The Autobiography of James T. Kirk
Written by James Kirk
Edited by David Goodman
Published by Titan Books
A review by Stacy Dooks
I grew up in the age of syndication. In the before time of the long long ago that is the 1980s we didn’t have your fancy Netflixes or your Hulus or any of that streaming malarkey. When you wanted to watch a television series, you turned the TV to the channel on the dial (we still used dials in those days of yore, I didn’t get my first remote control until 1988) and you watched the show as set by the network’s schedule.
My first memories of classic Star Trek are largely tied to sick days, home from school and watching the CBC. Back then, on the isle of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia Canada, Star Trek was on in the early afternoon. To this day whenever I’m under the weather I spin an episode of Star Trek to help buoy my immune system. A lot of fans point to Spock as their favorite character and it’s not hard to see why (cool powers, cool alien backstory, portrayed by the incomparable Leonard Nimoy) but for me, Captain James Tiberius Kirk was my guy. He was the captain of the Enterprise, he was brave, he improvised on his feet and he led his crew to victory over impossible odds every week. Kirk stands in my nerd pantheon shoulder to shoulder with figures like Superman, Captain America, the Doctor and Luke Skywalker as a figure to aspire to. Over the course of the Star Trek series and films we saw Kirk the hero have adventure after adventure. Over the course of The Autobiography of James T. Kirk, we see what that effect those kind of experiences might actually have on an actual person, not just an icon of pop culture.
I’ll admit that when I first saw The Autobiography of James T. Kirk sitting on the shelf, I had an impression in my mind of what the book would be, as I’m sure you do too. But as I read and became more engrossed by the story being told I came to realize that a great deal of my more recent feelings toward the figure of Captain Kirk stem not from the character himself but from the actor who portrayed him onscreen for many years, not to mention the various parody takes on the character put forth over the years like Futurama’s Zapp Brannigan. But much like Leonard Nimoy was not Spock, Kirk is not William Shatner. Over the course of the novel we see Kirk’s rise from a farm boy in Iowa (a farmboy in space. That sounds familiar somehow) to an eager young Starfleet officer to the captain of his own ship, and eventually the Enterprise. There’s a great attention to detail to be found here, and a great deal of emotional resonance. We like to think of Captain Kirk as a legendary badass but taken as a whole his life was tragic in many respects. The book’s date of publication in-universe is shortly after Kirk’s disappearance in the prologue of Star Trek: Generations, and features a foreword by Doctor McCoy and an afterword by Spock. Both are surprisingly affecting.
There are a number of fun references throughout the book and sharp-eyed readers will catch them, but extensive knowledge of the character and Star Trek isn’t a requirement for the story. The book has a number of illustrations touted as historical documents which are fun to look at, and also more than a little wistful too. Goodman definitely knows his Star Trek (I recommend his Federation: The First 150 Years as another fun piece of in-universe “historical” Trek writing) and manages to weave the events of a syndicated series into the actual life story of a human being with all the emotional highs and lows that such a life might entail.
Buy It! If you’re a fan of Star Trek and want to see what life was like for Starfleet’s most famous captain telling his story in his own words, The Autobiography of James T. Kirk is a must-buy. Even if you’re not a fan of the franchise, it’s still an entertaining and surprisingly touching read. Recommended.