My review of...
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
click to buy on Amazon
Colonel Chris Hadfield is the sort of guy who makes you proud of the human race, and slightly ashamed of yourself as an individual. As he recounts in this memoir, at age nine he independently chose to eat his vegetables because he realized he wanted to become an astronaut, and he figured that’s what an astronaut would do. From that point forward, year after year without pause, it seems not an hour passed that wasn’t spent in pursuit of that goal. What a Boy Scout… turned cadet turned fighter pilot, test pilot, and ultimately one of five founding astronauts in the Canadian Space Agency. Along the way he also managed to father a picturesque family, not to mention grow a killer mustache. Good for him! Good for humanity! Excuse me while I eat a package of Oreos and binge-watch some Netflix.
Part of what’s remarkable about Hadfield’s story is how humble he remains throughout. He acknowledges that he wasn’t naturally the best in each class, nor did he need to prove that he was. Instead he focused on developing his technical skills with endless practice and an eagerness to learn from whoever was around in whatever situation. In the words of Randall Munroe, “You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.” That captures the practical attitude that fueled Hadfield’s impressive career.
As the title implies, the anecdotes in this memoir frame morsels of advice for the rest of us Earth-bound mortals. It consequently reads like a self-help book at times, outlining career advice. If anyone’s qualified to give career advice, it’s a man whose nonstop dedication earned him titles like “NASA’s Director of Operations in Star City” or “Chief of International Space Station Operations”—and those are just positions he held on Earth. Things get even more interesting once he launches into orbit. But that’s the point I would make to Hadfield if I were his editor: what makes this book worth the read isn’t so much the (valid and valuable) advice but the descriptions of getting to, from, and around space.
If you’re interested in hearing how driven and disciplined an individual can be for decades on end, by all means, read away. There’s no shortage of accomplishments and insights in the pages of this book. If, on the other hand, you mostly just want to know how it feels to brush your teeth in microgravity or crash-land your Soyuz in the Kazakh desert, you can always click over from Netflix to Hadfield’s YouTube channel and be entertained without the advice. Enjoy your Oreos.