The Heinlein Biography

Great minds think alike.  A quick note further to Brother Ilya’s post below on Robert Heinlein’s encounter with political ignorance in his failed campaign for California state legislature back in the 1930s, before he took up science fiction writing.  I have been reading the Heinlein biography slowly, a couple of pages on my Kindle a night – my only truly pleasure reading at the moment.  I’m only partway through, up to the beginning of WWII and Heinlein’s frustrated desires to get involved.  More to say when I’m finished, of course – but one thing is pretty clear to me now.  I initially thought that the pitch for the book – a 20th century life, “in dialogue with his century” – was just so much ad copy. 

But as I’ve been reading the book, I’m rapidly revising my opinion.  Robert Heinlein’s life does manage to recapitulate an awful lot of what 20th century America was about.   From his poor-yet-upwardly-mobile beginnings, entering the Naval Academy (a shrewd and deliberate career move for an ambitious midwestern  boy without many material resources), to his Jazz Age coming of age and embrace of that period’s “progressive” views on marriage and family (while simultaneously embracing a thoroughly military academy frame of discipline and education), to his early radicalism and left-wing politics, including the Social Credit movement and other “curiousities” of that day (and which informed his early  fiction much more than I had realized) … I’ll say more about all this when I’ve finished the book, of course. 

 But I think the description apt enough that I would like to review it for an audience not necessarily interested in or familiar with his science fiction, because I am persuaded that his life does say something about the path of the 20th century, its ideas, idealisms, and ideologies.  And I thought that persuasive enough to have bought the book for Christmas for my 76 year old uncle in law, who has not the faintest interest in sci-fi, but who will recognize, I think, important strands of his own life in it.