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“[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” — Publishers Weekly "Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era. . . . A remarkable work of literary history." — Robert Silverberg "Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century. . . . Here it is. This is the most important histo “[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” — Publishers Weekly "Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era. . . . A remarkable work of literary history." — Robert Silverberg "Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century. . . . Here it is. This is the most important historical and critical work my field has ever seen. Alec Nevala-Lee’s superb scholarship and insight have made the seemingly impossible a radiant and irreplaceable gift."—Barry N. Malzberg, author of Beyond Apollo Astounding is the landmark account of the extraordinary partnership between four controversial writers—John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard—who set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world.  This remarkable cultural narrative centers on the figure of John W. Campbell, Jr., whom Asimov called “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” Campbell, who has never been the subject of a biography until now, was both a visionary author—he wrote the story that was later filmed as The Thing—and the editor of the groundbreaking magazine best known as Astounding Science Fiction, in which he discovered countless legendary writers and published classic works ranging from the I, Robot series to Dune. Over a period of more than thirty years, from the rise of the pulps to the debut of Star Trek, he dominated the genre, and his three closest collaborators reached unimaginable heights. Asimov became the most prolific author in American history; Heinlein emerged as the leading science fiction writer of his generation with the novels Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land; and Hubbard achieved lasting fame—and infamy—as the founder of the Church of Scientology.  Drawing on unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews, Alec Nevala-Lee offers a riveting portrait of this circle of authors, their work, and their tumultuous private lives. With unprecedented scope, drama, and detail, Astounding describes how fan culture was born in the depths of the Great Depression; follows these four friends and rivals through World War II and the dawn of the atomic era; and honors such exceptional women as Doña Campbell and Leslyn Heinlein, whose pivotal roles in the history of the genre have gone largely unacknowledged. For the first time, it reveals the startling extent of Campbell’s influence on the ideas that evolved into Scientology, which prompted Asimov to observe: “I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs.” It looks unsparingly at the tragic final act that estranged the others from Campbell, bringing the golden age of science fiction to a close, and it illuminates how their complicated legacy continues to shape the imaginations of millions and our vision of the future itself.


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“[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” — Publishers Weekly "Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era. . . . A remarkable work of literary history." — Robert Silverberg "Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century. . . . Here it is. This is the most important histo “[Astounding] is a major work of popular culture scholarship that science fiction fans will devour.” — Publishers Weekly "Alec Nevala-Lee has brilliantly recreated the era. . . . A remarkable work of literary history." — Robert Silverberg "Science fiction has been awaiting this history/biography for more than half a century. . . . Here it is. This is the most important historical and critical work my field has ever seen. Alec Nevala-Lee’s superb scholarship and insight have made the seemingly impossible a radiant and irreplaceable gift."—Barry N. Malzberg, author of Beyond Apollo Astounding is the landmark account of the extraordinary partnership between four controversial writers—John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard—who set off a revolution in science fiction and forever changed our world.  This remarkable cultural narrative centers on the figure of John W. Campbell, Jr., whom Asimov called “the most powerful force in science fiction ever.” Campbell, who has never been the subject of a biography until now, was both a visionary author—he wrote the story that was later filmed as The Thing—and the editor of the groundbreaking magazine best known as Astounding Science Fiction, in which he discovered countless legendary writers and published classic works ranging from the I, Robot series to Dune. Over a period of more than thirty years, from the rise of the pulps to the debut of Star Trek, he dominated the genre, and his three closest collaborators reached unimaginable heights. Asimov became the most prolific author in American history; Heinlein emerged as the leading science fiction writer of his generation with the novels Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land; and Hubbard achieved lasting fame—and infamy—as the founder of the Church of Scientology.  Drawing on unexplored archives, thousands of unpublished letters, and dozens of interviews, Alec Nevala-Lee offers a riveting portrait of this circle of authors, their work, and their tumultuous private lives. With unprecedented scope, drama, and detail, Astounding describes how fan culture was born in the depths of the Great Depression; follows these four friends and rivals through World War II and the dawn of the atomic era; and honors such exceptional women as Doña Campbell and Leslyn Heinlein, whose pivotal roles in the history of the genre have gone largely unacknowledged. For the first time, it reveals the startling extent of Campbell’s influence on the ideas that evolved into Scientology, which prompted Asimov to observe: “I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs.” It looks unsparingly at the tragic final act that estranged the others from Campbell, bringing the golden age of science fiction to a close, and it illuminates how their complicated legacy continues to shape the imaginations of millions and our vision of the future itself.

30 review for Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. "In 1963, Asimov argued that science fiction appealed to an existing type of curious reader, but today, it seems more likely to subtly alter the way in which we all think and feel." In "Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction" by Alec Nevala-Lee "'How long has this racket been going on? And why didn't anybody tell me about it sooner'" Heinlein to Campbell after If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. "In 1963, Asimov argued that science fiction appealed to an existing type of curious reader, but today, it seems more likely to subtly alter the way in which we all think and feel." In "Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction" by Alec Nevala-Lee "'How long has this racket been going on? And why didn't anybody tell me about it sooner'" Heinlein to Campbell after selling "Life-Line" in 1939, In "Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction" by Alec Nevala-Lee "'There are about five consistent, adult science fiction writers in the business: de Camp, Heinlein, Hubbard, van Vogt, and, if he'll only work at it a little, del Rey.'" In a letter from Campbell to Heinlein, In "Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction" by Alec Nevala-Lee I started reading science fiction in the '80s. I never enjoyed the Hubbard stories I read in anthologies. Then I found out about Dianetics. His self-created biography including multiple resurrections was more fantastic than any of his fiction. :-) Campbell, as many have observed, took science fiction to “another level”. I'm a little surprised Andre Norton was omitted in this write-up.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gerhard

    First of all, I cannot believe that I devoured this 500+ page book in a single weekend. Once I started, I found myself glued to the page. It is testament to Alec Nevala-Lee’s skill as a writer that it reads like a runaway thriller. I suspect, however, I am an ideal reader, having grown up with Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein et al (the first ‘SF’ book I ever read was The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany, which is probably why genre boundaries have always appeared mutable to me.) If the name ‘Astou First of all, I cannot believe that I devoured this 500+ page book in a single weekend. Once I started, I found myself glued to the page. It is testament to Alec Nevala-Lee’s skill as a writer that it reads like a runaway thriller. I suspect, however, I am an ideal reader, having grown up with Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein et al (the first ‘SF’ book I ever read was The Jewels of Aptor by Samuel R. Delany, which is probably why genre boundaries have always appeared mutable to me.) If the name ‘Astounding’ does not resonate with you, I honestly think your only interest in this book will be purely academic. John Scalzi’s ‘Whatever’ blog entry of 7 August, ‘Oh, Christ, Not the Science Fiction Canon Again’, proposes there is no need to venerate writers like the trinity under Nevala-Lee’s microscope as they are obsolete and irrelevant: There are at least two generations of adults now, and two generations of genre writers, who didn’t grow up on it and fundamentally don’t care about it. Long gone are the days where a kid’s first introduction to the genre was a Heinlein or Asimov novel, smuggled out of the adult fiction section of the library or bookstore like samizdat. The Kids These Days got their start reading genre through the YA section and grew up on Rowling and Collins and Westerfeld and Black and Pierce and Snicket, and got their science fiction through film and TV and video games and animation and comics as much as if not more than from books. It just so happened that while I was reading this, the 2020 Hugo Awards ceremony was held virtually at ConZealand. While it was a technological miracle when factoring in all of the time zones involved from the UK to Europe, host George R.R. Martin made sure that the event remained stuck firmly in the past. The bone of contention was that he waxed lyrical about Lovecraft and Campbell, who were both awarded Retro Hugos. This was seen as a particular slap in the face to all of the attendees and indeed winners. In one of those weirdly serendipitous moments, Jeanette Ng won a Hugo in the Best Related Work category for her ‘2019 John W. Campbell Award Acceptance Speech’: John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists. Ng adds: Yes, I am aware there are exceptions. According to Nevala-Lee’s Wikipedia page, Analog editor Trevor Quachri partially credited the critical picture of Campbell in this very book with the decision to rename the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer as the Astounding Award in August 2019. The book has since been cited extensively for Asimov’s treatment of women, among (many) other revelations. Zen Cho writes on Boing Boing: There are shitty dudes out there today whose path to shitty dudehood got started when they watched Isaac Asimov grope women without their consent and figured that the chuckling approval of all their peers meant that whatever doubts they might have had were probably misplaced. Those dudes don’t get a pass because they learned from a bad example set by their community and its leaders – but they might have been diverted from their path to shitty dudehood if they’d had better examples. If you think this is an academic argument only, a story broke on Twitter in June about allegations of sexual misconduct at conventions levelled against SF writers Myke Cole, Max Temkin, Sam Sykes and Warren Ellis. A direct repercussion of this was Vault Comics’ cancellation of a series by Cole. I suppose the big elephant in the room is whether or not all of this can be laid directly at the door of Asimov et al. Scalzi again: There are still people in our community who knew Campbell personally, and many many others one step removed, who idolise and respect the writers Campbell took under his wing. And there are people — and once again I raise my hand — who are in the field because the way Campbell shaped it as a place where they could thrive. Many if not most of these folks know about his flaws, but even so it’s hard to see someone with no allegiance to him, either personally or professionally, point them out both forcefully and unapologetically. They see Campbell and his legacy abstractly, and also as an obstacle to be overcome. That’s deeply uncomfortable. In his Acknowledgements, Nevala-Lee quotes Algis Budrys: “It’s becoming increasingly obvious that we need a long objective look at John W. Campbell, Jr. But we’re not likely to get one …” This is exactly what Scalzi refers to in the above quote, in that in many ways the community is still too ‘close’ to Campbell (Ng echoes this sentiment as well.) Nevala-Lee attempts to position himself as an “ideally situated observer”, so he can deliver a devastating warts-and-all portrait of Campbell as objectively as possible. Yes, it is horrifying to read, but far more than outrage, my overwhelming feeling was sadness. It is indeed tragic how Campbell’s concept of the ‘perfect man’ (sic) – the eponymous hero of SF empowered by science and optimism who strode through the pages of every writer from Clarke to Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith and many others – could ultimately morph into something so twisted and narrow-minded. And here Nevala-Lee makes no bones about the fact that Campbell, due to his position and influence, could have had a lasting influence on shaping the future of the genre and its community … if only he could have broken the shackles of his own prejudices. Neither Heinlein, Hubbard nor Asimov are spared. One soon realises this is a pretty horrible bunch of people to begin with, despite the fact that they were particular products of their age and culture. Nevala-Lee also states: “My greatest hope is that this book will inspire a larger conversation about the history of science fiction.” And this brings me back to Scalzi’s comments about the importance, or lack thereof, of the SF canon. I feel privileged in being of that generation who not only read (and revered) the writers that Nevala-Lee dissects, but to have seen the genre transform to include major new talent like Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Yoon Ha Lee and Kameron Hurley, among many many others. (I don’t count Le Guin and Butler here as they are part of the [old] New Wave.) Yes, of course it has taken way too long for women – or anybody else who is in any way ‘different’, for that matter – to receive the recognition they are due. And the right-wing, anti-diversity Sad Puppies campaign at the 2013 Hugos, not to mention the appalling treatment of Kelly Marie Tran by Star Wars ‘manbabies’ when The Last Jedi was released in 2017, show that many of these problems, unfortunately, seem to be endemic to the community (though not the genre itself, I would argue). I first read about GRRM’s torpedoing of the 2020 Hugo Awards when Tade Thompson announced on Twitter that he was quitting SF in disgust. The author of Rosewater, winner of the 2019 Clarke Award for Best SF Novel, went on to explain that his SF fandom was his most ‘problematic’. Of course, all of this has to be seen against the backdrop of the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements, not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic and an increasingly fractured world. And I don’t think it really helps matters either when BuzzFeed publishes cringeworthy articles like ‘20 Books To Read If You Want To Get Into Black Sci-Fi And Fantasy’ (11 June). So what is one to do? Well, I think a start would to be place Nevala-Lee’s book on the English curriculum of every single institution on the planet where literature is taught, so as to remind us of where we were, how incremental our progress has been, and how much further we still have to go. It is sobering but necessary, and is probably the only way that the community can exorcise its own demons: … the most reactionary movements in modern fandom – with their deep distrust of women and minorities – have openly stated, “We have called for a Campbellian revolution in science fiction.” And yet Nevala-Lee argues, right from the outset, that Campbell “deserves to be seen as one of the key cultural figures of the twentieth century …” This is a fundamental dichotomy that the genre has to come to terms with eventually, because “the sword of Achilles cuts both ways.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Charlie Jane Anders

    I learned so much about the Golden Age of science fiction from reading this book, including all the weird dramas and politics and feuds and fads and obsessions. It's really eye-opening to see how much of the toxicity and asshole behavior in fandom and writer communities was part of science fiction from the very beginning—and it's also bracing to see all the optimism and the belief that science fiction could change the world for the better. This book is also a corking good read though, a great st I learned so much about the Golden Age of science fiction from reading this book, including all the weird dramas and politics and feuds and fads and obsessions. It's really eye-opening to see how much of the toxicity and asshole behavior in fandom and writer communities was part of science fiction from the very beginning—and it's also bracing to see all the optimism and the belief that science fiction could change the world for the better. This book is also a corking good read though, a great story about larger-than-life characters who cooked up the weirdest stories they could think of and experimented with sex, drugs, strange psychological techniques and all kinds of weird science. It has the arc of a great literary thriller, with these four men forming tight bonds and creating a whole scene, and then falling apart. Perhaps most fascinating is the way this book showcases the forgotten women behind these men, who did most of the work and were in many ways the real brains behind the Golden Age of science fiction.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    Just like it says on the spine: it was "Astounding". At first I wondered why he didn't just do a bio on Campbell, but gradually I came to see that these four lives, and their work, were deeply connected. Still, it was a bit confusing to me in spots when I had to shift my point of view from one of them to the others. This is "warts and all" biography, with an emphasis on the warts. All of these guys were flawed. Hubbard was the worst, of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if Nevala-Lee gets sued o Just like it says on the spine: it was "Astounding". At first I wondered why he didn't just do a bio on Campbell, but gradually I came to see that these four lives, and their work, were deeply connected. Still, it was a bit confusing to me in spots when I had to shift my point of view from one of them to the others. This is "warts and all" biography, with an emphasis on the warts. All of these guys were flawed. Hubbard was the worst, of course, and I wouldn't be surprised if Nevala-Lee gets sued or harassed by his followers. I was surprised, and saddened, to see how much Campbell was also involved in creating and spreading Dianetics, as well as other pseudo-scientific nonsense. Heinlein and Asimov were imperfect, but come out looking pretty good in comparison to those two. There are many interesting anecdotes. Here are a few of my favorites. Asimov had a nasty habit of groping and pinching women. When Asimov groped Judith Merrill, she groped back, grabbing his cock. [Good for her!] Alfred Bester submitted a story to "Astounding". Campbell called him in to talk, and proceeded to attempt a Dianetics "auditing" session on him in the busy office cafeteria. Bester decided he was nuts. Once, Asimov went to the home of H.L. Gold, editor of rival magazine "Galaxy". Gold left the room after a short while, then the phone rang and Gold's wife said it was for Asimov, which was strange because no one knew he was there. It was Gold calling from a different room in the house. They continued their conversation by phone because he didn't like to be in the same room as anyone. Anyway, Campbell had a huge influence over the development of SF, and helped many authors develop their voices. Many ideas in many famous stories by multiple authors were really his ideas. Nonetheless, don't meet your heroes. They all have feet of clay.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Silvana

    Update (2/8/20): If you watched the Hugo Award ceremony or paid attention to SFF Twitter, you might know that glorifying the name of Campbell should be taken seriously. The brave Jeannette Ng again delivered a beautiful speech and specifically mentioned Alec Nevala Lee since she was not the first one making a stand (though she did lit the fire) on Campbell. Go read this book, you'll get a comprehensive picture. Original review (2019): I ended up liking this book more than expected. This is a very Update (2/8/20): If you watched the Hugo Award ceremony or paid attention to SFF Twitter, you might know that glorifying the name of Campbell should be taken seriously. The brave Jeannette Ng again delivered a beautiful speech and specifically mentioned Alec Nevala Lee since she was not the first one making a stand (though she did lit the fire) on Campbell. Go read this book, you'll get a comprehensive picture. Original review (2019): I ended up liking this book more than expected. This is a very useful reading for those who'd like to get a sense of how the science fiction world during those Golden Age and a little bit beyond. As I grow to read more short stories and zines it is great to know about Astounding and Analog and the people behind them. Full review to come, but I just want to say that Hubbard and Campbell were absolutely vile.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    The publisher sent me the hardback of this non-fiction book about eight months ago. I never got around to it. Now the paperback has landed on my doorstep today. It's a sign! Okay, maybe just a sign of extra publicist attention, but I'm still going to do this thing! It actually does look interesting. :) The publisher sent me the hardback of this non-fiction book about eight months ago. I never got around to it. Now the paperback has landed on my doorstep today. It's a sign! Okay, maybe just a sign of extra publicist attention, but I'm still going to do this thing! It actually does look interesting. :)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and would like to thank Dey Street Books and Kell Wilson, Marketing Manager, for the opportunity to give a nonbiased review. The book I received was an uncorrected proof. As a reader of a large variety of genres, of which Sci-Fi is one, I was anticipating a great read with this book, which revolves around writer John Campbell and his relationship/partnership with Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. These are, of course, well known authors I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and would like to thank Dey Street Books and Kell Wilson, Marketing Manager, for the opportunity to give a nonbiased review. The book I received was an uncorrected proof. As a reader of a large variety of genres, of which Sci-Fi is one, I was anticipating a great read with this book, which revolves around writer John Campbell and his relationship/partnership with Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. These are, of course, well known authors above and beyond the sci-fi genre. Although Asimov called Campbell "the most powerful force in science fiction ever", this is, in fact, the first biography of him, and his name may not ring the bells with most people that Isamov's will. That needs to be rectified, and I think this book will go a long way into doing so. Campbell was a force who helped propel others into success in the ever-increasingly popular area of science fiction many years ago. He was an editor at the magazine "Astounding Science Fiction", in which unknowns were given a lift up into the publishing world and many of them became very successful writers in their own right. Author Alec Nevala-Lee did an enormous amount of research in writing this book, unearthing previously unknown manuscripts, letters, and interviews. Being born well after the Great Depression, I did not realize how important the science fiction genre was to people of that time. It makes sense, however, that the suffering masses would be drawn to stories that would spark their imagination and allow them to separate themselves for some brief moments into a world they never imagined.

  8. 5 out of 5

    John

    I was born during the tail end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period between the late 1930s through the 1950s. It was doing this period that science fiction became respectable. Prior to this period, the majority of science fiction was distributed as "pulp fiction." As an young boy, I cut my teeth on science fiction from the Golden Age with such authors as Asimov, Heinlein, and Simak. The one man that did the most to foster in this age was John Campbell, the editor of such magazines as A I was born during the tail end of the Golden Age of Science Fiction, a period between the late 1930s through the 1950s. It was doing this period that science fiction became respectable. Prior to this period, the majority of science fiction was distributed as "pulp fiction." As an young boy, I cut my teeth on science fiction from the Golden Age with such authors as Asimov, Heinlein, and Simak. The one man that did the most to foster in this age was John Campbell, the editor of such magazines as Astounding Science Fiction. He solicited novellas and short stories emphasizing the psychological development of the characters as well as technological advances. The author provided biographies of four notables within his book: John Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard. However, the characters of these science fiction luminaries had little to admire. Campbell was interested in psychology and its potential to create a new man. Since Campbell was a racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic, I shudder at what he might have evolved if his philosophy had been accepted. This was why he was attracted to Hubbard, who shared a similar interest. Shortly after the two met, Hubbard began developing a new form of psychotherapy called Dianetics. Decades later his pseudoscience was repackaged as a new religion, Scientology. He firmly believed that if he had not given this religion to the world, there would have been "social and economic chaos." When Campbell broke with Hubbard, Asimov knew that this split was inevitable since "no movement can have two Messiahs." This statement fostered my opinion that Hubbard demonstrated paranoia and narcissism to the point of megalomania. Although both Heinlein and Asimov were friend of the younger Hubbard, they distanced themselves from Dianetics and Scientology. However, each had their flaws. Asimov was a chronic philanderer, which resulted in divorce and estrangement from his son. Heinlein, referenced frequently as the "Dean of Science Fiction Writers," espoused militarism in many of his works. As I said early, I read several authors from the Golden Age of Science Fiction, including Asimov (The Foundation Trilogy) and Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land). However, when one looks at the characters of the authors whose books I relished, there is little to be desired. Sometimes it is better to divorce the works from the men themselves. Overall, I enjoyed peeking into the lives of the authors who made science fiction popular to the general public, which resulted in such classic literature as 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Star Wars film series. Many of the early astronauts chose their careers being inspired by the science fiction of their youth.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy Sturgis

    This is a well researched and compulsively readable history of how some of the major figures of the so-called Campbellian Revolution -- which took place during the Astounding/Analog editorship of John W. Campbell and heralded the Golden Age of science fiction -- came together, drew apart, and changed the genre in the process. A longer review is available in my "Looking Back at Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast here. This is a well researched and compulsively readable history of how some of the major figures of the so-called Campbellian Revolution -- which took place during the Astounding/Analog editorship of John W. Campbell and heralded the Golden Age of science fiction -- came together, drew apart, and changed the genre in the process. A longer review is available in my "Looking Back at Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast here.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    Oh, what these men got up to. If my mother had known what the early leaders of Science Fiction were really like she would not have been simply annoyed that I read so much of it, she would have been horrified. Alec Nevala-Lee has revealed the truth of the John W. Campbell era of "Astounding Science Fiction Magazine" in a hard-to-put-down, tell all. Oh, what these men got up to. If my mother had known what the early leaders of Science Fiction were really like she would not have been simply annoyed that I read so much of it, she would have been horrified. Alec Nevala-Lee has revealed the truth of the John W. Campbell era of "Astounding Science Fiction Magazine" in a hard-to-put-down, tell all.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Like its subjects (famous science-fiction editor John W. Campbell and his sometime proteges Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), this book is riven with contradictions and exhibits both strengths and flaws. It's carefully researched - almost half the book consists of bibliography and notes, drawing extensively on both private and public writings and interviews with living people who remember the subjects. At the same time, it unapologetically editorializes about the men's many f Like its subjects (famous science-fiction editor John W. Campbell and his sometime proteges Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard), this book is riven with contradictions and exhibits both strengths and flaws. It's carefully researched - almost half the book consists of bibliography and notes, drawing extensively on both private and public writings and interviews with living people who remember the subjects. At the same time, it unapologetically editorializes about the men's many faults, and is something of a hatchet job on them, choosing mostly incidents that place them in a bad light. It's mostly well copyedited, except for the use of "prophesized" for "prophesied" and some highly questionable apostrophe placement, mostly in quotations from Campbell (even though the author notes that he has corrected and standardized the spelling and punctuation in his quotations). It's hard to say who comes out looking worst. Campbell, the champion of science who was so frequently taken in by, and obsessed with, pseudoscience (including dianetics), who grew more and more openly racist as he got older, and who would lecture people condescendingly on topics that they understood far better than he did? Heinlein, embraced by the counterculture for his portrayal of free love (reflective of his own promiscuous youth), at the same time that he was becoming more and more rigidly reactionary? Asimov, who (reversing Heinlein's trend) became promiscuous in middle age, around the time his first child was born, and called himself a feminist while unrepentantly groping every woman he met? No, it's probably Hubbard, the malevolent, abusive narcissist who constantly inflated his own achievements and manipulated those around him in order to obtain money and power. All of them were married at least twice (Hubbard three times), and treated their first wives poorly, often minimizing their contributions to their work, though Campbell, at least, doesn't seem to have been a constant adulterer like the others. It's hard to avoid the conclusion that at least some of their marital problems stemmed from not making much effort to understand women or give their perspective weight and importance equal to men's, which was a fault of the times in general. These were men who weren't, in many ways, very good at people, who were somewhat broken as people themselves. Campbell, Hubbard, and Heinlein, at least, believed they needed to strive to improve humanity, but they retained a tremendous blindness or indifference to their own greatest faults and an inability to correct them. Sadly, they have many spiritual descendants among current SF fandom, some of whom admire in them exactly what this book deplores. I read Asimov's fiction and nonfiction, and Heinlein's fiction, extensively as a teenager, and although I wouldn't return to it (even separating the artist from the art), I found it powerful at the time. In fact, I read Heinlein even though I didn't like most of his ideas, because of the strength of the writing. It's inarguable that these men (and other men and women mentioned and unmentioned in the book) laid much of the foundation for the science fiction we have today. I believe we need to grapple with their faults as well as celebrating their achievements, particularly the faults that became embedded in their work and in the field itself. In order to do so, we need to look at those faults, and their context, with open eyes, and this book is an important resource to help us do so, even though - or perhaps because - it comes down so strongly on one side.

  12. 5 out of 5

    James

    This confirms one of my personal beliefs is that for the most part you are better off not knowing about an author's life. In this case it makes for a somewhat depressing read. The unsavory aspects of Campbell, Heinlein and Asimov are counterbalanced by the insight into the molding'Golden' Age of SF. It's a much smaller and more intimate world than I even imagined. Let's start with Campbell, my sole exposure is his writings, if you've read his editorials in ASF/Analog you know he comes across as a This confirms one of my personal beliefs is that for the most part you are better off not knowing about an author's life. In this case it makes for a somewhat depressing read. The unsavory aspects of Campbell, Heinlein and Asimov are counterbalanced by the insight into the molding'Golden' Age of SF. It's a much smaller and more intimate world than I even imagined. Let's start with Campbell, my sole exposure is his writings, if you've read his editorials in ASF/Analog you know he comes across as a cantankerous, conservative curmudgeon, especially in the last decade or so of his life. His obsession with psionics and other oddball science matters you can find in his pieces on the Dean Drive, Dianetics, etc. I was too young to be active in fandom while he was alive and for the most part Campbell was ignored in the mid 70s and later by the fans I hung out with. He didn't voice his more extreme views on race, religion and women in the magazine, I think that was done to avoid alienating many of the readers. It certainly helps explain the cliche Captain Anglo and the Saxon boys stories and the lack of female protagonists in the early days of Astounding. To be fair, he did publish stories by women authors early on and as Norman Spinrad once pointed out, he published The Men in the Jungle with its drug dealer heroes. However, he did pass on publishing Samuel Delany's works so his racism caused him to pass on publishing works that later won Hugos. His involvement in Dianetics/Scientology was much more extensive than I was aware of, he's guilty of spreading one of the more evil cults that exists today. Heinlein's thoughts on many subjects were published in Grumbles from the Grave, so I was aware of some of book's material from one perspective, I was surprised with how close he was to many authors in the early days. As he got older, he did become more conservative, something that people always claimed but this book has concrete examples. As for Hubbard, I've always thought of him as an opportunistic grifter, I was shocked how much influence he had with many of the earlier writers. Reading about him just depressed me. I'm fairly familiar with Asimov's writing career and recently found out about his sexual harassment of women so nothing too shocking here, this just adds the same sordid, domestic soap opera information that was also included for the other three as well. Reading this book will certainly help you understand the evolution of early SF, it comes at the expense of looking at a lot of clay feet on these and other idols. If you want to avoid shattering any illusions, you may want to skip this.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    One of the joys of reading on a Kindle (or, in my case, a Kindle app) is the ease of bookmarking. As one indication of how important I found Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, I bookmarked it more than ten times as much as any other book I've read in the past few years. (The runners-up are The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction by Grant Wythoff and Dream One of the joys of reading on a Kindle (or, in my case, a Kindle app) is the ease of bookmarking. As one indication of how important I found Alec Nevala-Lee's Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, I bookmarked it more than ten times as much as any other book I've read in the past few years. (The runners-up are The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction by Grant Wythoff and Dreaming the Beatles by Rob Sheffield, though I read those two on paper.) [Much longer review continues here https://paullevinson.blogspot.com/201... ]

  14. 4 out of 5

    Simona B

    The last section does feel slightly rushed, but I absolutely agree with Martin when he describes this book as "compulsively readable." And yes, all right—the last few pages had me crying a bit. They are about Asimov's death, so what did you expect me to do? The last section does feel slightly rushed, but I absolutely agree with Martin when he describes this book as "compulsively readable." And yes, all right—the last few pages had me crying a bit. They are about Asimov's death, so what did you expect me to do?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    It’s a well-known adage that you should never meet your heroes/heroines, presumably because you will be disappointed. I’m pleased to say, based on my own experiences, that generally in the Fantasy/SF/Horror genres (with some notable exceptions) it isn’t true. However, after reading this book I might want to reconsider that view again. Indeed, if you see the early founders of the ‘golden age’ of SF of the 20th century as any sort of hero, this book may make you wonder why anyone would’ve wanted to It’s a well-known adage that you should never meet your heroes/heroines, presumably because you will be disappointed. I’m pleased to say, based on my own experiences, that generally in the Fantasy/SF/Horror genres (with some notable exceptions) it isn’t true. However, after reading this book I might want to reconsider that view again. Indeed, if you see the early founders of the ‘golden age’ of SF of the 20th century as any sort of hero, this book may make you wonder why anyone would’ve wanted to meet any of them. Astounding looks at the life of a number of key players in the early days of s-f, and in particular the unifying force of John W. Campbell, often seen as one of the most important people in science fiction in the 20th century for his work as editor in Astounding Magazine from 1937 – 1971. This meant that he had a huge influence on authors of the time also covered in this book, such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein and L. Ron Hubbard. Although other authors are mentioned (Frederik Pohl, Leigh Brackett, Jack Williamson, Sprague de Camp and others) this book concentrates on those three writers and the influence Campbell had upon them. It is a little sobering to think that some of these details told here are nearly one hundred years old. Whilst researching such details is hardly similar to the search for the Ark of the Covenant (there are archives of their writing, after all), many of the early details have been obscured by time. There are few remaining people mentioned from this time still living, and that may be a good thing.  It is clear from this book that Nevala-Lee has spent some time digging out nuggets of information, much of which from previously unquoted sources, to put together a picture of what it was like in those early days when most s-f was pulp, luridly illustrated and mainly written to attract a male teenage readership. It also means that what he says cannot always be verified. Some of the connections made by Nevala-Lee are revelatory, others less so. It is often claimed by readers of SF that without Campbell there would be no Foundation series, no Future History, even no Dianetics (which led to Scientology.) Nevala-Lee examines this and suggests that whilst Campbell’s influence may be overstated by others at times, it seems clear that without Campbell pushing, goading and questioning, these works would not be as well-regarded as they are, even now. Slightly more revelatory is the point that many of those believed to be important in the creation of the genre, Campbell included, were gifted failures and misfits. For example, Campbell was asked to leave MIT without completing his junior year, Heinlein was invalided out from his lifetime ambition in the Navy due to ill-health, Asimov was a Russian immigrant whose ability was initially limited because his family could not afford the fees to the best universities, whilst Hubbard was a fantasist of the highest order, propped up by family money and then actively adjusting his past to fit whatever image he wished to put forward.  Campbell’s skill was to recognise this and nurture the writers to produce better work than that written by them previously, even at the expense of his own writing. The events in this book are, of course, of a very different time, when a female presence was often seen by some as a threat to their clearly defined worlds of fiction. Women were, on the whole, meant to support their men or be rescued. Whilst there are examples in this novel that showed that Campbell and others (such as Heinlein) were trying hard to change this, it is clear that it was a move not always welcomed by the reading clientele, who knew what they liked and were reluctant to change it. Nevala-Lee also highlights as crucial the importance of women to these men. From their protective mother (especially Asimov) to their wives (especially Heinlein and Campbell) and even their co-workers (Campbell’s deputy at Astounding, Catherine Tennant, is shown to work in a long-lasting professional relationship, for example), the importance of women, admittedly in a supportive role, is given pleasing exposure. It is pleasing to read of Leslyn Heinlein, who as Heinlein’s first wife is given short thrift in Patterson’s biography (supervised by his second wife.) By comparison, Hubbard’s relationships with women are generally pretty dreadful, with affairs, forced abortions and sexually transmitted diseases common. Of the three main authors, their characters are clearly different. I found myself most sympathetic to Isaac Asimov of the three. Younger than the others, and clearly socially inexperienced, for much of the book he is seen as the lesser talent, but given status because Campbell felt that he could mentor him into what he wanted. By comparison, Heinlein was much more grownup, and got on with Campbell and his family so well that he and Leslyn became godparents to his children. Heinlein was clearly a much more pragmatic writer, thinking in terms of sales and permissions more than the rest, and it was an issue over such matters that begins a rift between Campbell and RAH, leading to fewer sales to Astounding in the 1950’s. In the return to ‘normality’ after the war, the effect on Campbell and the authors is clear. The last half of the book becomes fairly descriptive, as the authors gain experience and respect from their peers and return to writing. Convinced that Astounding magazine should lead the way in science fact as well as fiction, Campbell begins to pursue other personal interests outside science fiction. He becomes a key advocate of Dianetics (later known as Scientology) and is one of Hubbard’s key experimenters. Campbell’s intense passion for the idea spreads to the magazine, but also alienates him from many of the writers he has nurtured, including Asimov & Heinlein. From the 1960’s it becomes clear that having being unable to fulfil what he sees as his destiny in practical sciences in WW2 – he offered his services, but was not accepted – Campbell seems to latch on to a variety of unusual projects to prove himself: not only Dianetics but also psionics and the reactionless Dean Drive, all of which were unsuccessful. Although it can be argued that Campbell was perhaps the main reason for evolution in the science fiction genre in the 1940’s & ‘50’s, his influence by the 60’s on the whole genre is debatable. His grip on Astounding by this point was so strong that it became more of a mouthpiece for his ideas than cutting edge. The New Wave of the 1960’s went by pretty unnoticed by Campbell and the magazine, whilst he continued to push his idea in fiction of the so-called ‘competent man’  - the hero who, by intelligence, logic and science, solves the issue or the dilemma at hand. It is notable that many of these writers who began their careers writing to such a template moved on from Campbell later in their writing career.  Whether it was because they saw through the editor or outgrew him is a point that the author examines. Asimov, for example, despite unswerving loyalty to Campbell, moved on by writing a monthly science column for the new Magazine of Fantasy & SF where his talents were more appreciated. Heinlein broke out into the mainstream, writing for magazines like the Saturday Evening Post and being involved in the creation of the movie Destination Moon. Campbell’s hectoring of Heinlein on Dianetics seems to have soured things enormously as by the 1960’s Heinlein went from bosom buddy with Campbell to distant correspondent. Hubbard seems to float in and out of all of their lives, becoming increasingly paranoid and deluded over his own abilities and spending much of his time outside of the United states, often in seclusion and avoiding authorities. Nevala-Lee writes in his Afterword that one of the reasons for writing this book is that he hopes that it generates discussion, and I think that it will. It is contentious, sometimes provocatively so. There are a number of points like this in the book that I found I agreed with and others that I disagreed with, even disliked. One of the advantages of Astounding is that it is a book about key characters that is not restricted by being an authorised biography (see Robert Patterson’s two-volume biography of Robert Heinlein filtered by Virginia Heinlein), nor is it a hagiography or an autobiography written with deliberately selective memory. Instead, it falls somewhat in-between the spectrum, not only pointing out the importance of the authors under study but also not afraid of highlighting their failings. Such an approach has its advantages and disadvantages. For those readers who are unaware of the historical background and the context in which such developments occurred it is useful. When pulp magazines began in the 1920’s, they were generally seen as enthusiastic but immature, silly and rather seedy, dealing with all matters in a superficial and simplistic manner, entertainment for minors or simple readers. By the time of Campbell’s death in the 1970’s, a mere 40 years, the genre had expanded, matured and become the inspiration for writers, readers and scientists all over the world. With this in mind, it is perhaps slightly ironic, then, how much of this book is spent not on this aspect but instead on the immaturity, silliness and seediness of the lives of the main writers. Astounding is less of an analysis of their collective writings and more of a study of the personalities, for good or worse, written in a manner that suggests opinions as facts, rather than actual fact. It also didn’t help that, despite pages of notes at the back of the book, the lack of referencing through the main text was a major handicap for me, making verification of details quite difficult. Perhaps more worryingly, unlike academic research, the book does not follow scientific method and the route of unemotional, reasoned impartiality, but instead deals in the grubby, gossipy details that may be more appropriate for celebrity culture and social media. For many readers, it will be these details that will be most memorable. None of our key characters come out particularly well from this – Asimov was a well-known bottom-pincher for most of his life, Heinlein was a control-freak who bullied people to get his own way, Hubbard was drummed out of the armed services for incompetence despite claiming to be a war hero to his peers and Campbell was a racist, for example. Admittedly, their failings may be blamed on the fact that they were often young and socially inept young men themselves, and I guess it can be argued that their immaturity was reflected in the genre itself in its formative years, for good and bad. As they grew older their personal story is also the story of the genre’s evolution, and for that reason may be worth telling, even when its subjects are not always shown in a positive way. In short, Astounding is an entertaining summary of how things may have been in the Golden Age of science fiction for some of the key players. It’s clear that it has taken time to write, and it effectively portrays a picture of a fledgling genre at a certain time, such as it was.  Where it does occasionally lapse into simplification and over-generalisation, there is enough new perspective here for anyone who has in an interest in ‘the old days’ to find something they have not read before. It certainly creates possible reasons for those people’s motivations and assesses their importance at a formative time for the genre. It is not without its issues –and some of the points raised are troublesome – but for those interested in such matters, it is a book worth your time. Sometimes heroes can be assessed and with hindsight be found to be less than we thought. It is perhaps the curse of the modern age that we put our inspirations under the spotlight and pick out the flaws and the weaknesses. We don’t always like what we see. For me, it is the case here, but that doesn’t mean to say that we shouldn’t accept their weaknesses and appreciate their contributions. Despite all of the strange behaviours, the tantrums and the shortcomings on display here, Astounding affirms that the key players mentioned here were major influencers in their time to create what is (for me, anyway) an exciting and relevant genre today.   Despite the human failings, the body of work created and guided by these people inspired and still guides writers, if only to show them how to move forward. We would not be here were it not for them, and Astounding does well to show this, warts and all.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Olav

    Received an ARC at ALA. Well-written book that weaves together the stories of four key players in the Golden Age of SF, and in doing so provides some interesting insights. Having just finished William H. Patterson Jr.'s "Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century," I'm a bit struck by the slight differences in framing about some of the same events -- Nevala-Lee is somewhat more forgiving of his subject's foibles. But overall, the parallels between the four (particularly between Heinlein and Hubbard) Received an ARC at ALA. Well-written book that weaves together the stories of four key players in the Golden Age of SF, and in doing so provides some interesting insights. Having just finished William H. Patterson Jr.'s "Heinlein In Dialogue With His Century," I'm a bit struck by the slight differences in framing about some of the same events -- Nevala-Lee is somewhat more forgiving of his subject's foibles. But overall, the parallels between the four (particularly between Heinlein and Hubbard) make for interesting reading. A must-read for all classicist fans of science fiction. Worth preordering.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Schneider

    Let's just start off that I've needed this book in my life for a long long time. Alec Nevala-Lee gives us a biography of John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding magazine and the midwife of what is generally called The Golden Age of Science Fiction. Along the way he also gives us bios of Campbell's two most important writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard...who was a fairly huge writer at the time and went on to greater heights of infamy while his fiction has generally been f Let's just start off that I've needed this book in my life for a long long time. Alec Nevala-Lee gives us a biography of John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding magazine and the midwife of what is generally called The Golden Age of Science Fiction. Along the way he also gives us bios of Campbell's two most important writers Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard...who was a fairly huge writer at the time and went on to greater heights of infamy while his fiction has generally been forgotten or discounted. This is a warts and all bio for all of those involved. And there are plenty of warts to be found among these foundational figures in SF. The obvious import of this book is the look at Campbell, who is rightly the focus. Asimov, Heinlein and Hubbard have all been written about fairly extensively. But Campbell has needed a biography for a long time. Campbell was almost unquestionably the most important SF editor of all time editing the most important SF pulp of all time. He shepherded the early careers of Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and helped transition SF from early pulp space opera to the first Golden Age of SF. Campbell also gave an outlet for Hubbard as well as being instrumental in the development of Dianetics...from which, one hopes, the world may one day recover. Nevala-Lee gives us an informative and very readable look at the four gentlemen in the title. I love that in his afterward he recognizes that there is still work to be done and biographies and stories from the time to be told. While I was familiar with the broad outlines of the story there was a lot here that was revealing to me...a pretty well-read SF fan of 40 years. I didn't realize how many SF writers had their careers taken off-track by Dianetics and just generally being close to Hubbard, A.E. van Vogt being a particular example. Watching Campbell's (and Heinlein's for that matter) descent from conservative to reactionary was sad and telling. Equally sad was Campbell's descent from being a man attempting to bring science to the masses as entertainment to being the worst kind of patsy for blatant charlatanism. But none of the warts can change the fact that Campbell changed the face of popular culture both through is work as an editor and his development of talent. And one can only wonder what more he could have done if his personal prejudices and his inner demons hadn't constrained both those he cultivated and essentially brought his years of innovation to a pre-mature halt with the end of the Second World War. This is an excellent work. Easily one of the the best I've read in 2018. If you're a fan of SF at all...if you're a fan of popular culture at all...you owe it to yourself to seek this one out.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Johnny

    It is hard for me to imagine Robert Silverberg tapping John W. Campbell’s shoulder at a movie (Heinlein’s Destination Moon or Campbell referring to a shy, uncertain Isaac Asimov as “..the fan who’s been trying to be a writer…” but Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is the kind of pop cultural history that I’ve always wanted to read. Not only have I read some of the work of every author mentioned in the book, but It is hard for me to imagine Robert Silverberg tapping John W. Campbell’s shoulder at a movie (Heinlein’s Destination Moon or Campbell referring to a shy, uncertain Isaac Asimov as “..the fan who’s been trying to be a writer…” but Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is the kind of pop cultural history that I’ve always wanted to read. Not only have I read some of the work of every author mentioned in the book, but the book solves some of the mystery behind how L. Ron Hubbard became the high priest of the Church of Scientology (the bet with Heinlein was probably apocryphal, since Hubbard ruminated on the possibility of making money from a religion when living with Jack Parsons, a follower of Aleister Crowley and leader of an occult group known as Ordo Templi Orientis--p. 230) and how Astounding magazine survived Street & Smith’s purge of the pulp magazines (because the readership was largely college-educated with relatively high incomes compared to the readership of the cancelled pulps—p. 248), as well as the background of Heinlein’s refusal to talk to Ray Bradbury for years (Bradbury had said that he would pretend to be gay in order to avoid the draft—p. 153). I hadn’t realized that the term, psionics, as applied to mental abilities in much science-fiction (and in Dungeons & Dragons, as well) first appeared in a story by Jack Williamson in 1950 (p. 303). I loved the story about Heinlein tricking Asimov into taking a drink. The prank didn’t have the reaction expected and Heinlein laughed, “No wonder Isaac doesn’t drink. It sobers him up.” (p. 159). References to author Fletcher Pratt’s naval wargame (held first in his NYC apartment and later in a rented Manhattan ballroom) are abundant. Described on p. 116, Campbell invited L. Ron Hubbard to the game (p. 128), Asimov had three destroyers sunk by a cruiser (p. 140), and Isaac Asimov took his eventual wife to the wargame on their third date (p. 162). There were other mentions, but not as significant. Prior to reading this volume, I had never quite realized the relationship of L. Ron Hubbard’s early Dianetics work was influenced by Campbell. I hadn’t realized that Campbell had collaborated so closely with Hubbard originally and even tried to get Claude Shannon (father of modern information theory) involved in testing the procedure eventually to be known as auditing (p. 262). Shannon was also invited to test the so-called Campbell Machine that was supposed to psionically alter one’s perception of matter. Shannon never did (p. 319). I was also horrified that he required Alfred Bester of The Demolished Man fame to eliminate all references to Freudian psychology in a story (p. 278), which Bester did after deciding to submit no further stories to Campbell. Later, Hubbard and Campbell split, leaving Asimov to state, “I knew Campbell and I knew Hubbard, and no movement can have two Messiahs.” (p. 295) As an act of revenge against Hubbard’s Dianetics, Asimov and Campbell teamed on a parody article about a method of turning psychology into “an exact science,” (p. 319) ironic in that turning psychology into an exact science was exactly what Campbell had originally desired. Indeed, the move from Dianetics to the Scientology movement was partially a rights dispute and partially because Dianetics (and its content) sounded so much like cybernetics it could be associated with Campbell (p. 329). Hubbard claimed to be influenced by “psychoanalysis, hypnosis, and Christian Science” while Campbell claimed L. Ron’s influences to be, “Christian Science, Catholic miracle shrines, voodoo practices, native witch methods of European tradition, as well as modern psychology’s teachings.” (p. 261) Hubbard was ruthless in the manner in which he discarded his colleagues. A. E. van Vogt was extremely successful in keeping the L.A. branch of the foundation going, mainly due to his work ethic (p. 285), but Hubbard called van Vogt’s loyalty into question as, “a heavy foe of dianetics…for years, although pretending to be involved in it.” (p. 328) Nor had I realized the very racist side of Campbell. I was horrified to read some of the direct quotations from his letters. I will not quote any for the sake of this review except for the following reprehensible, but not “colorful” reply to Isaac Asimov when the writer told Campbell that he was against segregation. “If you deny the existence of racial differences, the problem of racial differences will never be solved.” (p. 361) I also hadn’t realized just how pessimistic Heinlein became. When an editor asked him to tone down the violence in one of his “juvenile novels,” he responded: “I don’t think we have a better than even chance to survive, as a nation, through the next five years. … I don’t ever want to pull my punches again.” (p. 338) It’s ironic to know that Starship Troopers with its pro-military message and Stranger in a Strange Land with its Messianic theme and its ubiquitous presence within the counter-culture were written at close to the same time. One of my favorite touches in Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction was the depiction of Isaac Asimov’s first wife being vehemently opposed to Asimov’s goal of writing 100 books (p. 346) contrasted with the 200 books he reached in only nine years after surpassing 100 (p. 400) and the more than 400 books he had written by the time of his death (p. 407). Although, as with any biographical work (even dealing with the biographies of men whose work and significance were so intricately entwined), there were some aspects and attitudes of these literary heroes that I would have preferred not to know, Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction is the book I’ve longed for about the so-called “Golden Age of Science Fiction.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Marlene

    Originally published at Reading Reality They were the men who sold the moon – as well as the rest of the universe. Together they were the Golden Age of science fiction – in some ways both the quip that says that the golden age of SF is 12 and in the historical sense. John W. Campbell, Jr. was the editor of what became the premiere outlet for science fiction writing during its and his heyday, from 1937 through 1946. Back in the days before SF became mainstream, the pulps were all there were, and Ca Originally published at Reading Reality They were the men who sold the moon – as well as the rest of the universe. Together they were the Golden Age of science fiction – in some ways both the quip that says that the golden age of SF is 12 and in the historical sense. John W. Campbell, Jr. was the editor of what became the premiere outlet for science fiction writing during its and his heyday, from 1937 through 1946. Back in the days before SF became mainstream, the pulps were all there were, and Campbell’s Astounding was the top of the pulps as far as SF was concerned. That golden age was when he found, mentored, developed or at least published two writers who became synonymous with SF, Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein, and the one who nearly broke it, L. Ron Hubbard. While Astounding and Campbell both went on after 1946 – Astounding exists today as Analog – and all three writers’ careers flourished in their very different trajectories after that period, SF as we know it today was significantly influenced by them and/or their writing, and they, in turn, were significantly influenced by Campbell’s editorial direction. And in one significant case, vice-versa. Together, they made the genre as we now know it. And the children who grew up reading science fiction, their particular brand of science fiction, changed the world. Reality Rating A: First things first, this is surprisingly readable. There’s a lot of information packed in here, and it flows fairly smoothly from one page into the next. I was surprised at how completely I was drawn in and held over a very long flight. I expected to bounce in and out, and I just didn’t. (That the book is only about ⅔ as long as it appears to be is probably a help. The final ⅓ consists of extensive notes. It is blissfully not necessary to flip back and forth between the text and the notes in order to get the story or the context. The author certainly did his homework, but it’s not required that one read it for the book to make sense.) Campbell in 1965 While Heinlein, Asimov and Hubbard have all been written about before, and in depth, Campbell really hasn’t. And certainly should have been. For the period when Astounding was at the top of the pulps, and for some time beyond, Campbell wasn’t just the editor of a magazine – he WAS science fiction in a way that just isn’t possible now that SF has gone mainstream. His role hasn’t been recognized, possibly because there is no real equivalent today. This multi-biography attempts to set all four men in their time as well as their relationships to each other. And while on the one hand it feels both loving and respectful, on the other it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the darker side of all four – even though much of what we now consider that dark side generally passed social muster at the time it happened. The book does a good job of giving context for why much of what we would consider bad behavior occurred, without ever minimizing it or apologizing for it. I’m thinking particularly of Asimov’s well-known propensity for pinching women’s bottoms and other places without their consent or even seeming to acknowledge that he needed their consent. That all the women in his various editors’ and publishers’ offices literally cleared the building whenever he had an appointment seems to be a message he just never got – and certainly should have. All of them except Asimov seemed to have drunk to considerable excess. Towards the end of their lives both Campbell and Heinlein crossed the line from conservative to reactionary. None of them gave the credit to any of their wives that was certainly due. Campbell’s racism undoubtedly affected his gatekeeping of the genre throughout his tenure at Astounding, and is in at least some part responsible for the whiteness of SF through his era and beyond. When some 21st century fans cry out for a “Campbellian Revolution” this is part and parcel of what they are looking back to and wanting to recreate. And everyone was way more involved in the beginning of Scientology than seems to be widely known. Only Asimov steered clear, and even he got stuck arguing with Campbell about it on multiple occasions. But we certainly see the hand of Campbell in the underpinnings of Hubbard’s Scientology – and we see a number of promising careers get sidetracked by it. Hubbard’s most of all. These men were the giants upon whose shoulders the genre now stands, whether their influence was mostly positive, or in Hubbard’s case mostly negative. The author does a deft job of giving them their rightful place in SF history while showing that they all had feet of clay up to the knees. If not higher. In the end, this is a fascinating study of a group of men who made this most popular genre what it became. And it’s a great read from beginning to end.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    Astounding was a vital part of science fiction's Golden Age, and its editor, John W. Campbell, a major, or perhaps rather, the major, driving force. He developed many new, young writers who became part of that Golden Age, but most notably three creative, often eccentric, often difficult men with whom he was both in partnership and in conflict. This book is a serious look at their lives, their partnership, and their conflicts. Based on letters, memoirs, interviews, we learn a great deal about Camp Astounding was a vital part of science fiction's Golden Age, and its editor, John W. Campbell, a major, or perhaps rather, the major, driving force. He developed many new, young writers who became part of that Golden Age, but most notably three creative, often eccentric, often difficult men with whom he was both in partnership and in conflict. This book is a serious look at their lives, their partnership, and their conflicts. Based on letters, memoirs, interviews, we learn a great deal about Campbell's formative years, as well as the other men's, and their interactions. None of them saw themselves only or even primarily as writers. Campbell's ambitions included being a great scientist, a great inventor, a leader on the path of world peace. What he became was one of the most important editors of science fiction, as well as a major part of the founding of dianetics, until he and Hubbard finally split completely, and the transformation of the "mental science" of dianetics into the religion of Scientology began. Asimov was a teenager when he wrote his first story, and went on to have a successful career as a scientist and university professor, and later as a seminal science popularizer--a vital need then and now. Heinlein wanted a naval career. A graduate of Annapolis, he started out to have a successful one, until it was cut short by tuberculosis. Writing was, more or less, what happened while he was making other plans. Hubbard saw himself as a hero. He was continually inventing colorful stories about his past and his adventures, which had a loose relationship at best to real life. For all four men, we see both their strengths and their weaknesses, and the way those affected their interactions. Campbell, Asimov, and Heinlein had two marriages each, with the surrounding events being sometimes very colorful. And there's no question that today, Asimov would have a massive MeToo problem. This was never even a secret; as a young fan I was warned of Asimov's roving hands. Yet the breakdown of his first marriage to Gertrude, and his later remarriage to Janet Jeppson, looks tame and normal by comparison to the others. And while Campbell and Heinlein weren't saints either, all three men never became seriously involved with a woman who didn't have some real intellectual heft, as well as backbone, of her own. Hubbard's multiple wives and girlfriends mostly look like dupes and victims, and relationships ended either due to Hubbard's boredom, or the woman in question starting to assert herself. There seems no graceful way to raise the subject of racism, yet it can't be ignored, either. Campbell was deeply racist, despite his intelligence and his good qualities, and it had a big impact on what he bought as editor of Astounding, and how he influenced or tried to influence his writers. Both Asimov and Heinlein drew a line on how far they'd accommodate it, but not both in the same place, and not necessarily where modern readers would prefer. It's worth remembering they were all born significantly more than a century ago, and were not young men when the Civil Rights movement came along. They're important figures from our past, but they are the past, not the present, and we have made some progress since then, even if not as much as we would prefer. They're all interesting characters. In some ways, of course, Hubbard has had the most impact outside of science fiction, but to my mind the other three all had more real worth as human beings. This book is a fascinating account of some of the foundational figures in modern science fiction. Highly recommended. I bought this book.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Craig

    This account of the most formative years of the modern science fiction field is very well-told and most impressively researched. It's primarily the story of what is commonly accepted as the golden age of sf as personified by a decade of Astounding Stories starting in the late 1930's; Campbell was the editor and Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard were the most popular authors. I've read quite a few accounts of the early days of the field as well as autobiographies and biographies of some of the major This account of the most formative years of the modern science fiction field is very well-told and most impressively researched. It's primarily the story of what is commonly accepted as the golden age of sf as personified by a decade of Astounding Stories starting in the late 1930's; Campbell was the editor and Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard were the most popular authors. I've read quite a few accounts of the early days of the field as well as autobiographies and biographies of some of the major players in both a fannish and professional light, (and it's wonderfully entertaining to catalog how those books contradict one another!), but I still found some information here that was new to me, particularly regarding Campbell himself. I never know to what extent he was involved in founding Dianetics/Scientology with Hubbard, nor to what extremes he stepped into fringe interests (astrology, for example) later in his life. Heinlein is portrayed as rather elitist and sanctimonious, Asimov as intelligent and innocent (though he must have known it was improper to grope people without their conest), and Hubbard as very cruel and unstable. The author takes particular care to point out the great influence that the wives of the subjects had on them, particularly in the cases of Heinlein and Campbell, as well as the influence Campbell's assistant Kay Tarrant had on the magazine. It's an excellent picture of the birth of the modern sf scene, not to mention a fascinating portrayal of the US before, during, and after WWII. Highly recommended! In a strange twist of circumstance, just as I was finishing reading this book the John W. Campbell Award was being presented for the current year at a ceremony in Dublin. The winner called Campbell a fascist as part of the acceptance speech. By current standards, if someone believed and acted today as Campbell did eighty years ago that would certainly be accurate. Campbell was probably something of a racist, but historical figures can't always be judged by beliefs out of their time. A hundred years from now we're likely to condemned for something that doesn't seem in scale today. I say all of this not to defend or attack anyone or their beliefs, but as a reminder to judge the book as the book, not by the accomplishments or short-comings of the subjects.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael J.

    What can I say about this that isn't already thoroughly covered in that Goodreads summary? I can think of a couple of things: 1) Alec Nevala-Lee is a meticulous researcher who seems to have left no fact uncovered. His accounting of the rise of contemporary American science fiction from it's pulp magazine roots to cementing it's foundation in the '40's and '50's and building on that in the '60's and '70's until paving the way for Star Wars, etc and the plethora of choices available today is detail What can I say about this that isn't already thoroughly covered in that Goodreads summary? I can think of a couple of things: 1) Alec Nevala-Lee is a meticulous researcher who seems to have left no fact uncovered. His accounting of the rise of contemporary American science fiction from it's pulp magazine roots to cementing it's foundation in the '40's and '50's and building on that in the '60's and '70's until paving the way for Star Wars, etc and the plethora of choices available today is detailed in clear, concise prose. 2) This is the literary history of a genre of fiction that took off during the atomic age, all detailed here with interesting stories of how these authors participated in the war effort, both in research and in the field. Their experiences came to influence their fictional ideas and creations. 3) Beyond the history of Astounding (now Analog) magazine, that acted as a garden bed for developing writers, Nevala-Lee includes a complete biography of the four pillars of that era: editor/writer Campbell, and writers Asimov, Heinlein and Hubbard. 4) Nevala-Lee doesn't hold back in his warts-and-all accounting of the lives of these four pioneers, and reveals that every single one of them was imperfect, some with some flaws that hampered their growth and popularity. Heinlein and Asimov come off as a bit more restrained versus Campbell and Hubbard (the wackiest one of the bunch), yet both of them had some serious issues. 5) If you're curious about the origins of Diabetics and Scientology, that development is detailed here - - the product of Hubbard's experimentation - - as well as how he worked hard to pull the others into his sphere of influence (and only really snagged Campbell). 6) I'm amazed at how much background work and research Nevala-Lee did in compiling this history. Happily, rather than insert a mountain of numerical footnotes on every page he just includes every single one of them in a page-by-page in a Notes Section at the back of the book that totals 84 pages of content. Likewise, the bibliography of sources used numbers another nine pages. 7) If you grew up reading these authors, as I did, or are just curious about the founding fathers of American science fiction this book will tell you everything about their background and beginnings you wanted to know.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    Thoroughly enjoyable. Asimov and Heinlein were my bread and butter in my teen years. By that time, Hubbard was the nutball Scientology guy, the one who pulled a fast one over all those suckers who thought Dianetics and, later, Scientology was actual science and not just a steaming pile of bullshit the rest of us knew it to be. I remember Battlefield Earth coming out around that time. I avoided it because Hubbard, but I took a Science Fiction class in college and a fellow student convinced me to Thoroughly enjoyable. Asimov and Heinlein were my bread and butter in my teen years. By that time, Hubbard was the nutball Scientology guy, the one who pulled a fast one over all those suckers who thought Dianetics and, later, Scientology was actual science and not just a steaming pile of bullshit the rest of us knew it to be. I remember Battlefield Earth coming out around that time. I avoided it because Hubbard, but I took a Science Fiction class in college and a fellow student convinced me to give it a try. I put it down a third of the way in, it's just so bad. At the time I first read Heinlein's Past Through Tomorrow or Asimov's first three Foundation novels in the late '70s and early '80s, not to mention all of the Niven, Zelazny, et. al., I was sucking up like a sponge, there was no way for me to know just how much Campbell influenced those stories. Back then, I was dimly aware there was a thing that was organized sci-fi fandom, and that such things as sci-fi magazines existed, but as a teenager I had no way of tapping into that infrastructure, so was unaware of Campbell's influence on all those stories I loved. This book fixed that. It also helped me understand the context around some of the books I've read that didn't seem like they came from those writers even though their name was on the cover. I remember reading The Sixth Column as a freshman and being struct by just how racist it was. It struck me as way out of character for Heinlein, but I looked at the copyright date, saw that it was published the year the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and figured it was how people felt at the time. Now I know. Now I know also that Heinlein had disavowed writing that and how he regretted it. This biography is a must read for any serious Science Fiction fan.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Eddie

    Of course I heard of John Campbell but never did I Know about him. Great book. Loving history, it was fun to watch these lives during WW2. Best part of the book was the research. The book has all the incredible things they did and all the warts that is life. Well done. Hubbard, while likable, is a jerk.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Doctor Science

    An excellent first pass at a collective biography. Nevala-Lee is careful not to say, in so many words, "L. Ron Hubbard was a horrible human being and what we call a Piece of Work" but he connects all the dots but one and lets you do the rest. Yuck. The weakest part of the book, IMHO, is Asimov. There's clearly room (need?) for a bio of Asimov that starts where this leaves off (for reason of space, among other things). Like, how much of Campbell's current rep is based on Asimov's many anecdotes, An excellent first pass at a collective biography. Nevala-Lee is careful not to say, in so many words, "L. Ron Hubbard was a horrible human being and what we call a Piece of Work" but he connects all the dots but one and lets you do the rest. Yuck. The weakest part of the book, IMHO, is Asimov. There's clearly room (need?) for a bio of Asimov that starts where this leaves off (for reason of space, among other things). Like, how much of Campbell's current rep is based on Asimov's many anecdotes, spread through innumerable story introductions, personal reminiscences, mentions in popular science columns? How much of the Campbell of the Campbell Award for best new writer is really a reification of Asimov's experience, specifically? An excellent foundation for future work.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Michael Burnam-Fink

    If science-fiction has a name, it's John W. Campbell. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction during the crucial Golden Age of Science Fiction from 1937 until the end of the Second World War, he defined the form and tropes of the genre. He was responsible for nurturing it as a serious endeavor, as real literature, and as a form distinct from fantasy, horror, adventure, and other speculative fiction. Even as the genre grew beyond the control of any one man, and Campbell slipped towards crankdom, If science-fiction has a name, it's John W. Campbell. As editor of Astounding Science Fiction during the crucial Golden Age of Science Fiction from 1937 until the end of the Second World War, he defined the form and tropes of the genre. He was responsible for nurturing it as a serious endeavor, as real literature, and as a form distinct from fantasy, horror, adventure, and other speculative fiction. Even as the genre grew beyond the control of any one man, and Campbell slipped towards crankdom, he was still the Institution, the editor who authors measured their ambition against. Nevala-Lee links Campbell to the three most important men in his life: Asimov, Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard, and provides a fascinating story of the immense work of these visionaries, and their equally immense flaws. Campbell had an unhappy childhood, caught between an authoritarian father and a manipulative mother. At worst, the cruelty of his mother and her identical twin sister provided the inspiration for his story "Who Goes There?", adapted in film as The Thing. At best, they provided him with drive and editorial skills. Certainly, Campbell's recollections of his childhood display a deep ambivalence and surety that his parents wounded him psychologically. Large, intense, almost friendless, with the ambition to be an engineer but without the talent, Campbell was hired as editor of Astounding Stories almost as a fluke. It was the job he was born to have. As editor of Astounding, quickly renamed to Astounding Science Fiction, Campbell created a new form of literature for modernity, centered around advances in science and technology, rational extrapolation of those advances, and the figure of the 'competent man', the engineer-hero who analyzes problems and arrives at solutions through mastery of rational thinking. Campbell cultivated a stable of talented writers. Robert Heinlein was probably the greatest literary talent, with an eye for character, detail, the sweep of history, and perfect pacing. L. Ron Hubbard had raw charisma and an engaging style, even if his biography of adventure was a mutable facade over constant reversals and defeats. Isaac Asimov was an awkward youth, unable to fit in and desperate to please; his actual genius would see him advance the furthest of the group. As editor, Campbell shot ideas off the proper writers, a continual shower of sparks and a demand for higher standards right when the genre needed it most. World War 2 provided a critical test for the group, and one which by many measures was a failure. Campbell thought his readership could serve as a super-lab for the US military, but failed to gain traction with the bureaucracy. Asimov and Heinlein worked together at the Pennsylvania Naval Shipyard, in important but mundane tasks, but they were too different personalities to be good friends. Hubbard was an abysmal failure as a naval officer. Campbell baited the censors with a story in 1944 that "predicted" the atomic bomb. The gamble, which could have closed Astounding, paid off, and became an element of Campbell's personal mythology. The post-war years were marked by Campbell's fall into crankdom. Obsessed with the atomic bomb, and with the need for men to master themselves before they ended the world, Campbell became the leading proponent of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics. The readership of Astounding served as the testbed for the process of auditing and generating "clears", humans free of negative memories with supposed superpowers. Campbell is apparently responsible for much of what is borrowed from cybernetics in Dianetics, but he and Hubbard soon parted ways over financial matters. Hubbard went on to turn Dianetics into the Church of Scientology, though there is no evidence that he founded the religion as part of a bet from either Asimov or Heinlein. The most parsimonious story is that he did it as a tax dodge, and to avoid lawsuits from medical licensing boards. So what of those flaws? Campbell became increasingly domineering, a "universal expert" who lacked actual knowledge, lectured people at length, and became fascinating with psychic powers and supernatural phenomenon. As the civil rights movement advanced, he became harshly reactionary in his views on race. Heinlein's politics also turned rightwards (he had campaigned as a socialist in the 1930s), and the last truly great book he wrote was The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, as he believed he was too good to need editing. Isaac Asimov has perhaps the dirtiest feet, for all his talent. As he became a prolific science writer and institution in fandom, authoring over 400 books, his initial social awkwardness became a love of seeing his name in lights. His behavior was defined by constant sexual harassment, from pinching butts to public passes. Hubbard, of course, founded an authoritarian brainwashing cult and wrote Battlefield Earth, but expectations were low. In an interesting bit of parallelism, all the men had deeply important first marriages that defined how they grew, and once they achieved success, they discarded their wives and remarried. The circumstances varied. Doña Campbell grew frustrated with John's obsession with dianetics and left him for another man. Leslyn Heinlein experienced a nervous collapse. Gertrude Asimov grew tired of Isaac's philandering. Hubbard tried to murder his wife Sara, have her committed, and deny her custody of their children. And while early scifi was very much a man's world, Astounding's assistant editor Catherine Tarrant was by Campbell's side the whole time, and so important that when she fell ill, it took five men to replace her. But for their flaws, these were still great men. They wrote stories which will resonate for centuries. Campbell turned a tiny literary niche into a cultural juggernaut, and cast a mode of heroic futurism that is still at the heart of science-fictions. Nevala-Lee's book is deeply sourced, comes from an authentic love of the genre, and tells us who these men were, and why their ideas matter today. Campbell saw his mission as creating a literary 'Sword of Achilles', stories so appealing that boys who would grow into the men who would build the future would embrace it on sight. In that, he had absolute success. This is a great book! If it doesn't win best associated work at the next Hugos, I will eat my hat.

  27. 5 out of 5

    sillypunk

    LIKE SO GOOD: https://blogendorff.com/2019/12/23/bo... LIKE SO GOOD: https://blogendorff.com/2019/12/23/bo...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    I love non-fiction about sci-fi and fantasy and this is easily one of the best of such works that I’ve read yet. Primarily a biography of John W. Campbell, this work also showcases his relationships with Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard. Nevala-Lee takes a warts-and-all approach, so while the many positive contributions of Campbell and others are not ignored, neither are their negative aspects and actions. An amazing work of research, and written well enough to really keep things moving, I found it I love non-fiction about sci-fi and fantasy and this is easily one of the best of such works that I’ve read yet. Primarily a biography of John W. Campbell, this work also showcases his relationships with Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard. Nevala-Lee takes a warts-and-all approach, so while the many positive contributions of Campbell and others are not ignored, neither are their negative aspects and actions. An amazing work of research, and written well enough to really keep things moving, I found it hard to put this book down, and even took the time to go through the notes and bibliography to find even more trivia and other books to read. This was full of fascinating information and history, but I would like to share one of my favorite bits here: Turns out that the reaction to Campbell changing the name of Astounding to Analog was met with almost universally negative reactions; turns out that many SF fans had trouble with change even back then.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    This is an important and highly readable book about an important figure in science fiction and three writers whose lives intersected with his, professionally and personally. If you're at all interested in the history of written SF, this is a must-read. This is an important and highly readable book about an important figure in science fiction and three writers whose lives intersected with his, professionally and personally. If you're at all interested in the history of written SF, this is a must-read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Will

    Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Golden Age of science fiction knows of the four men named on the cover, but the amount of details available about each of them varies. Little has been published about John W. Campbell, but this book remedies that, using Campbell as a central figure and telling his story, both alone and through his interactions with the other three. The product is a great biography that is both readily readable and wonderfully satisfying. In the case of the Asimov, Heinlein, Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Golden Age of science fiction knows of the four men named on the cover, but the amount of details available about each of them varies. Little has been published about John W. Campbell, but this book remedies that, using Campbell as a central figure and telling his story, both alone and through his interactions with the other three. The product is a great biography that is both readily readable and wonderfully satisfying. In the case of the Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard, all of whom have the subject of previous biographies, Nevala-Lee expands their stories by showing their faults along with their virtues. One of my favorite aspects of Astounding is the amount of attention paid to the women. Many of these women wielded vast influence on the four men and on science fiction itself. With the exception of Virginia Heinlein, previous works have, at best, relegated these women to the sidelines, or worse, cast them into the role of villain and hung all of the man’s faults and missteps on them. Astounding tells the story of these figures instead of just chronologically listing facts about them, resulting in a book that even a casual fan will appreciate.

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