains to show how small a portion of time that is, and how extensive the training and preparation. From an early age he directed his life towards being an astronaut, whilst ensuring that he enjoyed everything he did even if the long shot never came: well aware of the role of luck, he nonetheless did everything he could to weight the dice his way.
His message might be encapsulated in the notion that a strong work ethic and constant learning are their own reward. Chapter titles such as "Sweat The Small Stuff", "What's The Next Thing That Could Kill Me?" and "Aim To Be A Zero" emphasise his insistence on taming one's ego and getting the job done, whether in a Space Shuttle or the family swimming pool.
But this is not a dry and didactic book: the space anecdotes are there a-plenty, from how to deal with something in your eye on a spacewalk, to what to do when there's a snake in the cockpit. Hadfield's suggestions arise naturally from his experience and are suffused with goodwill and good humour. I came away more impressed than ever with what it means to be an astronaut, and able to see how a little of that in everyone's life would do us all good.
The book includes a few pages of photos, acknowledgements, a good index, and a splendid opening sentence:
"The windows of a spaceship casually frame miracles."
on 4 November 2013
I like reading books on space flight and after hearing a short piece read on Radio 4's Book of the Week I had to give it a go. I ordered it as soon as I got home from work and it arrived the following morning.
Well, two days later I've finished it because I couldn't put the thing down. Being an earthling with a fascination for rockets and the space staion with no chance whatsoever of going there myself I really liked the small details in this book. The small details add up to give you the bigger picture and now I even know what the ISS smells like!
As well as being a great book if you like space travel there are also some good lessons regarding life. Certain parts reminded me slightly of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance, although Zen is obviously far more detailed in philosophy and this far more detailed in space flight. But the Zen notion of being at your best when your stuck and looking at set backs in a positive way seems to be behind the thinking here as well. Lots of small sucesses in life are far better than one big one.
If you are into space books with some philosophy mixed in you will like this book. Go buy it now and smell the space station.
on 17 February 2014
I had heard Chris Hadfield in a number of interviews, in which he speaks very engagingly about space exploration and life on the ISS. But the book does not always match the high quality of his public appearances.
The book basically has two modes. It's at its best when talking about Chris Hadfields' personal experiences of going to space, the sheer awe produced by seeing Earth from space, the quirky aspects of the Russian space program, or the unexpected details of daily life in zero gravity.
It's at its worst Chris tries to draw conclusions and life advice from his experiences, as it really turns into a tiresome and contrived boyscout manual here. I got tired of reading about Always Being Prepared, and Giving It Your Best, and Always Looking Out For Your Teammates.
I still enjoyed the book overall, but often wished it was more of a straight telling of Chris' experiences as an astronaut. The book's concept feels somewhat forced.
on 4 December 2013
Really enjoyed this book, wasn't quite what I expected.. but in a good way, to be an Astronaut is a childhood dream of many people but few realise the journey required to get there, Chris Hadfield did pretty much everything with his end goal in mind.. but was determined to enjoy life along the way, (aim for the stars, hit the moon springs to mind) he went from pilot to test pilot to Astronaut but like most successes in life it wasn't a smooth journey. What is surprising is Chris's humble outlook on life, he comes across a very focussed but balanced and humble person looking to add value to everything he is involved in.
on 28 November 2013
If you, like me, are not one of the 536 people (November 2013) who have been into space but dreamed of being an astronaut (Poor eyesight blew it for me, at least that's what I tell myself) or wondered what it would be like to be an astronaut then this is about as close as you are going to get. Chris Hadfield gives an absorbing and detailed account of the process of becoming an astronaut and the practicalities of being in space. He tells us how he dealt with all the formidable challenges to prove himself capable of joining the elite group of men and women who are capable of moving a few billion dollars (roubles) worth of highly complex technical equipment in to orbit around our planet with just a few hundred tons of highly explosive fuel to get them there. He tells us of all the detailed preparations that each member of a vast team must make in order for each mission to be a success and he tells us of the almost unimaginable level of multi-skill each astronaut must demonstrate before they even have the possibility of space flight and how, after years of training, most candidates will never be chosen for an actual mission.
And this is the other side of the book, the reason it is called an astronauts guide to life on Earth. To try and be an astronaut is to seek to perform a task to perfection even though it is most likely that task will never be performed by you. It is the process of learning that matters. Do everything you do as well as you can because it matters. He constantly reminds us of the phrase 'sweat the small stuff' - make sure you have every last detail covered. In our everyday lives it makes a difference to whether or not something works out as well as it should, in space it could be the difference between coming home alive or ending lives in an inferno.
Chris Hadfield loves his life, check him out on YouTube if you are unsure, and I found his book to be fascinating, informative and thought provoking. Why 4 stars and not 5 ? Because it started to feel a bit like an episode of Horizon with a little too much repetition and a fair bit of 'I'm going to tell you something really interesting later on'. He does tell us a great deal but, like Horizon programmes, it could all have been said in less time.
on 29 October 2013
I have so many good things to say about this book I don't think they'll all fit into one review (for my full review, including my four-year-old's reaction to it, please visit my blog, Cozy Little Book Journal). Here's some of what I thought about the book:
Chris Hadfield knew he wanted to be an astronaut when he was nine years old. In fact, he remembers the exact moment he knew. It was late in the evening on July 20, 1969. That's when his entire family, spending the summer in Stag Island, Ontario, "traipsed across the clearing" to their neighbour's cottage so they could crowd themselves in front of the television and watch the moon landing. "Somehow," he writes, "we felt as if we were up there with Neil Armstrong, changing the world."
Hadfield writes about this early experience--and many, many of the other experiences that have led him to become the world's most recognized astronaut since Armstrong himself--in his new book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth.
I would have read this book a lot faster if I hadn't kept stopping every few pages to run out to tell my family what I'd just read. Magda didn't mind. She asked me to read aloud to her from the book every chance I got. At 4, I'd venture to say she knows more about space than most Canadians ten times her age, and we have Colonel Chris Hadfield to thank for that.
His videos from space captured her imagination and mine. Thanks to him, Magda has spent the better part of the year learning everything she can about space exploration and astronauts, and has even composed several songs dedicated to female astronauts she admires ("Julie Payette Rocket" and "You are the Moon, I am the Sun [for Suni Williams]"). I feel like he's introduced us to space exploration in a way no one had before, and that he's introduced us to astronauts as real people. Of course, the internet has helped immensely with that, as has Hadfield's social media genius of a son, Evan. But thanks to them, our whole family knows names like Tom Marshburn, Roman Romanenko, Karen Nyberg, Kevin Ford and Luca Parmitano. Thanks to him, both my daughter and I have new heroes from all over the world.
And that's a gift that Chris Hadfield has given to so many of us; he's renewed our sense of wonder. He's inspired us to look at space again in a way most of us hadn't in a long time. He's inspired us to be passionately curious and unabashedly compassionate. He's shown us--through his eyes--what exactly it looks like to all be connected in this world (and off it). He's reminded us what it looks like to be passionate, competent and sincere, without irony or cynicism.
An Astronaut's Guide to Life really is a guide to life. Actually, it makes a pretty good guide to parenting too. Colonel Hadfield offers an insider's look into the life of an astronaut and the steps it takes to become one. It's deeply satisfying for those curious about the past, present and future of the space program, but it's also full of truly excellent advice for those with ambition in any field.
He writes: "I never thought, 'If I don't make it as an astronaut, I'm a failure.' The script would have changed a lot if, instead, I'd moved up in the military or become a university professor or a commercial test pilot, but the result wouldn't have been a horror movie."
I love that. I love the attitude that you don't have to "wait for your life to begin," as so many of us do (I know I have). You can start becoming the person you want to be right away, with the choices you make and the steps you take. And, most importantly, do the things that will make you happy along the way, whether or not you reach your end goal. And in fact the "end goal" may change many times but at least you'll be doing things you love.
Most of the book is filled with fascinating stories about the life of an astronaut, including many that I had never heard before. He relates stories of things that have gone wrong in space, most of which are corrected and managed by the quick thinking of astronauts, cosmonauts and mission control. He talks about the sadness he and his wife felt upon hearing that his good friend Rick Husband had been killed aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia. He explains the detailed "death plans" that all astronauts make before they go into space, deciding in detail exactly what would happen if they were killed in space (right down to who exactly would tell their family and who would accompany their spouse to the funeral). It's an inside look into an experience only around 500 people in history have ever had: preparing for and achieving space travel.
I could say so much more about this book but I'm afraid it would just turn into me giving another page-by-page account of everything in it, much like I did with Magda and Mike all week. What I can say is that I was even more inspired by the book than I already was by Colonel Hadfield himself, which is pretty darn inspired.