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The Starship & the Canoe Paperback – April 27, 1983

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Freeman Dyson, world-renowned astrophysicist, dreams of exploring the heavens and has designed an inexpensive spaceship to take him there. George Dyson, a brilliant dropout, lives in a tree in coastal British Columbia and is designing a giant seagoing canoe. Both men are intensely, passionately dedicated to their visions. Kenneth Brower explores the relationship of this odd father-son duo, whose goals could hardly be more different yet whose approaches are inevitably alike, with insight and sensitivity.


An unusual and often moving double biography...In their individual ways, the Dysons embody the extremes of twentieth-century life -- science and technology, and the revolt against them. -- The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: PerfectBound; Reprint edition (April 27, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060910305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060910303
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #620,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If someone asked me to recommend a book to explain the Sixties this would be it. George Dyson, son of well-known physicist Freeman Dyson, was raised in a rarefied academic atmosphere. He walked away from that life at sixteen, not because of random rebellion but because this truly was what he needed to do.
In this book author Kenneth Brower alternates the telling of the divergent lives of these two men. As a result he captures the generational tension of an era.
Freeman Dyson was a product not only of the Fifties but of the flowing optimism of those years that today seems unimaginable. Truly, back then if one could think it then it was possible. One of the ideas Freeman thought possible was project Orion, a huge space vehicle propelled by external nuclear explosions. In the beginning years Freeman actually expected to journey across the solar system in Orion.
George's life was nearly the diametric opposite of his father's. He wound up on the Canadian Pacific shore, living in a tree house and designing ocean-going canoes. The irony is that he found a universe to explore in his canoes - the coasts and islands of the Canadian Northwest and Alaska.
In a fractal sense, both physically and culturally, George's universe was as infinite as his father's. And while he continues to explore it to this day, his father never got into his universe more than the cruising altitude of a 737.
I am nearly the same age as George, long enough into my life to wonder what I've done with it. Frankly, I envy not just George's vision but his ability to follow it.
I admire his father's pursuit as well. In much of the story there is clear tension between father and son, yet in the end some sort of meeting of minds happens.
Even though this book was written over twenty-five years ago it offers a still-fresh notion of the gulfs between people, and how our failures in bridging these distances cause us to forsake a real future.
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Format: Paperback
The Starship and the Canoe is not a book on kayaking, any more than A Tale of Two Cities is a Victorian travelogue. I felt as though I had to correct that impression created by Amazon's page on the book. Although it is twenty-five years old now, it remains a vital and engrossing tale of a father and son separated not only by the familiar gulf of misunderstanding and culture shock, but by their remarkable journeys, some through the vast and perilous estates of the mind, some through the cold and sparsely settled inlets and bays of the Queen Charlotte Sound and the Pacific shoreline of Alaska and British Columbia.

The father and son are celebrated physicist (and author in his own right) Freeman Dyson and kayaker, tree-dweller, solo marine traveller (and also an author) George Dyson. In the wild, anarchic 1970s, author Kenneth Brower (who, it turns out, is also a friend of George's) takes us along with George and Freeman as they explore and plan explorations. His book is engrossing and one feels as though one has actually spent time with these fascinating, sometimes incredibly eccentric and singular men.

Freeman Dyson, an influential theoretical physicist, spent a great deal of time in the optimistic 1950s and 1960s preparing to push the New Frontier outward on nuclear explosion-powered spacecraft. This work, Project Orion, was supported and funded by NASA and the US Air Force until the atmospheric nuclear test ban, competition for funding from Project Apollo and the Vietnam War finally killed the project's funding leaving him and fellow physicist Ted Taylor to develop the concept further.
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Format: Paperback
Brower's story of the two Dysons- Freeman, the Nobel-winning father, and George, the independant, dreamer (or so it seems) son, makes for great reading. I first picked this book up when it came out back in the mid 70s, and I've found myself rereading it every few years since and regularly recommending it to friends.

Freeman Dyson dreamed of a huge spacecraft with near limitless power to carry entire cities to the far reaches of the universe; George dreamed of great voyaging kayaks carrying people across seas and oceans. While Freeman never did build his ship, George did indeed build his. After you've read this book, get George Dyson's "Baidarka",a beautiful illestrated history of these elegant ships and of George's own projects- including basic plans for building your own, should you choose.
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Format: Paperback
The Dyson's, Freeman and George, are father and son. Freeman, a nobel laureat physicist, has his sights set on the stars. George lives in a tree house in British Columbia and has combined modern materials and ancient techniques to build the largest canoe on the inland water way. See what happens when they reunite in the company of a pod of killer whales.
This is my second read. Not my usual practice.
My one major disappointment is the exclusion from this paperback edition of a section about Freeman Dyson's work on a "safe" nuclear reactor. I found this section particularly interesting because of the specific subject and because of the learning and work principles illustrated. This was an inappropriate job of editing.
Read, enjoy and learn about learning and living and relating in our complex and conflicting world.
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