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Book Review: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

# Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
# Paperback: 288 pages
# Publisher: Titan Books; 5 Rev Upd edition
# Publication Date: September 15, 2009
# ISBN-10: 1848564961
# ISBN-13: 978-1848564961
# Author Website: Douglas Adams
# Author Website: Neil Gaiman

There are few authors as well-known or discussed as Douglas Adams. This is especially true as the thirtieth anniversary of The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy occurred in October of 2009. So it is to be expected that there will be a flurry of new releases, new books, and updated biographies of an author who is almost as mythic as his stories.

But the discerning reader will want, in all the activity, to be sure to take the time to read Neil Gaiman’s semi-biography Don’t’ Panic: Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Gaiman – a journalist now turned extremely successful writer of fiction – knew, interviewed, and had unique access to Adams before his untimely death. Originally published in 1988, the biography has been updated and released in a new edition to cover some of the significant events since Adam’s death, including the publication of Eoin Colfer’s sequel And Another Thing….

Gaiman chose to write a book that is only partly a biography. The primary focus of the work is Adam’s relationship to his creation, and does not delve much into his personal life or even personality except as it relates to the work. This is not a failure, merely a different focus from a traditional biography. This is a writer’s biography, and the standard background is foregone to look closely at the development of Adams as a writer and the strange directions his career took.

However, the story of its development and publication – first as a radio show and then as a book – is certainly fascinating. Adams’ perfectionism is quite clearly shown, but too also is the quirkiness and strange writing habits that made Hitchhiker’s and its sequels so original and so good. Gaiman explores the how and why Adams writing life, including the Dirk Gently story and the making of the (disappointing) movie.

Gaiman tells the writing life of Adams succinctly. Gaiman writes with a journalistic style, making each chapter read like a different article on some aspect of Adam’s life, though also keeping them interconnected. The short chapters are peppered with quotes from Adams as well as many of the people who worked with him. This makes this writing biography unique as Gaiman had access that no later biographer had, and although there are a couple of other good biographies out there by those who worked with Adams in various capacities, Gaiman’s style is more approachable and more accessible to the average reader who wants more background but does not want to go into the nitty-gritty detail.

The biography also has unique quotes from Adams notes, such as deleted scenes, the original synopsis, and a who’s who of the galaxy with Adams quotes. This is a great biography for younger students interested in learning more about Adams for reports or for the casual reader who’d like to know more about why no Hitchhiker’s version is like another.

As someone who had an interest in Adams but is not a massive fan, I found this short biography to be exactly to my tastes. Comfortable reading without too much detail, clever use of some of Adam’s writing quirks, and including enough to make me feel I understand the writer and the works, as much as anyone can. I highly recommend this biography as the most approachable of those currently published.