There have been quite a few books about Robert A. Heinlein published since the 1960s, however, only two of them are devoted to biography. The rest are about his writing. The main biography to read is the two-volume Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century by William H. Patterson, Jr. It’s still in print. Alec Nevala-Lee’s book, Astounding, is a biography of John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, and L. Ron Hubbard, but it does have a significant amount of material on Heinlein. Farah Mendlesohn’s book, The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein does interweave biography with its focus on Heinlein’s writing, but she admits she got most of that biographical information from the Patterson book. Both the Nevala-Lee and Mendlesohn books are in print.
If you want to know about Heinlein the man, read the Patterson volumes and the Nevala-Lee. If you want a modern take on Heinlein’s work try the Mendlesohn. If you want an interesting take on science fiction in the 1940s, I recommend The World Beyond the Hill. It makes an interesting compaion to Astounding by Nevala-Lee.
I’m going to list the books about Heinlein in reverse chronological order. If they are in print, I’ll link the title to Amazon. The out-of-print books can be found on Abebooks.com and eBay, as well as other online book dealers. Some of these titles cover more than just Heinlein, but they do cover him in a significant way.
- 2019 – The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein by Farah Mendlesohn (477 pages)
- 2018 – Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee (532 pages)
- 2014 – Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better (1948-1988) by William Patterson, Jr. (672 pages)
- 2014 – The Heritage of Heinlein: A Critical Reading of the Fiction by Thomas D. Clareson and Joe Sanders (232 pages)
- 2010 – Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1: Learning Curve (1907-1948) by William Patterson, Jr. (624 pages)
- 2006 – Heinlein’s Children by Joseph T. Major (457 pages)
- 2001 – The Martian Named Smith: Critical Perspectives on Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land by William H. Patterson (193 pages)
- 2000 – Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion by James Gifford
- 1999 – The Robert A. Heinlein Interview and Other Heileiniana by J. Neil Schulman
- 1989 – A Guide Through the Worlds of Robert A. Heinlein by J. Lincoln Thorner (54 pages)
- 1989 – The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence by Alexei and Cory Panshin
- 1987 – Robert A. Heinlein by Leon Stover
- 1980 – Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction by H. Bruce Franklin (209 pages)
- 1980 – SF in Dimension: A Book of Explorations by Alexei and Cory Panshin (414 pages)
- 1978 – Robert A. Heinlein (Writers of the 21st Century) by Joseph D. Orlander and Martin H. Greenberg
- 1968 – Heinlein in Dimension by Alexei Panshin
James Wallace Harris 10/6/22
11 thoughts on “Books About Robert A. Heinlein”
Many thanks for this overview, Jim! I’ve dipped into some of these books, although I’m less interested in a purely biographical approach than discussions of Heinlein’s work in the context of his larger worldview (including his political views), his place in SF, etc.
Another book I liked is H. Bruce Franklin’s Robert Heinlein: America as Science Fiction. It’s strongly critical of Heinlein’s politics (not surprising, since Franklin is a Marxist), but at the same time made me want to read more of Heinlein’s work.
Do you have any thoughts on Spider Robinson’s 1980 essay/speech on Heinlein, “Rah, Rah, R.A.H.!” ?
I remember hearing about that essay, “Rah, Rah, R.A.H.!” but I don’t know if I’ve read it. My memory is so unreliable nowadays. I went and looked up the essay and see that it was in Requiem so maybe I have. I’ll reread it for this project. By the way folks, the essay is reprinted here:
I own the Franklin book and have dipped it from time to time.
I agree with Spider Robinson’s essay in some ways, but in some ways–as you’ll see–it’s also a bit over the top.
I’ve been looking over “Rah, Rah, R.A.H!,” and I have read it before. It’s going to be perfect for the essay I’m working on now. I don’t believe we can pin Heinlein down about anything, but we can discuss ideas he was entertaining at different times in his life and in different stories.
I used to back the defense that Heinlein’s characters weren’t equal to Heinlein the man, that they were just characters. I now believe some of them were fantasies of who Heinlein wanted to be, especially Lazarus Long and Jubal Harshaw. I also think Heinlein prided himself on being a competent man, but I’m guessing he wanted to be a lot more competent. I’m not so sure that part of his real persona was an act, where he was acting like he wanted the public to think of him as an author. I’m also wondering if he didn’t create a Heinlein persona to hide behind and protect his privacy. But his is only conjecture. I might know more after I do all my rereading.
Thanks for the list. This Heinlein journey we’ve joined you on has been so informative, especially the comments/discussions after each essay — so many perspectives on perhaps the best known American writer of sci-fi.
I was interviewing a prospective candidate to our organization yesterday who indicated in his resume that his college courses were centered around creative writing. As most writers are readers, I asked this young man who he likes to read. First name on his list? Yep.
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That’s cool. Back in the 1960s whenever I met a science fiction fan I’d ask them who their favorite writer was, and of course, everyone said Heinlein. Then we’d go on to discuss who we thought was second. That is until March 1967 when I met my lifelong friend Jim Connell. His first favorite was Arthur C. Clarke. I was flabbergasted. I asked him why Heinlein wasn’t #1. He said he was late returning a Heinlein book to the library and they charged him a fine, which made him mad at Heinlein. We’ve been arguing ever since.
If you’d waited a few years and asked me you’d have gotten a different response, Arthur C. Clarke as well.
There’s some commentary about Heinlein in some of Asimov’s writings, it may have been the essay parts of The Early Asimov, not sure. Asimov ended up not liking him because of his politics.
I understand (and share to some extent) Asimov’s opposition to Heinlein’s political views, but he always gave him his due and expressed admiration for his writing (at least, the earlier writing that had the strongest influence on SF).
Regarding Jim’s story, I find it hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would become hostile toward a writer because they had to pay a library fine for returning one of his books late.
Back in the late 1960s I turned against Heinlein too. Heinlein was like a virtual father to me. But both my real father and Heinlein were military men and strong supporters of the Vietnam war. I was against it. I rejected both fathers back then. As I’ve gotten older I’ve been more forgiving of them.
Oh, I do all kinds of things to fight memory loss. Blogging really helps.
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