With the first volume of Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue With His Century (Tor), William Patterson has given us a scholarly doorstop biography that's smoothly readable.
Patterson says Heinlein galvanized four movements: science fiction, the counterculture, libertarianism, and commercial space travel. This volume, which ends in 1948, focuses more on Heinlein's life than his cultural impact, detailing his Missouri childhood, his years in the Navy, and his initially idyllic, later chaotic marriage to (and divorce from) his second wife, Leslyn.
Heinlein was a longtime freethinker when it came to cultural mores, but his libertarian politics evolved slowly. He spent much of the 1930s as an activist in the socialist-leaning Upton Sinclair wing of the California Democratic Party. A fascinating detail of his shift toward libertarianism is buried in a footnote: A book of Pearl Harbor revisionism, Heinlein wrote, "shook me loose of any emotional attachment to FDR," although he was slower to "get over my notions about economics." —Brian Doherty