Heinlein was well known in his time to be less than thrilled at all the hippies and drop-outs who adopted this book as their bible. He was said to have hated it when people asked to "share water" with him, as if the ceremony he invented was somehow sacred. His own time spent in the U.S. Navy (had to leave for actual medical reasons) led him to believe that only those who did national service should vote (See Starship Troopers) - so, he was far from thrilled by the peace movement and the drop-outs of the Sixties.
EVEN SO, this book had a profound effect on American culture by opening the minds of its many, many readers to the possibility of a religion that meant something, that led to actual changes in how people behave and act toward one another, not just beliefs -- but actions. I dare say that the thoughts Heinlein put out into the culture via this book were an important part of the stew that led to the reviving of religion as a vital force in the culture, after it had become so staid and dry during the Fifties.
Okay, enough profundities. This book changed my life. There, I said it. It did that by leading me to ask myself questions that I had been trying to avoid, which put me on a different path religiously and otherwise. I might have been a very different person had I never read this book.
The world would have been much different had Heinlein not written it. You owe it to yourself to read this NOW.
This was Heinlein's crossover book. He had written stories attracting science fiction fans for a decade or more. When this book came out in 1961 or so, it drew more readers than science fiction fans. Read it and find out why. It's a good read, simply but effectively written by a master story teller.
Amazing book. And the characters are so real! You can truly see people acting this way, making these decisions. And Valentine -- the main character -- is truly what you would expect a man from another planet to act like, having no understanding of anything even remotely human. The preconceived notions that humans have, no matter where they are from -- he does not have them. Wonderful, and completely realistic. I understand why the cover reads "The most famous science fiction novel ever written."
This book definitely ranks as one of Heinlein's best works. The premise is intriguing, as is his idea of the future of our country, especially in light of when the book was written. This author is definitely one of my favorites.