Robert A. Heinlein: Volume 1 (1907-1949): Learning Curve
by William H. Patterson
Cover Artist: Donato
Review by Michael Walsh
Tor Books Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765319623
Date: 21 June 2011 List Price $16.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
How many Robert Heinleins are there?
There's the Robert Heinlein that wrote the pop culture favorite of the 60s: Stranger in the Strange Land. There's also the Robert Heinlein that wrote Starship Troopers. And then there is the third man: the Robert Heinlein of Bill Patterson*s incredibly detailed biography Learning Curve.
Whatever you think you know about Robert Heinlein ... forget about it.
He was born in 1907, in an America that was only four decades past the Civil War. Heinlein, a Naval Academy graduate, was married for a second time to a woman involved in Wicca and worked closely with him in his political life and his writing life. This, and the unknown until now first marriage, were what are called open. He was deeply, deeply involved in Upton Sinclair's EPIC campaign that got the Republican establishment in California to do everything it could to defeat EPIC.
And there's more. So much more.
While some might be concerned over the fact that this was authorized by Virginia Heinlein this is no whitewash, it is indeed a stunningly thorough coverage of man who had an incredibly full life up to the end of this volume in 1948. Patterson had access to closed archives, he chased after the letters that Heinlein sent to people, he chased after copies of the letters that had been sent to Heinlein.
For a man who valued his privacy, to the extent of destroying most of the non-business material with his divorce from Leslyn, the information in the book is incredibly detailed. There are one hundred pages of end notes, detailing pretty much everything in the book. And many of the notes make for fascinating reading in themselves.
Volume Two should be even more fascinating.
Bottom line: If you have any interest in the SF genre this is a book to own. It belongs on the shelf next to Julie Phillip's James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon, Fred Pohl's memoir The Way the Future Was, Chip Delany's memoir, and a handful of others. It's that important.