Biography - Shastrix Books

Biography

Recently reviewed

It's Only a Movie

It's Only a Movie

8th September 2014

I’ve been listening to Mark Kermode’s podcast for several years, and had three of his books sitting on my shelf for some time, but this is the first time I’ve picked one up to read. It’s a really engaging look at a few highlights of the life of the UK’s most famous film critic, told in a way that it honestly admits to being ‘based on real events’.

It's full of the jokes I've come to expect from listening to the radio programme, and it offers an insight into the character of Kermode and his backstory through the medium of the witty anecdote. There were some places where I felt that if I were more of a film buff I'd appreciate it more, particularly when movie industry figures appear who I've not heard of.

Overall a good autobiography that doesn't take itself seriously and has a voice that you can recognise as that of the author. An enjoyable read.

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An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

27th January 2014

Chris Hadfield's biography - despite the title, that's how the book reads - tells the story of the astronaut's life from childhood up to returning to Earth after his stint commanding the International Space Station. It's a fascinating look into a profession that most of us can only dream about, and Hadfield manages to tell his story in an incredibly humble way.

As per the title, Hadfield frames his narrative around explaining various life lessons that he's based his own character on, and shows how these have benefited his personal life and career. He's quite candid about various aspects of both, and doesn't shirk away from telling in detail how the intricacies of space-station life work.

The most interesting things though are some of the anecdotes Hadfield tells about himself, particularly where things seem to be going wrong. He shows a real talent for building the narrative tension despite the reader knowing how things turn out.

The book shows Commander Hadfield as a real person rather than the internet celebrity that he's become, and it's a really interesting insight into his life and the workings of the world's space agencies. An awesome book that I'm really glad I read.

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Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

23rd January 2012

I must begin by confessing to being a fan of Steve Jobs and the products that his company has produced - I carry at least one with me everywhere. that is the background to how I am approaching this book. I'm not usually one for reading biographies, particularly one as huge on the shelf as this (though it's actually only around 600 pages), but was given this one as a Christmas present so felt I had to read it.

I really enjoyed it. Isaacson gives just the right amount of detail - there was no point in the book that I felt it needed more, and he manages to put across a lot of his subject's emotion and personality in a book that could only come from the extensive range of interviews he's performed with Jobs and those who knew him throughout his life. The amount of work that has gone into the book really shows through and makes me appreciate the book even more.

Each chapter deals with a different theme from his life, which sometimes means things aren't quite in chronological order, but nothing feels out of place - it's quite a surprise that someone's life can be chopped into chapters so elegantly. It's made very clear that Jobs' demanded that he not have any influence over the text, and there are places where it is tactfully critical of his nature, but in being so it only serves to make the book feel more truthful and a better representation of who Jobs was.

Reading the final third of the book did feel quite emotional, possibly because I can relate to some of the things Jobs was going through, but probably more likely due to the skill of the writer to intertwine the negatives around the many positives that Jobs had in his final decade at Apple. As I've said, I really enjoyed reading this book, and would certainly recommend it as one of the best biographies I've experienced.

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Confessions of a Conjuror

Confessions of a Conjuror

1st February 2011

Derren Brown presents an interesting take on the idea of an autobiography - rather than the story of his life it is the story of his personality. The book is presented as a stream of consciousness, structured around a card trick performed at a restaurant in his early days as a magician.

It's a fascinating read, and there are many places where I can identify with what he describes, however if the reader were interested in the facts and figures of Brown's life, his friends, family and so on then they will be disappointed. Instead, what he puts across is how his mind works, its quirks and nuances - the sort of things that everyone will recognise and experience but that are very rarely written of. This insight into myself is what really makes Derren's observations interesting to me.

The story of the magic trick is a good trick in itself, forming a structure around which he can branch off in random directions to cover the stories and observations that he wishes to tell, and it is the thing that kept me going as a reader. The randomness of the content could have lost me in places, but the desire to learn more about the trick is what pulled me along to the next chapter.

That said, I really enjoyed reading it. The footnotes did seem endless and in places were pages longer than the text they are intended to enhance. I love footnotes. It seems a really honest account of the person inside Derren's head, and that's the problem - I'm not entirely convinced that it's not just another mind game and he's having me on.

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Nerd Do Well

Nerd Do Well

25th January 2011

In this autobiography, Simon Pegg, star and writer of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and of course the new Scotty in Star Trek, tells the story of his life so far, and another, more random and probably fictitious, story in which he is a superhero with a robot butler.

This is very much a book of Pegg's life rather than a memoir of his career. The focus is very much on Pegg's influences and how he came to be then man he is, and there is very little in the way of anecdotes about his work. The two most obvious obsessions are Star Wars and zombies, both of which he talks about a lot. The book could almost be the story of how 'Shaun' came to be - that is the element of Pegg's work that receives the most page time, and readers who are only interested in his Trek connection will be disappointed by his bare mention of it.

The tone is surprisingly candid, with Pegg exploring much of his childhood and early relationships, as well as that which he had with the screen. While there is a lot of name dropping, it's not done in an egotistical 'look who I had dinner with' way, but more of a geeky 'omg I met... Wow!'.

I've enjoyed the time I've spent reading this, and I think anyone who is a fan of Pegg's comedy work will feel the same. Especially zombies.

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The Fry Chronicles

The Fry Chronicles

30th November 2010

The second volume of Stephen Fry's autobiography covers the next eight years of his life from when he started at Cambridge University through his early years in television comedy. There's a quick recap for those who missed Moab is my Washpot, and so prior reading is not required.

While it is an interesting insight into Fry's personality, it's not as much as the first volume. This one seems to focus much more on events that happened, rather than the formative occurrences of his younger years. As such there are a lot more mentions of his friends, using their real names now as it's too obvious from the context who they are, which on some occasions feels a bit like name dropping.

I enjoyed finding out a lot more about Fry's early work. I've always wondered how he fell into the love-him/loathe-him national treasure status that he occupies today and this book takes the reader through the first steps in reaching that, exploring his experiences in writing and acting, both serious and comedy, on stage and screen.

Despite the relatively short period the book covers, it does not feel as if the material is padding. Where appropriate, he dives into the future to explain a point, but some sections are stories that were told in the first book, which seemed a little out of place repeated. Overall, an insightful must-read for the Fry fan.

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Up Till Now

Up Till Now

4th October 2010

William Shatner's latest autobiography has a vey quirky feel to it, and focuses mainly on his acting career. Born in Canada, young Bill decided he wanted to act, against his father's wishes, and as soon as possible headed to Broadway under the promise that he would become a star.

The first third of the book covers the years before Star Trek, and Shatner describes in a very informal manner his formative years and his early acting life. He details a surprising number of stage and television performances. If you are looking for anecdotes about Shatner's time on Star Trek though you will be disappointed. These have already been covered in Shatner's previous works 'Memories' and 'Movie Memories'.

The middle section of the book I found hardest going. These were really the post-Trek years of the seventies. The final part picks up again. Shatner covers his tragic relationship with his third wife Nerine, and then demonstrates a real passion for his most recent role as Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

The one thing that irritated me was the feeling that the book was just an advertisement for Shatner's work, rather than a memoir about doing it. There is a running joke whereby Shatner tells the reader that things are available to buy from his website, but after being repeated in every chapter it gets a bit sickeningly shameless.

Overall it is an interesting read. The impression I get is mostly of honesty from Shatner and a sense that he is quite amazed by how well he has done out of his career. If you are a Shatner fan then it will probably be a must-read, but if you dislike him then you will probably find it a cheap sales pitch.

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Other reviewed books

Moab is my Washpot
Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years
The View From the Bridge
The Final Chapter
The Writer's Tale

Unreviewed books

Isaac Newton
Star Trek Memories
Star Trek Movie Memories
The Finest Crew in the Fleet
The Pythons Autobiography
Tickling the English

Top books

  1. Moab is my Washpot
  2. The Final Chapter
  3. Steve Jobs
  4. The Writer's Tale
  5. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth
  6. The View From the Bridge
  7. The Fry Chronicles