on August 22, 2013
What a magnificent biography! Nothing turgid here. Martin Mobberley has written a "warts and all" life of one of our greatest citizens, one who graced our screens and whose works lined our library shelves for over half a century. It was always going to be difficult to balance the private life of an individual with that persona known to millions. However, as Martin accurately informs us in his biography, Patrick's life was an open book. He was the most generous of human beings, whilst never concealing his beliefs and attitudes. Be prepared for some revelations,some of which may not be flavour of the moment, but at the end of this read, Patrick is still the Patrick we loved over the years. Accurate and thoughtful revelations do not damage a reputation built on such a secure footing. Just take in what Patrick did for charities over the years. The author mentions them throughout the book. Also, Patrick's outstanding generosity, even to complete strangers, rises to the surface so often during the story of his life.
Martins's wonderful book is the result of over a decade of careful research, during which time he managed to interview many of those whose lives were touched in some way by Patrick. I know, I was one of them. Patrick for me was a hero of the first magnitude. His generosity was legendary and his influence far greater than he could ever have known. Martin's reports are always humorous, when appropriate, and as far as I can tell, they ring true with the Patrick known to so many.
The book is nicely produced, but why there is not a hardback option I cannot fathom. It contains some good photographs, covering the decades of Patrick's life very well. The front cover illustration is also well chosen. It captures Patrick's presence so perfectly.
The author's writing style is very relaxed and clearly, always that of a dedicated fan, who only wants to place before his readers the most accurate account of a life lived to the full, one which we all loved to read about at the time, but one that has now been set out in such a masterly fashion. Martin has filled in many of the gaps for so many of us who encountered Patrick over the years. We could not possibly have known so much about the man, but the author has managed to produce a engrossing account of the life of our greatest astronomical communicator, in chronological order from birth to his last days.
The author gives due attention to the influence of the British Astronomical Association on Patrick over the years, and his relationship with that respected organisation. We all know that "The Sky at Night" was a driving force in Patrick's life, but Martin carefully assures us that many of Patrick's BAA friends were key players, as guests, on that long-running (and still running) programme. It was a pleasure to read about the many astronomers who graced our screens over the years, jogging memories buried by years of constant advances in the fields of astronomy and space exploration.
Particularly valuable are Martin's lists of Patrick's favourite expressions, and the Appendix listings, notably that of Patrick's publications.
For any who have Patrick's books on their shelves, this is the time to dust them off (yes,some of them date from the 1950's) and enjoy that style of writing that launched so many of us into the void and prepared us for the Apollo era in particular. Martin's accurate account of Patrick's writings over the years is part of the chronological sequence in this book. As a result of the author's account, I ordered a tiny volume of Patrick's not on my shelves. There will be more added over coming months and years.
Be prepared to place on hold anything else you have planned for the near future, as you will not want to put this book down. You many wish to ration yourself to so many pages per day as, at over 650 pages, with index, you should be prepared for a good, long soak in the incredible life of Sir Patrick. I would not suggest rushing it. It took me ten days and I was not looking forward to finishing it. Given a suitable break from the immersion, I will read it again. It is nice to encounter a book that places other "pressing" duties on hold!
After reading this book, I would like to suggest the following as appropriate follow-up publishing ideas; a) a fully illustrated scrapbook format publication, featuring many of the tens of thousands of photographs in collections across the world featuring Patrick, fully annotated of course and b) a portfolio selection of Patrick's many observational drawings and notes across the decades, so that from wherever Patrick is now in this vast universe of ours, he could still exert an influence on generations to come. For the moment, however, inspiration can be yours if your read the book under review. I am sure that many will have their memories jogged by this biography and one would wish for a follow-up volume under the general heading "Patrick Remembered". Martin should write it! As it stands at the moment, this is a biography worthy of praise and comes highly recommended.