Book Report: The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag by Robert A. Heinlein (1976)

Book coverThis book is a collection of short stories, b-sides really, rushed out probably on the success of Stranger in a Strange Land. It includes the title story and a couple others.


  • “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag”: An interesting premise: a man doesn’t know what he does during the day, so he hires a husband-and-wife team of private investigate him. On their first day, the husband is hypnotized into thinking he has uncovered the mystery, but only the fact that his wife saw him speaking with their target, Jonathan Hoag, keeps them from being snowed. Ultimately, that makes no sense, since we’re not clear who hypnotized him. The story turns to the bizarre and, ultimately proved disappointing.
  • “The Man Who Travelled in Elephants”: An interesting story about an older gentleman who mourns his wife who accompanied him across the country as a travelling salesman and then, for their amusement, across the country to fairs and shows as they told themselves they were elephant salespeople. After her death, he continues traveling by bus to different fairs, but it’s not the same without her. This nice little story has the obvious twist that might not have been so obvious when it was written.
  • “–All You Zombies–“: As I was reading this, I commented to my wife that at least he was not traveling back in time to schlep his mother, unlike Time Enough For Love. Well, here he does one better, I think: Going back in time to knock himself (as a woman) up with the child who will become him. For reasons unknown and unexplained.
  • “They”: A piece of paranoid ficton with the obvious twist. A man is locked up, sure that everyone is conspiring against him and the whole world is an illusion for some purpose.
  • “Our Fair City” A newspaperman and a parking lot attendant make use of–or get help from–a sentient whirlwind to unmask corruption in the city. A nice bit of whimsy.
  • “And He Built a Crooked House”: The only thing I’d read before in some other anthology. An architect builds a tesseract-looking house that, after an earthquake, folds into itself just as the architect is about to show it to the new homeowners.

A collection of his b-sides, really, but Heinlein (PBUH) really was a juvie rocket-jockey writer whose works achieved resonance because of the aspirational themes and understanding of human nature within them, and when he became popular and wrote adult themed Novels, they succeeded in spite of Heinlein sometimes. I like Heinlein, but with the good, you’ve got to take some not good. This book is half and half.

Books mentioned in this review:

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