Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

The American Revolution has always fascinated me, because it was a moment that a people rose above its apparent practical self-interest to launch and win a fight for a visionary future. The key struggle was more moral than military. Arnold sold out, but, miraculously, most of his fellow Continentals did not. That miracle carries a message of real hope and challenge for our kind. It dares us to be great.
-Robert Zubrin

Dr. Robert Zubrin is an aerospace engineer and one of the leading experts on and advocates for manned Mars missions. He's written hundreds of technical papers and several books on Mars exploration, testified before Congress and founded the Mars Society. He'd seem to have a pretty full plate. But over the past couple years he's turned his hand to fiction and now bids fair to become a Renaissance man.

Mr. Zubrin first fictional turn was, not surprisingly, a science fiction novel, First Landing, about a trip to Mars. It sported cover blurbs from the likes of Kevin J. Anderson, Kim Stanley Robinson and Gregory Benford and got good reviews. For his next effort he stuck to science fiction, but departed quite radically from the subject of Mars. The Holy Land is a delicious dystopic satire that does to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict what Orwell did to the Russian Revolution. If the topic was unexpected, even less predictable was the deft touch he demonstrated for comedy. You couldn't help but admire the courage and skill with which he exposed the inherent absurdity of such a deadly serious situation.

This time around Dr. Zubrin has been even more adventurous, offering up not just a tale of the American Revolution and the archetypal traitor but he's rendered it as a play to boot. The tragedy of Benedict Arnold has always fascinated--a genuine hero of the revolution for his roles at Fort Ticonderoga, Saratoga, and the assault on Quebec who, physically wounded in combat and psychologically embittered after quarreling with the Continental Congress about rank and money, eventually tried to surrender West Point and George Washington and his staff to the British. The plot was foiled when Arnold's British "controller," Major John Andre, was captured with incriminating plans on his person. Arnold defected to the British and served them ably fighting against the Americans, but Andre was hanged.

Dr. Zubrin does take some liberties with history, mostly for purposes of sketching in the various characters' motivations. He makes Peggy Shippen the key to the whole affair. A friend of Andre's in real life, Dr. Zubrin makes her Andre's paramour and a devoted Loyalist, her marriage to Arnold little more than part of a grand nefarious scheme. In addition, Andre is at least implied to have been General Henry Clinton's lover as well as his chief of intelligence--he was certainly closer to the difficult Clinton than most. Arnold, meanwhile, is played as a man insecure about his modest social background --Shippen refers to him contemptuously as a drugstore "clerk" -- and strongly attracted to the more stylish and aristocratic "Tory Girls" than the homier and homelier "Patriot Girls." Shippen and Andre use this and his disappointed ambition to ensnare him in the plot. Historical purists may be upset and, in truth, while some of these interpretations can at least find some support in the record others are pure speculation. Nonetheless, you do require some motives to drive the drama and Dr. Zubrin makes these serve well.

As always in a historical fiction characters are called upon to explain the setting and the events of the day, which can be pedantic and unnatural but is pretty much unavoidable. George Washington has a walk-on in which he's impossibly noble, except that we know of the instances where he acted just so in real life. There are a fair number of asides to the audience and it's not altogether clear how they'd work out on stage, but they do help reveal the internal thoughts of the dramatis personae. One nice touch is the presence of several period songs (though sadly not my favorite, Chester). Best of all, Dr. Zubrin once again demonstrates a real facility with comedy. In particular, he gives Peggy Shippen such a sharp tongue that several of her comments are laugh out loud funny.

The leaders of the Revolution were themselves shaped to some considerable degree by works like Joseph Addison's tragedy, Cato. How fitting then of Dr. Zubrin to pay them tribute with a play of his own. It's delightful.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Robert Zubrin (3 books reviewed)
Robert Zubrin Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Robert Zubrin
-ESSAY: THE CASE FOR NUCLEAR POWER (Robert Zubrin, 8/15/23, Skeptic)
    -ESSAY: How to Search for Life on Mars: First, stop refusing to look. (Robert Zubrin, Steven Benner, Jan Špa?ek, New Atlantis)
    -ESSAY: How We Can Get Clean Energy—Fuel and Human Progress (Robert Zubrin, 14 Apr 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: How We Can Get Clean Energy—Is Nuclear Power Safe? (Robert Zubrin, 29 Apr 2022, Quillette)
    -ESSAY: Drain Putin’s Brains (ROBERT ZUBRIN, February 24, 2022, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Close the Sky (Robert Zubrin. March 2, 2022, Kyiv Post)
    -ESSAY: Fusion Power is Coming Robert Zubrin, 21 Feb 2022 , Quillette)
    -ESSAY: The Fusion Revolution (ROBERT ZUBRIN, August 28, 2021, nATIONAL rEVIEW)
-REVIEW: Malthusian Theory Has Always Been False: A review of Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet by Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley (Robert Zubrin, 8 Sep 2022, Quillette)
-Mars Direct: Headquarters for the Mars Direct Manned Mars Mission
    -Mars Society
    -ESSAY:The Fusion Revolution (ROBERT ZUBRIN, 8/28/21, National Review)
    -ESSAY: The Significance of the Martian Frontier (Robert Zubrin)
    -ESSAY: The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization (Robert Zubrin)
    -Robert Zubrin (Wikipedia)
    -Transportation Testimony of Dr. Robert Zubrin at Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Hearings: "Future of NASA". (October 29, 2003, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation)
    -PROFILE: Mars or Bust (Eric Benson and Justin Nobel, January 2010, Guernica)
    -INTERVIEW: with Robert Zubrin (Ann Online)
    -INTERVIEW: Q & A With Robert Zubrin, President, International Mars Society (, 28 February 2000)
    -INTERVIEW: The Case for Mars Revisited: Speaking of the Future with Robert Zubrin (The Speculist, August 27, 2003)
    -INTERVIEW: with Robert Zubrin (Ted Chamberlain, September/October 2000, National Geographic Adventure)
    -PROFILE: Defender of the dream of colonizing Mars (CAROL SMITH, August 21, 2003, SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER)
    -ESSAY: On to Mars!: While NASA fiddles with robots, a grass-roots movement burns to put human beings on the Red Planet -- soon. (REBECCA BRYANT, January 1999, Salon)
    -ESSAY: A Critique of Robert Zubrin’s Martian Calendar (Thomas Gangale and Marilyn Dudley-Rowley)
    -ESSAY: The Case for Colonizing Mars (Robert Zubrin, July/August 1996, Ad Astra)
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation With Robert Zubrin: Popular Science talks to the author of How to Live on Mars about the prospects for a move to the red planet (Laurie J. Schmidt, 12.02.2008, Popular Science)
    -INTERVIEW: Zubrin on Terraforming Mars (Fraser Cain, 7/12/04, Universe Today)
Why did you write How to Live on Mars and why now?

I wrote it to excite a new and younger generation. I grew up in the Apollo era, and there needs to be literature to capture the imagination of the new younger generation. In the book there's a vision of a future civilization living and growing on Mars -- it's about creating a new branch of human civilization. As I see it, that new branch will have many of the positive and some of the negative aspects of America when it was young -- a place where the rules haven't been written yet. I think that when humans get around to exploring and building cities and towns on Mars, it will be viewed as one of the great times of humanity, a time when people set foot on another world and had the freedom to make their own world.

There are many different approaches you could have taken to writing a book about living on Mars. You chose to take a lighthearted, humorous approach -- can you tell me why?

It was a new way to reach an additional audience. I told it straight in The Case for Mars, then I told it in the form of an adventure story in First Landing. So this time I decided to try science humor.

    -INTERIEW: Q&A: Robert Zubrin, Mars Pathfinder (National Geographic Adventure)
    -PROFILE: Mars Explorers Call for Opening the 'New World' (Leonard David, 24 August 2001,
   -ARTICLE: Sign Up for a Mission to 'Mars' (Robert Lemos, 09.08.06 , Wired)
    -ARCHIVES: Contributing Editor, Robert Zubrin (The New Atlantis)
    -REVIEW: of How to Live on Mars by Robert Zubrin (Brian L. Enke, Mars Society)
I'm not even sure if one should call How To Live On Mars a "novel," a "satire," or a "reference manual." To be safe, I'll continue to call it simply a "book." No doubt, this small dose of common sense and simplicity would appeal to Zubrin's protagonist, a desert-smart 22nd century Mars settler who happens to also be named Robert Zubrin.

In How To Live On Mars, the future Robert Zubrin tells you, a new Martian settler lured to the frontier by promises of Great Wealth and Fame, everything you need to know to actually achieve Great Wealth and Fame. His step-by-step recipe includes everything from how to reach Mars (in case you were smart and bought the guidebook back on Earth before purchasing your cycler ticket), what spacesuit to buy, where to live, how to earn your Great Wealth and Fame, how to enjoy your Great Wealth and Fame, and most importantly, how to avoid distractions and mistakes along road to Great Wealth and Fame.

Simply put, if you're interested in space exploration, How To Live On Mars should be on your "must-read" list. The science behind the fictional backstory is rock-solid, as one would expect from the author of The Case For Mars and Entering Space. Humorous prose delights the reader throughout most of the book, setting a lively pace that slows a step or two in the more technical sections (usually accompanied by adequate warnings). But don't be fooled by the rolling-on-the-floor-laughing parts...this book contains nearly as much useful technical detail as The Case For Mars.

    -REVIEW: A New Land of Opportunity: One way to recapture the frontier spirit and relearn the value of hard work, self-reliance and risk-taking: a review of How to Live on Mars (GLENN HARLAN REYNOLDS, Wall Street Journal)
If "How to Live on Mars" is in the vein of 19th- century guides to the New World, it is also in the tradition of futuristic fiction -- using a hypothetical future society as a way of pointing up trends and problems in our own. There seems little question that Mr. Zubrin views the values of a frontier as superior to those of a closed civilization. He begins with a quotation from the historian Frederick Jackson Turner: "To the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness of strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things." Mr. Zubrin has written elsewhere that he believes the outlet and example of a frontier is necessary for the long-term survival of freedom for those who remain behind.

Such frontier values are perhaps unfashionable in the age of Hope and Change, but they are widely held among Americans nonetheless. If "How to Live on Mars" inspires a greater enthusiasm for opening frontiers in space, it will have served a good purpose. But it will have done as much if it merely succeeds in reminding people of the importance of things like enterprise, hard work and self-reliance.

    -REVIEW: of How to Live on Mars (Taylor Dinerman, The Space Review)
    -REVIEW: of Benedict Arnold: A Drama of the American Revolution in Five Acts by Robert Zubrin (Thomas Lindaman, Common Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of The Holy Land by Robert Zubrin (Aaron Hughes, Fantastic Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Holy Land (Wayne Lutz, The Tocquevillean)
    -REVIEW: of The Holy Land (Rochelle Caviness , The Jewish Eye)
    -REVIEW: of The Holy Land (Timothy E. McMahon, NorthEast Book Reviews)
    -REVIEW: of The Holy Land (Heather Preston, American Mensa Ltd. Bulletin)
    -REVIEW: of Holy Land (Beth Goodtree, Israel Insider)
    -REVIEW: of First Landing by Robert Zubrin (Wil Owen, Rambles)
    -REVIEW: of The Adventures of Space Pioneers in the High Arctic by Robert Zubrin (Adam Keiper, Weekly Standard)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Virtual War Museum >> Revolutionary War Hall >> Benedict Arnold
    -Benedict Arnold - Wikipedia
    -ESSAY: The Enigma of Benedict Arnold (James Henretta, Early America)
    -Benedict Arnold (American Revolution Home Page)
    -ESSAY: Love Me Two-Timer: Was Benedict Arnold's wife the real traitor? (Jason Zinoman, Jan. 10, 2003, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Alexander Hamilton and Major Andre (Bob Arnebeck)
    -REVIEW: of SARATOGA: Turning Point of America's Revolutionary War. By Richard M. Ketchum (PAULINE MAIER, NY Times Book Review)
    -SONG: Banks of the Dee
    -SONG: How Stands the Glass Around
    -SONG: To Anacreon in Heaven