Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century: Volume 1 (1907-1948): Learning Curve - William H. Patterson Jr.

For the complete Patterson review of the 2-volumes biography, see review.


I’ve selected a few texts in direct speech, to illustrate some of his ideas, which I think worth retaining, because they help us understand the man as well as the writer (many more could have been extracted).


Volume 1:


  1. “How long this racket has been going on? And why didn’t anybody tell me about it sooner?” (when Heinlein made the first sale to Campbell: “Life-Line”)
  2. “I have been writing the Horatio Alger books of this generation, always with the same strongly moral purpose that runs through every line of the Alger books (which strongly influenced me;  I read them all):
  • “Honesty is the best policy.”
  • “Hard work is rewarded.”
  • “There is no easy road to success.”
  • “Courage above all.”
  • “Studying hard pays off, in happiness as well as in money.”
  • “Stand on you own feet.”
  • “Don’t ever be bullied.”
  • “Take your medicine.”
  • “The world always has a place for a man who works, but none for the lazy.”

These are the things that the Alger books said to me, in the idiom suited to my generation; I believed them when I read them, I believe them now, and I have tried to say them to a younger generation which I believe has been shamefully neglected by many of the elders responsible of its moral training.” (now we understand where the “competence” theme comes from…)


Volume 2:


  1. Heinlein had two ambitious in life: to go to the moon and to meet Dorothy Lamour.
  2. “Let me take time to make it clear that I regard McCarthy as a revolting son of a bitch, with no regard for truth, justice, nor civil rights – also that I think his purposes were demagogic and personally ambitious, not patriotic. All clear?”
  3. “This genre is not a sub-genre of adventure fiction (even though many of the tales in it are adventurous)… This field is concerned with new Ideas, new possibilities, new ways of looking at things… which is precisely why it is so attractive to young people and so little read by older people, ie, read only by those who have kept their minds young. Now if a story does not take the cultural framework we live in, stretch it, twist it, turn it upside down and examine it for leaks, rearrange the parts and see how they would relate in a new arrangement – in short, explore possibilities and play games with ideas – it is not really a story of this genre at all but merely a western translated into the wider open spaces of the stars.”
  4. “Speculative fiction is much more realistic than most historical and contemporary scene fiction [mainstream] and is superior to them both.”
  5. “One is the notion that knowledge is worth acquiring, all knowledge, and that a solid ground in mathematics provides one with the essential language of many of the most important forms of knowledge. The third theme is that, while it is desirable to live peaceably, there are things worth fighting for and values worth dying for – and that it is far better for a man to die under circumstances that call for such sacrifice. The fourth theme is that individual human freedoms are of basic value, without which mankind is less than human.”
  6. “Some critics say that my stories always contain a wise and crusty old man who is my own concept of myself. Not true. They are all different and they are not self-portraits; there are many men who indeed lived and who were my mentors – and now they are all gone to whatever Valhalla there may be for such men…”
  7. “If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you” (Don Marquis)