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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

A book light years ahead

Posted: 03 Jan 2014 08:00 AM PST

BARING some extraordinary December surprise, this is the best professional and personal development book of 2013 – by light years.

It took me into hyperspace and back, and the best parts of the book had me literally cheering out loud, which did not much please the fitfully slumbering gentleman sitting next to me on a night-flight to Jakarta.

It's a tome of wisdom for working earthlings presented as a memoir, and it works magnificently on both levels.

If you're a YouTube junkie or space-news follower, you may have heard of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. And if you're a North American, you certainly will have.
He's the moustachioed dude whose video of his acoustic cover-version of David Bowie's Space Oddity, literally recorded in outer space, went viral in May 2013, receiving over 10 million hits in its first three days online. It was something of a gimmick – and a pretty rope rendition – but a well-conceived idea. It's fair to say too that he writes better than he plays the guitar.

The sub-title of this book is: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, And Being Prepared for Anything. And Hadfield makes it clear that he wants to impart these lessons to others.

Therefore, this is a very different kind of memoir. Rather than simply recounting his life-story in a linear manner, the recently retired skywalker discusses what he's learned from each stage of his life and how he's applied these lessons over the years to consolidate on success.

If you bought this book because you're a NASA enthusiast, you'll be somewhat disappointed. This is not space-nerd reading material. It's another kind of work altogether, with life lessons employed as a framework for its three satisfying sections: "Pre-launch", "Liftoff", and "Coming Down To Earth".

Even before he attained YouTube celebrity status, which came with his social media-friendly commandership of the International Space Station, Hadfield was already a national hero in his native Canada. He's even had an airport named after him (the one that serves his smallish hometown in Ontario Province).

Life, of course, hasn't always been easy for the multi-talented and personable Hadfield. And he describes the trials and tribulations of his space years – particularly the strained family life of an astronaut – with candour. But before we get there, we're treated to the inevitable inspirational TV-viewing of the 1969 moon landing, as seen by the awestruck boy Hadfield.

We read tales of his happy childhood with his large, loving, farm family, the challenging test-pilot years, and marriage and parenthood. And then the book really takes off – with his account of moving with determination through the ranks, and what he learnt from this process. Then the missions themselves, and pearls of wisdom connecting life in space with more mundane terrestrial living – the important points are the same in both places.

The single thing Hadfield can't stand is negativity, and he has much to say on the subject. True to his word, he doesn't have a harsh word for anyone he's worked with, and that would have included many uber-competitive and ruthless alpha males. Nice guys sometimes do win in the end.

Hadfield's evangelizing on positive thinking is convincing because one sees cause and effect throughout An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. Hadfield smiles at fate; fate smiles back rewardingly.

He also never forgot his manners. He explains how, from an early age, he sought out and thanked anyone that would part with information or knowledge to help him achieve his goal of becoming an astronaut.

Another lesson he imparts – again by example rather than telling – is the importance of getting one's hands dirty with jobs and tasks others might see as demeaning, but are important in securing the end goal.

Cynics and the world-weary will find his earnest tone painfully pious at times. But even the most jaded old sod – me – has to concede he makes an excellent case for his zero-tolerance of negativity.

There's nothing new under the sun when it comes to professional-development books, and duly the topics Hadfield engages in, tick all the usual boxes: the importance of goal-setting goals, training, of paying attention to the smallest details, of staying humble and ready to learn more, and of the importance of never being a drag on your team, crew, or organisation. Most are thrillingly illuminated through Hadfield's own out-of-this-world experiences.

At the core of An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth are the author's accounts of his three missions, which make for compulsive reading. And the universal truths that twinkle through these narratives like a constellation, give this book star quality.


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