Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

The Cover of An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

The Cover of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

I was actually given this book as a present by Harrison Ruess (who is the other half in Beyond the Sun); it was an extra special surprise because not only was it signed by the Colonel Chris Hadfield himself, but was also signed by Dave Hadfield the brother of Chris Hadfield. Harrison had spent a weekend with Dave Hadfield learning to fly old war planes in Ottawa, and so took the opportunity to get the book signed. Quite a great gift I must say.
I’m glad I received it as a gift, because I had been wanting to take a look at it. Clearly, Hadfield has become a Canadian icon (in more ways than one), and it felt pertinent to stay on top of the content he has been developing. However, I went into it with trepidation, almost to the point of aversion. It felt like the book was ‘riding the wave’ of his astronaut fame, and I feared it would be nothing more than a piece of superficial pop-culture writing. Turns out I don’t know Hadfield very well; when he does something, he doesn’t do it superficially.
The book is entitled An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, and walks a line somewhere between motivational and memoir. He describes his life, starting from when he was 9 years old walking outside near his cottage on the night of July 20, 1969 after Neil Armstrong had just set foot on the Moon; the moment Hadfield decided to be an astronaut. Using his road to becoming an astronaut (beginning on that night) as a tool, Hadfield describes the lessons he learned along the way, and, in encouraging spirit, describes how you can use his lessons to achieve your own goals. I was honestly motivated while reading. He makes some simple but strong connections between how he got to where he was, and how we can learn from it. I very much enjoyed that part of the book.
Somewhere about half way through the book, Hadfield begins describing is last trip into space, expedition 34/35; during the latter he was Commander of the International Space Station. This is where we as an interested public became much more aware of Hadfield; he was championed by the Canadian Space Agency, and he took to twitter like no astronaut had before. While I very much enjoyed this part of the book, it seemed to have switched gears a bit. Here Hadfield focused much more on describing in detail his preparedness and life aboard the ISS. It became a memoir more than anything. The lessons dried up a bit. Probably because it was the lessons that led him to those moments, and it was no longer time for lessons, it was time for living.
As a result, I feel it is two kinds of books in one: a memoir and a motivational guide. Both of which I appreciate.
My favourite part of the book was when Hadfield described his two space walks to install the CanadArm2 on the International Space Station back in 2001. His writing here was full of poetic wonder. Clearly, the experience had changed him, and it was palpable in his words. I enjoyed it very much.
A great read. If you’re interested in learning about the story of Chris Hadfield, definitely worth it.

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