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Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams [Paperback]

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Item description for Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams by M. J. Simpson...

Douglas Adams was a driven and gifted polymath who cut a colorful swath in radio, atelevision, live theater, comic books, computer games, CD-ROM, and the Internet before dying tragically in 2001 at 49. M.J. Simpson has produced a rich, revealing chronicle of one of the most wildly creative minds of out time.



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Item Specifications...


Pages   418
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 1" Width: 5.5" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   1.1 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 25, 2004
Publisher   Justin, Charles & Co.
ISBN  1932112359  
ISBN13  9781932112351  


Availability  0 units.


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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > Arts & Literature > Authors
2Books > Subjects > Biographies & Memoirs > General
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction
4Books > Subjects > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > History & Criticism



Reviews - What do customers think about Hitchhiker: A Biography of Douglas Adams?

Based on a negative agenda and utterly lacking in insight  Apr 11, 2007
Simpson says at the beginning of this book and towards the end that he doesn't think Douglas Adams was a liar. But the vast bulk of the book doesn't support this qualification. Perhaps Adams refused to grant Simpson an interview at some point. Perhaps Simpson just didn't like him, or felt envious that he was an accomplished writer. But why bother writing a biography in that case? I suppose having a petty score to settle would be one reason.

(Since posting my original review, I've learned that Simpson was disgruntled about not having any of his little sci-fi conventions attended by Douglas. This is a good reason for a nasty book? I think not.)

Trying to provide a balanced account and not taking everything one's subject has said as gospel is one thing. But going to great lengths, using wholly faulty logic, quotes from people barely on the fringes of the subject's life, and constant correlation without causation to make quotes look like contradictions in spite of the fact that they can actually happily coexist (and even often support each other, even though Simpson does all he can to explain why they might be at odds), is quite another. And believing the hazy memories of someone tangential rather than words from the horse's mouth doesn't reveal much sympathy for the subject.

Basically, Simpson makes Adams look like, depending on the page, a complete liar or a bumbling idiot (neither of which he was) -- throughout the entire book. It reeks of some kind of childish revenge, which would explain why Simpson waited until after Adams' death to write it; and tedious trivia and statistics are spewed to this end without any insight into the man or his life whatsoever, as other reviewers have pointed out.

Simpson also makes snide remarks about Douglas at every possible opportunity, such as "It wasn't an interview. It was a Douglas Adams monologue, and not a terribly interesting one." Someone reading the biography of an author would in fact be extremely interested in hearing an account of how one of that author's novels got published. Why the haughtiness? Simpson's thesis near the end is the heinous and unqualified opinion that Adams didn't write good books unless an editor or coauthor helped him.

Simpson even invents some new and intriguing words, such as "themself."

Don't waste your money on this. Don't Panic and Wish You Were Here are much, much, much, much, much better.
 
Insight into a complicated man  Mar 4, 2007
I loved this book. I think it made Douglas Adams so much more human, and added alot of depth to his books. He aspired to be a writer/performer, like John Cleese, even following him into the footlights gang. He wrote usually at the last moment and hardly ever managed a deadline. He used music to inspire him, listening to the same piece over and over, then shutting it down to write. He found writing incredibly hard, and I think most writers would take heart in this description of a complicated man who produced a runaway success.
 
Based on a negative agenda and utterly lacking in insight  Jan 18, 2007
Simpson says at the beginning of this book and towards the end that he doesn't think Douglas Adams was a liar. But the vast bulk of the book doesn't support this qualification. Perhaps Adams refused to grant Simpson an interview at some point. Perhaps Simpson just didn't like him, or felt envious that he was an accomplished writer. But why bother writing a biography in that case? I suppose having a petty score to settle would be one reason.

(Since posting my original review, I've learned that Simpson was disgruntled about not having any of his little sci-fi conventions attended by Douglas. This is a good reason for a nasty book? I think not.)

Trying to provide a balanced account and not taking everything one's subject has said as gospel is one thing. But going to great lengths, using wholly faulty logic, quotes from people barely on the fringes of the subject's life, and constant correlation without causation to make quotes look like contradictions in spite of the fact that they can actually happily coexist (and even often support each other, even though Simpson does all he can to explain why they might be at odds), is quite another. And believing the hazy memories of someone tangential rather than words from the horse's mouth doesn't reveal much sympathy for the subject.

Basically, Simpson makes Adams look like, depending on the page, a complete liar or a bumbling idiot (neither of which he was) -- throughout the entire book. It reeks of some kind of childish revenge, which would explain why Simpson waited until after Adams' death to write it; and tedious trivia and statistics are spewed to this end without any insight into the man or his life whatsoever, as other reviewers have pointed out.

Simpson also makes snide remarks about Douglas at every possible opportunity, such as "It wasn't an interview. It was a Douglas Adams monologue, and not a terribly interesting one." Someone reading the biography of an author would in fact be extremely interested in hearing an account of how one of that author's novels got published. Why the haughtiness? Simpson's thesis near the end is the heinous and unqualified opinion that Adams didn't write good books unless an editor or coauthor helped him.

Simpson even invents some new and intriguing words, such as "themself."

Don't waste your money on this. Don't Panic and Wish You Were Here are much, much, much, much, much better.
 
Staggering detail  Jul 29, 2006
It took me a year to read Hitchhiker, but not because of its length--only because of the level of detail. I had to take long and frequent breaks from the text.

I have been a fan of the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy since childhood--probably around 30 years. However, I was always a fairly solitary fan. Never went to cons, never ventured to alt.fan.douglas-adams, never joined "Plural Z9 Plural Z Alpha," the official fan club. I never knew these things existed nor that Douglas Adams himself was aware of them, until I read this book.

M.J. Simpson has approached Douglas Adams as a fan and admirer, but one with a determination to get the facts straight and to share with the reader not just the ultimate result, but the circuitous route he sometimes had to take to get to that final result. For instance, when Simpson approaches a paragraph in which he intends to share the date of a meeting between three people, he includes quotes from five people about who was where when, who was managing who's calendar, and who couldn't have possibly been there because he was in New York at the time having the most memorable roast beef sandwich of his life with his fiancee. This commitment to accuracy sometimes makes for belabored writing, but you can't read the book without complete confidence that you're getting the straight dope. Everything cited, quoted, or in any way referenced in this book is meticulously footnoted--Ironic, considering the sometimes chaotic approach Douglas took to life.

But, beyond the writing and the impulse I had to edit every sentence, I have to say that It's All Here. Everything you might consider significant. Douglas' growing up, his relationships, his passions, his distractions, his contacts, his foibles, his genius, his enterprises... just everything. And it is told with such sympathy for Douglas that even as you read the details of these fouled-up anecdotes and exaggerated stories he told, you understand and you don't condemn him.

I highly recommended this particular biography for anyone who enjoys having an encyclopedic knowledge of a subject, particularly if that person is also a fan of any of Douglas Adams' works or even just those who are creative and lucky.

But it won't be fast.
 
A lifeless life  Jun 18, 2006
We never met, drat the bad luck. In our first encounter, Douglas was flashing his bum at me as he ran naked into the sea, shucking fistfuls of money in all directions. After that, being bowled over by the genius of his humour and struggling to grasp the breadth of his imagination was continuous enjoyment. Who was this man who piqued our minds, asking questions that challenged every norm? Douglas Adams wasn't just a writer or a gadfly prodding various Established Truths, he was a phenomenon. M. J. Simpson makes a worthy effort to impart something meaningful about Adams. He provides a wealth of information about Adams' activities, his struggle to meet deadlines, his circle of friends. In the end, however, Simpson's portrayal lacks the scope Adams worked within and the spark of "life" that would grant this book a place as a true biography.

Although Simpson is compelled to limit his view of Adams' childhood, apart from his "prep" school years, the author fails to establish the environment surrounding his subject. Nothing of the Britain of the year of Adams birth, 1952 is offered as background. His later schooling years, which was also the era of "Beatlemania", aren't reflected in the dynamics of that time. Instead, we learn of Adams aversion to sports and his crashing embarrassment at being forced to retain short pants after moving to more senior levels. Later, at Cambridge, Adams' involvement with the performing club "Footlights" certainly allowed him to begin his comedy career. His desire to become a "writer-performer" was manifested, but the gawky, clumsy lad was often a physical threat to others on stage.

Simpson traces well the path of Adams' career as a script-writer. An avid admirer of John Cleese, Adams emulated him in many ways. He would have made a great "Python", but by the time Adams was beginning to make his mark, "Monty Python" was winding down. Douglas wrote for "Doctor Who" at the same time he was developing "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". It was an indication of how hectic his life would become. In one segment, Simpson relates how Adams and a co-author sequestered themselves in a villa in southern France to complete "Last Chance to See", but spent the entire time at long lunches and interesting discussions. Words on paper failed to emerge. That never bothered Adams, who loved "to hear deadlines whoosh by". Missed deadlines, for which Adams' reputation seems to tower over all others, seem to pale in comparison to the delays incurred when his work was to be transferred to the film screen. The dissension, Simpson shows, was continuous and unending. There was a point when Adams was forced to buy back rights to his own work!

In a small but necessary concession to the world around Adams, Simpson explains how the release of the first "Star Wars" opened doors of opportunity for Adams' work to move to visual presentation. All the hesitation over putting "sci-fi" on BBC television was swept away and HHGG was produced as a result. Simpson notes that the timing led some to believe HHGG was a "send-up" of science fiction, but he dismisses that readily. HHGG was original thinking, demonstrating that Adams was well ahead in his view of putting science into interesting stories. His characters and events went far beyond Hollywood's interpretation of sci-fi. More importantly, the innovative graphics were supplemental to the story line and characters. The graphics only enhanced the narrative without dominating the themes, in the way Hollywood dealt with them.

In the meagre offerings Simpson attempts to reveal Adams' interests and what led him along certain tracks, we learn of the association with the Beatles. The focus, it seems, was on parties and name-dropping. Adams made one production involving Ringo Starr, but that went nowhere. As Adams matured, he lost a sense of the Christianity he was raised in. Simpson provides a flimsy chapter, "Interlude - God", in which Adams describes himself as waffling about deities. It provides nothing of the roots of his shift from religiosity. Although there is mention of his relation to Richard Dawkins, who married "Doctor Who's" Lalla Ward, there is nothing related about Adams' growing interest in science. When he realised his initials were "DNA", Adams later made much of the connection. None of that appears here. It took Richard Dawkins to extol Adams' "amalgamated knowledge of literature and science" in his "Lament for Douglas" to provide the proper assessment. It's almost astonishing that Simpson incorporates none of the accolades voiced at Adams' death.

Simpson has provided fans with much detail on Adams' career - collaborators, agents, and BBC officialdom. There are many legends and corrections of legends supplied. The chronicler deserves full credit for the immense task he has accomplished. As you close the final page, however, you realise the job is incomplete. The detail obscures the greater picture, which Simpson fails to encapsulate. Perhaps that is indicative of the immensity of coping with the subject. Adams was a big man in many ways and it's to be hoped that a full depiction of his life will be the next step. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
 

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