Andy's Reviews > Starship & the Canoe

Starship & the Canoe by Kenneth Brower
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Jan 10, 2008

it was amazing
Read in October, 2009

I found this book at a used book store some time ago in Arcata.

Well let me rephrase that; my girlfriend found it. My girlfriend being Ken Brower's niece while the title, cover and description of the book caught my interest - it was an immediate buy. (Though I later learned I could just pull one of a handful of copies from Ken's shelf at a later time).

I did't read this for almost two years after that purchase. I had seen various references to Freeman and George Dyson, had heard my girlfriend's mother talk about her friendship with George, had seen George give a speech at a TED conference...all things that made me want to dive right in, but I didn't.

Perhaps part of me was scared. Scared to finally know a real writer. I have developed a fairly close relationship with Ken Brower over the years - what if I somehow disliked this book?

Then I read it. I didn't dislike it. You can see the stars above this review, I loved it.

It's not a perfect book - for me, I'd be hard pressed to note non-fiction and biographical works as such. But when the book is good - it's really good.

You see, knowing Ken - it allows me to put a voice to the text. He's a very personable individual. Therefore in describing the emotional tension between father and son - he succeeds. In describing his outrageous adventures tagging along with George - he succeeds. In conversing with Freeman Dyson over multiple hamburger-and-coke meals, you feel like you're in the restaurant with them.

But there are slow sections that rear their head around the middle - when the writing becomes a bit technical, the history recalling that of indigenous peoples rather than the ever-engaging Dyson's. It should be noted that I read the first 1/3 of the book in a couple of days. The last 1/3 in a couple of days and the middle 1/3 over the course of 2-3 weeks.

And it's not that it's bad - looking back now, it is just that I had that fear again. "Oh no, I'm not loving this section...this could turn out poorly" and thus I plodded through slowly. But the fact is, those sections are important in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps as a second read, knowing where the story of these two individuals starts and ends, I would see these sections as key background information in investigating the Dyson's on my own. I'm sure I'll do it again, someday.

Rarely can works of non-fiction or biographies breathe with the life of their similarly themed fictional accounts. The Starship and the Canoe does more than breathe life though - it breathes two.

Good work Ken.
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