Book Review - An Astronaut's guide to life on Earth

Dan O’Neill 2014-02-10 3 min read

2013 was the year of Chris Hadfield. He began a mini renaissance in the interest in space flight all over the world but especially here in Ireland. In particular he made the work the astronauts do on the ISS accessible to us all in a way that maybe wasn’t before. His twitter account, filled with amazing pictures from his vantage point on the ISS, 230 miles above earth became a must read feed. So when word came that he was writing a book I knew I wanted to read it.

The book is not what I expected having read a number of other biographies of astronauts. In fact that may have made it better. The book is broken down into a series of almost “life lessons” - the guide to life on earth bit - with his interesting stories to back them up. It’s still in mostly chronological order so can be read as a normal autobiography but that would be missing the point I think.

For instance, chapter 9 - “Aim to Be a Zero”, is filled with advice for anyone who works on a team, not just for budding astronauts.

“No astronaut, no matter how brilliant or brave, is a solo act. Our expertise is the result of training provided by thousands of experts around the world … so we should behave in the same way whether we’re meeting a head of state or a seventh grade science class. Frankly this makes good sense even if you’re not an astronaut. You never really know who will have a say in where you wind up. It could be the CEO. But it might well be the receptionist.”

That’s just one small part of one chapter but its one of my favourites.

You can’t talk about the book though without talking about the huge interest it created, particularly here in Ireland. Irish people really took to Canadian Chris Hadfield in a way I’ve never seen before. Every book signing had a queue. His first, on a rainy Saturday morning in Eason’s on O’Connell Street had a queue all the way down the road - in the rain. Irish people don’t queue, and we don’t stand in the rain for something that isn’t special. A random man even gave free copies of the book to children in the queue. It was inspiring.

That’s the effect Chris Hadfield seems to have on everyone though. And I know this book review has kind of turned into an ode to Chris Hadfield but its hard to separate the two. He made the work that all astronauts do on the ISS accessible through the videos that he was able to put together. Even if it did give Jeremy Paxman (in a weirdly passive aggressive interview with British Astronaut Major Tim Peake) the opportunity to say:

“Well they just seem to be up there nowadays playing the guitar.”

Have to say Tim Peake conducted himself amazingly well in that situation.

Back to the book though, it is an amazingly good read. Easier to read than previous books of this kind and well put together. I found it hard to put down and I think anyone who reads it will have the same reaction.