Random House Canada, 2013
Reviewed by Heather Gregory
At first glance, the chapter headings of An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth might suggest a self-help book instead of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield’s autobiography. “Have an Attitude,” “The Power of Negative Thinking,” and “Sweat the Small Stuff,” are just a few that sum up Hadfield’s personal philosophies. The book chronicles Hadfield’s life and accomplishments from watching the moon landing as a boy to being commander of the International Space Station.
Hadfield is a typical overachiever. He takes pleasure in being prepared for every eventuality, and suggests anyone with goals do the same. His attitude toward his career is simple; work hard, worry over the details, and never give up. Such perseverance enabled him to live his dreams.
But it becomes clear in reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, that Hadfield is an astronaut first, and a writer second. While the book does roughly trace Hadfield’s life chronologically, his account would have been much more climactic without references to his time at the International Space Station in earlier chapters. For example, in Chapter 3 (The Power of Negative Thinking), Hadfield describes staying calm during a false-alarm fire scare during his time on the International Space Station. While the account illustrates his point that one should always be prepared for the worst, Hadfield has not yet brought his reader through time and into space. At this point in the book, the reader is still learning about his time in training, and an example from this time would have been more fitting.
He also spends a great deal of them (Pre-Launch, Liftoff, and Coming Down to Earth) imparting advice. However, instead of revealing them in context and with subtlety, Hadfield allows them to spill out on the page, in a stream of consciousness. While this haphazard relaying of information might work for some writers, it doesn’t suit Hadfield’s matter-of-fact style.
Fans of Hadfield’s popular YouTube videos will find that his endearing personality there does not translate onto the page. A large part of Hadfield’s popularity online was due to his earnest sharing of life’s daily activities in the zero gravity space station. Although Hadfield does touch on drinking recycled urine, the dangers of nail clipping, and sweat globule etiquette in space, it is secondary to his philosophizing. Those looking for more of Hadfield’s anecdotal accounts of an astronaut’s daily routine will be disappointed. However, a self-help reader may find this a truly useful guide to getting the most out of the life they have, or achieving the life they want.
Those looking for facts about space and space travel won’t find that here either. In the interest of Hadfield’s younger fans and readers, many technical explanations are oversimplified. Readers hoping to learn more about technology put to use on the space station, or the experiments that take place there, will be left hanging.
While Hadfield’s existing fans may be delighted, readers meeting the famous Canadian for the first time will be disappointed. There is nothing particularly shocking or refreshing in learning that hard work will take you where you want to go.
Unlike the man himself, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life On Earth is simply uninspiring.