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For the first time, the real story of the life of Robert A. Heinlein in the authorized biography
Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) is generally considered the greatest American SF writer of the 20th century. A famous and bestselling author in later life, he started as a navy man and graduate of Annapolis who was forced to retire because of tuberculosis. A socialist politician in the 1930s, he became one of the sources of Libertarian politics in the USA in his later years. His most famous works include the Future History series (stories and novels collected in The Past Through Tomorrow and continued in later novels), Starship Troopers, Stranger in a Strange Land, and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
Given his desire for privacy in the later decades of his life, he was both stranger and more interesting than one could ever have known. This is the first of two volumes of a major American biography. This volume is about Robert A. Heinlein's life up to the end of the 1940s and the mid-life crisis that changed him forever.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
William H. Patterson, Jr., is an independent scholar who has published two books about Heinlein as well as numerous articles. He is an editor and contributor to the Virginia Edition Collected Works of Robert A. Heinlein. He lives in Los Angeles.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Robert A. Heinlein
1THE HEINLEINS OF BUTLER, MISSOURIButler, Missouri, has been the county seat and market town for Bates County since the resettlement of the "dark and bloody ground" after the Civil War. Eighty miles southeast of Kansas City, in 1907 it was in its third decade of sustained growth and had achieved a kind of stability that let its residents--most of them--enjoy what is now seen as a golden age of America, though in October of that year they were in for another depression, as debilitating as the savage depression of 1893.Both the Heinlein and Lyle families were well established in Butler. Rex Ivar Heinlein and Bam Lyle Heinlein grew up there (though Rex's father, Samuel Edward Heinlein, was a traveling salesman working out of Kansas City), and they began dating when both were attending Butler's Academy (the local equivalent of a college). Rex enlisted for the Spanish-American War, and when he came back, sick and "on a shutter," as family lore has it,1 they were married in November 1899.The couple immediately moved into Bam's parents' house--a common practice in the days before installment credit contracts brought the purchase of a house within the range of newlyweds. Extended families were the rule, and houses were built to accommodate generations living under the same roof. Even so, the Lyle ménage must have been crowded: Bam's six-year-old brother, Park, was living at home, and when her older sister, Anna, was widowed, leaving her to support her daughter, Thelma, by teaching, she, too, had gone back home to Butler and to her father's house.Fortunately, Dr. Lyle's horse-and-buggy medical practice was flourishing; even with the additional people in residence, he was able to indulge in trotting races as a hobby, running a fashionable sulky--a light cart with only a driver's seat--in the annual Bates County Fair, drawn by a half-brother of the famous Dan Patch.In 1899 Rex Ivar had prospects: he was working as a clerk and bookkeeperin his uncle Oscar Heinlein's dry goods store in Butler, a kind of combination hardware and general store. Uncle Oscar, in his mid-thirties, was unmarried and childless; it was understood that, if he applied himself and worked hard, Rex Ivar might inherit O. A. Heinlein Mercantile one day.2Rex Ivar and Bam started a family: their first child, a boy, was born on August 15, 1900. They named him Lawrence Lyle Heinlein, honoring grandparents on both sides of the family. On March 25, 1905, another boy was born. They named him Rex Ivar, after his father. A year later, Bam Heinlein became pregnant again.On July 7, 1907, not-quite-seven-year-old Larry Heinlein was delegated to keep his two-year-old brother, Rex, under control, at least till his father got home from work.3 Bam Lyle Heinlein was upstairs for her lying-in, attended by her father's office partner, Dr. Chastain, since it would have been improper for Dr. Lyle to attend his own daughter. Shortly after 3 P.M., she delivered a fine baby boy. They named him Robert Anson, after her great-grandparents Robert Lyle and Anson S. Wood.But by 1907 Rex Ivar's prospects in Butler no longer seemed quite so rosy. Like the biblical Jacob, he had served his uncle for seven years, and that was enough. The October stock market crash and Panic of 1907 threw the country into a depression. That winter Rex Ivar decided to give up on Butler and joined his father and uncles (plus aunt Jessie) in Kansas City.Rex Ivar's father, Samuel Edward Heinlein, had been in Kansas City for some years, working as a traveling salesman for the Kansas-Moline Plow Company. In 1903 he moved to the Midland Manufacturing Company, where his brothers Harvey and Lawrence also got work as salesmen and his sister Jessie was a clerk. In 1906 Samuel Edward was promoted from traveling salesman and assistant manager to full manager for Midland Manufacturing (soon to become Midland Implements, Jobbers of Implements & Vehicles), and with the attendant raise he bought a larger house. In December 1907 Rex and Bam and the three boys moved into his father's house. Rex Ivar, too, started out as a traveling salesman for Midland, and Robert remembered being taken several times by his mother to the train station at the foot of Wyandotte (building torn down in 1914) to meet his father returning home from his sales route.4 Soon, however, Midlands promoted him to clerk and cashier, and he was able to rent a small house of his own at 2605 Cleveland.5 Now Rex and Bam felt truly launched in Kansas City.6 They would work hard and strive--and have many more children.Robert Anson was an easy baby for his mother. She later said he gave no trouble and always entertained himself.7 Robert later recalled that he was fedon Eagle Brand condensed and sweetened milk, rather than breastfed like the rest of the children.8 No explanation for this has survived. Sometimes it just happens that lactation does not start.Robert's infancy cannot have been easy for him, though: a middle child, between the older boys and the new babies that came one by one, he was outcompeted for his mother's attention. He said on several occasions that he was a stammerer as a young man, and stammering is often associated with family disturbances during the time when a child is learning to speak, roughly from about ages two through five--for Robert, that was from 1909 through 1912.9 Bam seems to have preferred her father's day-to-day care during her pregnancies (there are no records of perinatal doctoring or midwifery), and she spent a great deal of time in her father's house in the early days.A baby girl, Louise, arrived on February 27, 1909. In 1910 Midland failed and went out of business. In 1911 brothers Samuel and Harvey Wallace Heinlein put the Heinlein family's expertise to work and set up their own company--Heinlein Brothers, Agricultural Implements--across the street from the old Midlands site. Rex Ivar was their clerk-cashier.10He was thirty-one years old; he was also sickly and had a series of operations during Robert's childhood. Work, church, and politics left very little time to spend with the family. When Bobby was five years old, he noticed unusual tension in the house; he later found out his father had received word from a local doctor that he had only three months to live--a false alarm, it turned out.11The children shared two bedrooms, with the smallest children in a crib in the parents' bedroom. Nor were there enough beds to go around. Heinlein recalled as an adult that he slept on a pallet on the floor for years, in a constant state of amiable warfare with baby sister Louise, "a notorious pillow-swiper (with nine in the family, pillows were at a premium) clear back when she pronounced the word pillow as 'pidduh.'"12As is common in large families, the older children had to help raise the younger. Bobby adored his oldest brother, Lawrence, but not brother Rex. Rex was only two years older, but gave himself privileges Bobby did not appreciate. A family anecdote from about 1911 or 1912 illustrates the problem: Rex came running in to their mother complaining--tattling--that Bobby was standing by the curb and saying hello to everybody who came along, and Rex didn't approve of that.13 Rex continued trying to raise his brother for a very long time, and this was a source of strain between them as they grew older.On September 10, 1912, another boy was born, Jesse (later called "Jay")Clare, named for his Aunt Jessie. Then Rose Elizabeth on July 23, 1918, named apparently for the paternal and maternal grandmothers, Rose Adelia Wood and Elizabeth Johnson (much as Robert Anson had been named for the grandfathers). Mary Jean, arriving on Christmas Day in 1920, rounded out the family at seven children. Bam Heinlein was forty-one years old.Until 1914 Bam and the children went by train to live with Dr. Lyle in Butler during summers and holidays. There she and the children could get out from under many of the pressures and privations of their life in Kansas City and Bam could let the children run (relatively) free in the cleaner, rural environment. Rex Ivar was bound to his desk in Kansas City, joining them when he could get away--weekends occasionally; a full week when possible. (In 1909 he had taken a temporary job with a bank in Butler while Bam was pregnant with Louise.)14Young Bobby seems to have been a particular favorite of Dr. Lyle's, and the affection was certainly reciprocated; Dr. Lyle built a special seat in his sulky for the boy, so he could accompany him on his medical rounds. Dr. Lyle did not shield the realities from the boy: outside the very largest and most advanced hospitals, medical practice consisted of iodine and aspirin, and encouraging people to heal themselves.15 Years later, Robert remembered seeing Dr. Lyle burn and bury his instruments after an infectious disease case, possibly anthrax.16Dr. Lyle also taught Bobby to play chess at age four. As Dr. Lyle died in August 1914, when his grandson had just turned seven years old, these incidents must have made a very deep impression on him. Heinlein was to take Dr. Lyle as his pattern for all the American frontier virtues of intellectual range and toughness, patriotism, and pragmatic morality in his fictional portrait of Lazarus Long's grandfather, Dr. Ira Johnson, in Time Enough for Love (1973) and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987).But Kansas City was home, more and more. The Heinleins had an almost proprietary, family interest in Swope Park, since an uncle Ira (who had married Bobby's Aunt Jessie) worked for the city, and he drew for his own amusement a detailed map locating every rock and shrub in the park (he also achieved renown for collecting a large ball of twine).17 Later, Heinlein recalled stripping and playing naked in the park, before World War I, pretending he was Tarzan.18 Nakedness became an important sensual experience for him. Years later, for fictional purposes, he r...
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