Chris Hadfield- An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

We were all bombarded by the same question. It came up frequently throughout
childhood, and our answers would probably amuse us today. What do you want to do when you’re older? It started off mostly with cowboys, firemen and pirates, and then as we grew so did our knowledge; it moved onto doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs. In my case, the answer was nearly always an author, but to start off with, among with the millions of other children, I fantasised about being an astronaut. Didn’t you, once? I thought yes! Let’s jump onto that rocket, clomp around on the Moon for a bit, fly home, and job done. What fun! I left that particular dream at that, thankfully.

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On the other hand, when Chris Hadfield was nine, he witnessed the Moon landing. It ignited a passion; overnight he wanted to be an astronaut, and it turned out this wasn’t a fleeting aspiration. This book is an insightful glimpse into how Hadfield went from dreaming about space, to achieving a job at NASA, to becoming Canada’s most celebrated astronaut and logging nearly 4,000 hours in space. Through charismatic wit and an
abundance of humour, Hadfield relays his incredible past, offering an unique insight into the profession of an astronaut, what life is truly like in space, and the importance having chilli sachets on a rocket. It is an unconventional autobiography though; it’s also littered with bubbles of wisdom that are ultimate life lessons. Hadfield has not achieved his various monumental feats through sheer luck; there were over 5,300 people applying to be an astronaut, and he was one of the 4 victorious applicants. No, he has simple formulas to success, which are easily accessible and are illustrated with unbelievable anecdotes from Hadfield’s own history. (Can you believe he once had to fight a live snake whilst piloting a plane?) Thankfully this isn’t a book which preaches about inner peace, or has complicated flow charts. Nor it is a dull account of the thermodynamics lessons that are essential to space training. Instead, this book is written with a flair, and what Hadfield has learnt during his 21 year career is surprisingly relatable to our grounded lives.

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A rare insight into one of the world’s most difficult careers, this is definitely a book to read. There are galaxies of things we as readers can learn from, whether it’s the power of negative thinking, how to be an effective leader, to the one question every astronaut always asks themselves in space. It’s honest and genuine; if anything, it’s reignited the nation’s dwindling interest in space.

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Stuff Matters by Mark Miodownik

We are all avid readers. We have all discussed, at one point or another, that topical debate. What is your preference: the rising E-book or classic paper tome? Why is it that we are so obsessed, so comforted by the thin pages, when faced with the bold technological alternative? Everyday we are surrounded by this material, whether it is in our note paper, train tickets, toilet paper or bank notes. So it is not a surprise, perhaps, that we are unwilling to let it drift away from society. After all, it is what we have grown up with, yet fundamentally this marvellous invention, one which has been utilised by generations, is largely a subject of ignorance.

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For example, why are ancient pages honoured with a musk of yellow, and why are long-forgotten  receipts faded?

Thankfully, I have found a novel which can satisfy these inquisitive questions, one which dutifully gives us an insight into 10 common materials. It thrusts them into the limelight for a chapter, primarily focusing on their composition, how they were created, and their role in society today. Does that sound technical. A bit too educational for your liking? It shouldn’t. Because along the way we learn about why razors blunt, that concrete never drys out (at least it doesn’t set in the way we perceive it to) and how it is conceivable that the lightest solid in the world is 99.8% air. Miodownik has ambitiously turned a subject which could be lined with boredom into one which is delightful and captivating.
Today, we are constantly, ironically, being pestered by mindfulness fanatics to live in the moment and to appreciate everything around us. That can be difficult when there is tumultuous rain, and you have just missed your train to an important meeting, but no said it was easy. But, it would be easier if we understood what we were appreciating. These materials make up our lives, and the manipulation of these materials could arguably be what isolates the human race from all other species. Yet do you know how plastic is made? Did the fascinating nature, the mere possibility, of surgical implants ever grip you? I profess now; none of these questions applied to me until I read this book. Each chapter is brimming with mind-blowing, quirky information, interspersed among rich anecdotes and charming writing that manages to make even the most mundane materials a source of thrill.

This book has reignited my dwindling faith in non-fiction writing, and I think that one is ever trying to understand society better (because these things are so fundamental to it), appreciate life more (start with the small things) or is simply curious, then this is a brilliant place to start. It was a concise too, which meant that although the information at times was detailed and scientific, it wasn’t winding on for eons, leaving me bored half a chapter away. A surprising yet gratifying holiday read!

July Book of the Month- Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The current plan is to send another unmanned spacecraft Mars for 2020, eventually resulting (several decades later,) in permanent human settlement. If the plans of the nonprofitable charity, Mars One, succeed, that is. This makes Red Rising a more topical novel than ever, as there is only 4 years to the proposed rocket launch date. Why? It is a thrilling science fiction set on the fearsome terrain of Mars, and will delight fans of the Hunger Games.

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Darrow is part of an indefatigable race of miners, called Reds, who have been dispatched on Mars to extract crucial minerals from te entrails of the planet- minerals that are vital if humans are to eternally inhabit the planet. Allegedly. But when Darrow is suddenly ripped from his isolated, primitively set up society of Red, by a rebellious organisation, his perspective shifts as he realises that he has been hooded by a pretence his whole life. However, Darrow can’t dwell on this shocking revelation; he was enlightened for a purpose: to infiltrate the most revered race of human society- the Golds. Yet first Darrow must not only survive, but flourish in the bestial academy- where the competitors are savage, and the stakes sickeningly high.

I was captivated by the concept of this new unique society, where rank and status are conveyed by a certain colour, with the Golds mercilessly towering above everything else in the Universe. I thought that the quirky civilisation on the surface of Mars was written with a mesmerising flair, and I am intrigued to discover more about in the sequels that will undoubtedly emerge. However, the battlefield, also known as a school, is definitely an altered Hunger Games arena. Instead of Districts though, there are Houses, and there are still patrons overseeing the entire affair offering gifts to a favoured few. Although this glaring similarity was writhing throughout my thoughts as I read the novel, I still enjoyed the dynamics of the characters, as well as seeing how the plot unfolds. But yes, it is interchangeable with the Hunger Games. Just on Mars.

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There were scrupulous descriptions in this novel, splattered with vibrant bursts of poetic language- this incontestably added to the rising tension and suspense.

This fierce novel is teeming with nauseating deaths and repugnant violence, so this plot will resonate and affect YA most affectively. I can assure that you will be exhilarated as you’re hurled directly into the harsh world that Darrow endures- even if Katniss Everdeen is lingering in your thoughts. After my first excursion into science fiction was less positive than I hoped, I was recommended this by someone through my blog- I just want to quickly say thank you as I truly enjoyed this novel, and I doubt I would have discovered it without you!