This probably doesn’t need to be a terribly long review, as if you’ve been around for a while you can probably easily guess what I think of Chris Hadfield. If not, be aware that I believe him to be among the awesomest of humans, so there was really no chance at all that I wasn’t going to enjoy the hell out of his book. You should read this. That’s the tl;dr version.
The slightly longer version: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is part self-help/motivation book, part autobiography, and part reference manual for all things NASA. Reading it should have depressed me a bit, as the main effect of the book was to convince me that nearly every detail in Skylights is wrong, even the ones I deliberately got wrong for story purposes, but oddly it didn’t. I live for focused astronomical nerdery, and while Hadfield never goes too crazy on the detail it’s very clear that the actual life of a working astronaut is roughly 10000 times as complicated as I thought it was and I have thought about it a lot more than most people have. The specifically science-focused part of the book certainly doesn’t overwhelm the rest of it– this is a less sciencey book than, say, The Martian was, even though The Martian was a novel and this is not, so you’d think it had more room to get into details. I talked about it a lot in class this week, and had a few of my girls ask me if they could read it. It’s probably a bit too high-level for even a bright fifth-grader, but I suspect an eighth-grader who enjoyed reading would be able to handle it easily.
And this book needs to be in the hands of young people, beyond a doubt. One of the things Cmdr. Hadfield hammers on repeatedly is how he needed to stay focused on his dream to become an astronaut from a very early age. Dreams are like that, sometimes; you can cheat yourself out of them before you even know it if you’re not focused and careful. (I remember thinking once as a very little kid that I was already behind in life, because Michael Jackson was famous at nine and I was ten and couldn’t even sing. I suspect what I actually did in that case was dodge a bullet, but you get the idea.) I don’t know that he wrote it with young people in mind, but I’d try hard to get this into the hands of math- and science-inclined high school students in particular.
Highly, highly recommended, guys. This one will end up on my top 10 list at the end of the year for sure, and I suspect it’ll be very close to the top.