Talk:Isaac Asimov/Archive 1

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Foundation series

After writing the original Foundation Trilogy, Asimov abandoned the story, and didn't come back until the 1980s, where a considerable monetary offer from the publishing house was his main incentive (or at least so he tells in the Preface to the book). In this and later books, Asimov tries to bind together in a coherent whole a great deal of his fiction output, creating a future history of humanity.

... but creating rather sloppy and contrived joins between his older books, in the opinion of many readers. I think Asimov's Mysteries deserve some sort of a mention too. -- Tarquin

Martian Way

Resolve Martian Way link as it provides a route back to McCarthyism. Alan Peakall 17:55 Oct 25, 2002 (UTC)


If Nightfall is so wellknown why have most people never heard of it and, unlike other Asimov writings, it doesnt even have an article? Vera Cruz

Nightfall is one of the most famous science fiction short stories ever. I am sorry you have never heard of it. Rmhermen 17:57 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

That is is pov to say such and such is the most famous, especially when he has a number of clearly famous writings. Vera Cruz

I suspect that most people who have heard of Asimov are more likely to have heard of I, Robot or Foundation more than Nightfall. but the first is a book of short stories, and the second is a series of books, so I don't think it's incorrect to say that Nightfall is his most famous single story. It seems ludicrous to have an edit war over such an issue, if another editor comes along and suggests some other story is more famous then it might be worth of debate. I suppose books sales could confirm or deny the fact, but it seems appropriate to bow to the experience and knowledge of Tarquin, Rmhermen and Tannin on this issue. Mintguy

Why would it seem appropriate to bow to pov? Vera Cruz

Stop being silly, Lir. Unless it's contested, it's not POV. --Eloquence 18:10 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

Uh, not that I want to but in, but: I do not entirely agree with Eloquence that something is NPOV unless it is contested. I do agree that it is NPOV if there is a consensus, but I think VC is asking for evidence of that consensus which is fair. I believe that IA himself wrote somethere that Nightfall was either the most widely reprinted of his stories, or the one most often refered to in fan letters, or something like this. Surely, such a quote form IA would make this part of the article stronger. So: Does anyone know what I am talking about? If anyone has any of the various collecxted stories of IA in which he wrote introductions or afterwards (I do not) could you please check and see if he wrote anything to this effect? Thanks, Slrubenstein
Something like that would be nice, but could be very hard to find, and shouldn't be required. If Nightfall is his most famous short story, then lets just say so. That's not being un-neutral, that's just stating the way things are. --Camembert
You're kiding, right? You say , "if Nightfall is his best story," and that "if" is what all this discussion is about. How do we know that it was his most famous? This is not a trivial question. Slrubenstein
I did not say anything about it being his "best" story. If the article had claimed that it was his best story, then I'd agree such as statement is inappropriate. I'm talking about it being his most famous, which is a different thing. And I'm not kidding. What about a statement like "The most famous person called Beethoven ever to have lived was the composer, Ludwig van"? Is that neutral? I think it is. It's certainly true. Can I prove it is true? Probably not without a lot of money and a big team of market reseachers - maybe there's a tremendously popular Russian footballer called Sergei Beethoven. I agree it's better to give some backup to these things where possible, but I don't think it's useful to demand such backup and remove such statements without it unless there is some evidence that the statement in question isn't true (and there doesn't seem to be any evidence in this case). --Camembert

The frontpage of the official site doesnt mention Nightfall, although it does mention Foundation and I Robot several times.

But somebody already said that I Robot and Foundation are not short stories, so I don't see what relevance that has. -Camembert
Nightfall was included in the the anthology Scinece Fiction Hall of Fame, which was compiled by a vote of the Science Fiction Writers of America. (Or whatever it is called: I have the book at home, & I'm at work, where I'm not supposed to be surfing the web.) I'd say that justifies stating "Nightfall" is the most famous story he has written. --

The issue at hand is whether Nightfall is Asimov's best-known short storry. This is quite a claim and should be supported with evidence. I got the following off of someone's webpage, using a google search:
OK, here we have the big "N". Asimov was always befuddled by this story's enormous success, and I must confess to sharing his befuddlement. It's among his most popular stories, it's been turned into a so-so novel (see Nightfall) and a horrible movie, it's been satirized in a Maureen Birnbaum story, it was voted the best sf story of all time in more than one poll—but it's far from Asimov's best. Sure, it's his best prior to about 1945 (which isn't saying much), and one of his better stories of his career—but I would rate quite a bit higher—"The Mule", "And Now You Don't", "The Last Question", "The Ugly Little Boy", "The Dead Past", "Evidence", "The Bicentennial Man" to name a few off the top of my head.
Clearly, whoever wrote this does not think Nightfall is Asimov's best or best-known story. But this mini-review does acknosledge that several polls name it as the best, and that it was enormously popular according to Asimov himself. This is not the evidence I would want to include in the article to support the claim, but for VC and all other doubters, take this as an indication that the claim that Nightfal iss Asimov's most famous is at least a plausible claim. Slrubenstein
It's clear he doesn't think it's his best, but the article didn't make such a claim that I'm aware of. I doesn't seem to bring up the question of what his most famous story is (beyond recognising this as "among the most famous", which doesn't say much one way or the other).
A quick web search for Nightfall reveals such lines as: "widely considered the best science fiction short story ever" and "y early April, he finished the story, titled "Nightfall", and the history of science fiction was changed forever. With "Nightfall," Asimov triggered a spark of awareness in the publishing community that science fiction could be more than Buck Rogers comic books."

Also "Nightfall is widely considered Isaac Asimov's first literary success. As Isaac Asimov recalls in the preface of his short anthology Nightfall and Other Stories, "The writing of 'Nightfall' was a watershed in my professional career ... I was suddenly taken seriously and the world of science fiction became aware that I existed. As the years passed, in fact, it became evident that I had written a 'classic'." Asimov himself republished Nightfall at least seven times and expanded it into a book with Siverberg. Rmhermen 18:31 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

I have no objection to "among his most famous stories" or "argued to be his most famous story" but "is his most famous" is nothing but POV, at the very least try to use, "his best-selling story". Vera Cruz

POV isn't a synonym for opinion if the opinion is the consensus. If the consensus opinion is that it IS his most famous story (as it certainly appears to be) then what the hell are you getting so het up about? Mintguy
Mintguy, if someone is getting worked up about this, then by definition there is no consensus! Slrubenstein
I meant consensus of informed opinion. not a Wikipedian who can give no opinion of an alternative story. Mintguy
It's not so much POV as it is careless writing, making an unproveable statement. Such wording as "one of the most ... " is almost always better than saying "most" "first" "best" "least" and other superlatives. Better to stick with comparatives. In a case like this, however, it might be even better not to make such a fuss.Ortolan88
Basically, I agree with Ortolan. In any case, it's not worth arguing this much over. --Camembert
I think it makes a lot of sense for an encyclopedia article to be clear about evidence and attribution -- sentences like, "according to x, Asimov's most famous story," or "according to y, Asimov's best story." Slrubenstein

Why are we even wasting time over this? VC has managed to turn a non-issue into a page of debate, and even has a few of us semi-convinced! Talk about trolling! -- Tarquin 20:00 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

Talk about your POV regarding how famous something is...Vera Cruz

Vera, I have already asked you what the opposing POV, if any is: for the 2nd time, what is his most famous short story, according to you? And, according to who else? It's not enough to be a lone nutcase (TM). I can claim my POV is that Asimov was a bug-eyed space monster, it's still not going to make it into the article. You are wasting people's time. Either grow up or get lost. -- Tarquin 20:18 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

You continue to refrain from posting any sources to augment your assertation that the best-known work by Isaac Asimov is Nightfall. Vera Cruz

Do you have sources for his date of birth? Because if not, let's remove them!!! The nightfall thing is not MY assertation. It was there long before you decided to wade in and muck around. You plainly do not understand what we are trying to do here; you don't understand what NPOV is, you've elsewhere been accused of not understanding what is suitable material for an encyclopedia. The question is: are you doing this on purpose to annoy people, or are you genuinely confused? Since any attempt to try and explain matters to you leads to irritation and circular arguments, a growing body of Wikipedians are tending towards the former. -- Tarquin 20:31 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

Getting upset? Unfortunately, POV has no place here. It is an opinion that Nightfall is the most famous. Thank you for your threats and insults, they greatly increased the validity of your position. Plz call me a troll again, that way nobody will take me seriously and you won't have to actually discuss the issue. Vera Cruz

How do you propose we measure and quantify "fame"? We could write "widely held to be his most famous", but really, that just sounds insipid. Again -- you do not understand what the NPOV policy actually means. -- Tarquin 20:42 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)
How about "perhaps his most famous..."? It's what I used on the Larry Niven page. I don't think it really matters, except that I happen to agree with Ortolan's point above that we should avoid sweeping statements without proof. Short of polling everyone in the world, we should hedge. For the record, I think that his "The Last Question" is at least as famous as "Nightfall". -- DrBob 20:57 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)
Indeed... Vera Cruz

How does one measure and quantify fame? No wonder I deleted the statement as POV! If you would like to speak about books sold or profits earned, that is one thing, but I doubt you or anyone else has ever done a global polling of who is familiar with what story by Asimov. Vera Cruz

Try Google. It gives a good impression of awareness when the titles are reasonably unique. --Eloquence 20:56 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

So you want the article to say, "According to Wikipedia's interpretation of Google's raw data, Asimov's best known story was Nightfall?" Vera Cruz

Everybody agrees that "Nightfall" is the most famous writing of Asimov.


But obviously everybody doesn't...

Everybody agrees except VC who can't give an alternative. Mintguy

Not so! The title rings only a vague bell for me, too, to be honest, and I've read a few dozen short stories by Asimov. No, seriously! Admittedly I haven't got a very good memory, but even so... I'd have guessed "The Bicentennial Man", myself. Maybe which story is most famous depends on one's nationality, age group, and so on. It would depend on what books were being talked about during one's youth, and so on. And, oh look! I've just got an e-mail from my brother. He says "The Bicentennial Man" too. Independent confirmation. ;) Can't we just say, "His best-known stories include..."? -- Oliver PEREIRA

In fact, if I may interject, I completely disagree that "Nightfall" is famous at all. There is no doubt in my mind that "I, Robot" or "Foundation" would come much ahead of "Nightfall" in any poll of the general population. Quoting a magazine article or similar bragging about how Nightfall is great is one thing, but asserting that it's most famous is patently false. Loisel 21:18 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

As I already stated. I robot is a book of short stores and Foundation is a series of books. Mintguy
so? Dividing his books into categories based on length and then by popularity is a ridiculous notion. Vera Cruz
Dude, anything in the Foundation trilogy or the Robots trilogy would come ahead of Nighfall. Loisel 21:24 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)
Also hold on a minute mr wiseguy, the first book in the trilogy is in fact called Foundation. Loisel 21:28 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

Yes I agree, my guess is Foundation would come out on top. Vera Cruz

Uncle Ed's compromise

his perhaps best-known story is "Nightfall" (1941), which is described in Bewildering Stories, issue 8, as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time"

Now see how that is NPOV...? Vera Cruz

It meets the NPOV criteria, if (and only if) no one disputes that Bewildering Stories called it "one of the most famous, etc." Just like an article about any of several recent U.S. Republican presidents could say: "many people regard him as having caused irreparable damage to the world". The Wikipedia wouldn't be labelling him as a damage-doer; rather, it would report that many people consider him a damage doer. This is a key point, and can be used to "unlock" many future situations where Wikipedians feel locked into an edit war. --Uncle Ed

"His best-known story" is superior to "his perhaps best-known story" in every case save where actual and reasonable doubt exists. It is important not to cave into pig-headed idiocy from a known and deliberate troll. By insisting on removing an informative and non-controversial statement, we would be (by a very small but measurable amount) reducing the quality of Wikipedia. Despite having read a great deal of science fiction in my misspent youth, I couldn't care less about which which is Asimov's most famous short story. I do care about the quality of Wikipedia articles, and about the deliberate waste of large amounts of my time, your time, and the time of many other useful contributors who could be doing edits of real value instead of responding to this idiocy, which is merly the most recent of a long, long series of mindless trolls. Tannin 21:32 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

PS: Loisel: the other works you mention are indeed more famous, but they are not short stories. Tannin

    • Vera, since you're replying beneath Tanninn's text, I wonder if you've got the two of us mixed up. (I do too. I skim-read Recent Changes and when I see "Tannin" in the list I think "when did I edit that?"...) But anyway ... it seems Tannin and I both think you're a pig-headed idiot. And I suppose that makes us both rude ;-) -- Tarquin 23:26 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

I Robot is made of several short stories. Ericd

I haven't followed the entire discussion in detail, but I do observe that Nightfall is mentioned in the article twice. The first mention seems fine, the second mention seems out of place and a duplicate somehow. - Why not remove the second mention? -- SGBailey 22:08 Jan 17, 2003 (UTC)

I agree with you. Ericd


I think the Asimov quotes should be moved to the Wikiquote page for Asimov, with a link in the External links section. Ausir 18:30, 21 Feb 2004 (UTC)

I added those back (perhaps the list should be shorter, though I'm happy with the current length). The reason is that wikiquote and the encyclopedia are different works and someone with a copy of the encyclopedia may not have a copy of wikiquote available (notably places like the school in South Africa which has an offline mirror of Wikipedia, or others with similar cost considerations or who just have only the encyclopedia CD or book). Linking to our related works for more information is good, removing things completely from here when they belong here, isn't. While most of us have excellent internet links, we do need to remember that the links aren't always as easy to follow as they are for us. Jamesday 21:36, 4 Jul 2004 (UTC)

Science fiction and science fact

IMO all listed books are popular science. If you think some of them are not of this category, please put them into, e.g., other. Asimov's contribution in popularizing science is considerable, and deserves separate sections. Mikkalai 23:38, 5 Mar 2004 (UTC)

The problem is that many of his books are collections of short non-fiction pieces originally published separately. Some are on science, but some aren't. He also wrote biography, history, and other subjects. I've read Opus 100, for example, and it is definitely a hodge-podge created to celebrate the fact that it was Asimov's 100th published book. Now that I think about it, I don't even think Opus 100 is all non-fiction. From the title, I strongly doubt that Isaac Asimov's Book of Facts is only about science.
The problem is that I can't tell which are which without picking them all up and looking through them. That's why I wanted to change the heading back to "Non-fiction." Isomorphic 20:02, 7 Mar 2004 (UTC)
IMO, Opus 100 is the only suspicious book in the present list. If someone can move some other to "Other", he is welcome. But to leave the article without mentioning that Asimov was an outstanding author in popular science as well was really bad thing. Mikkalai 02:17, 8 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Grammar gripe

"Took a Ph.D." seems like bad english, and usually you say what you got your doctoreate in philosophy in, i.e. a Ph.D. in economics, a Ph.D. in psychology etc.

As well I compiled a seemingly complete list of his works, if someone would like to format it also here: Isaac_Asimov_Complete_Bibliography . --ShaunMacPherson 20:27, 24 Mar 2004 (UTC)

In point of fact, it isn't bad English and it is a commonly used phrasing in the United States. I have also seen it many times in writings from Britain, and suspect it is more a more common usage in the U.K. than the U.S. It occasionally sounds slightly pretentious. Especially when speaking about one's self and omitting the field of specialty. But most of all it is very much in keeping with how Asimov would often write about himself. He would have been the last to deny he had a large ego and often featured this aspect of his personality in a breezy and self deprecating way that was simultaneously self promoting. He somehow managed to make this come off as charming, although from many other people it would have seemed grating and repulsive.

Quantity of output

I believe I heard that Asimov had more words published than any other author in the English language. Is this verifiably true?

  • Bob Silverberg, another S.F. writer, probably rivals Isaac's word count, or exceeds it, as he wrote hundreds of semi-porn novels under various names, as well as other stuff that is basically unknown to his regular readers. I've also read obits over the last 10 years of two or three other writers who were unknown to me but who wrote close to a thousand pulp novels in various fields. It may well be that no one else has written as many serious words as Isaac, though....Hayford Peirce 20:01, 19 Jul 2004 (UTC)


Asimov was a reluctant member of mensa? Then he was almost certainly a "termite", one of the participants in Lewis Termans grand study of high-iq people. Lewis Terman never revealed their identities, but he revealed some of their occupations, and one was "a famous science-fiction writer". Couldn't really have been anyone else at that time, could it? This would also explain his membership in an organization he disliked. --

In his autobiography, he described them as intellectually combative - he was famous, so everyone decided to take a run at him. That's why he didn't enjoy it. →Raul654 13:25, Aug 24, 2004 (UTC)
I was invited to a Mensa "party." Intellectually combative is an astute description of about 99% of the people I met there. In fact the only guy there that I had any fun with roamed through the crowd and could often be heard saying (loudly) "I'm sooooo impressed." It was as if I had to prove to each and every one of them that I merited the invitation. I declined to join on those very grounds. I'm happy to hear that Isaac Asimov came up with such a succinct description of that bunch.
Fantastic article by the way. Absolutely beautiful!--Wjbean 05:20, 22 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Book count

Asimov's books counts are somewhat artificial; his publishers knew they had a good thing. So we get a lot of different, recycled collections.

However, the one which really made me angry was the book (but at least 4 books in his book count) published as Understanding Physics, Volume 1 and Understanding Physics, Volume 2 and Understanding Physics, Volume 3 ; then it was all cobbled together and republished as Asimov on Physics. What really made me see red about this was the fact that all of these books were liberally laced with cross references. Not only would you have "see p. 37" as a cross-reference entirely within one of the volumes of Understanding Physics, but you'd als have things like a cross-reference in volume 1 saying "see vol. 3 p. 48" (this isn't necessarily the exact format which appeared there, but it was along those lines).

However, when they slammed them all together into Asimov on Physics the pages (at least the ones that were in vol. 2 and 3) got new page numbers. But guess what! The publishers had been in such a hurry to push up that book count, that they hadn't bothered to go back and fix all those internal cross-reference so that they worked with the new pagination in the new book. Gene Nygaard 07:57, 17 Dec 2004 (UTC)

Does anyone notice that it says he published works in every dewey decimal section but philosophy on the top, but then says just every section at the bottom?

I have removed the latter (because I know for a fact that the former is correct). →Raul654 03:23, Feb 16, 2005 (UTC)

Turning pages carefully

Anyone else think the comment on Asmiov learning how not to damage magazines that were to be sold in his parents' shop is interesting enough to be re-included? (assuming it's true; not something I've come across before). AdamW 12:00, 21 Mar 2005 (UTC)

I recall reading some autobiographical material about his boyhood; he talked about reading pulp fiction in his parents' shop -- carefully, of course. Mmmm, that was in an anthology he lent his name to, of pulp fiction of that era, interspersed with said autobio; wish I could remember the name... something Golden Age something... — Xiong (talk) 07:35, 2005 Apr 1 (UTC)

The book is _Before the Golden Age_, and he also mentions it in his autobiography _I. Asimov_, and perhaps other places. I've not yet read the two-volume autobio published about 10 to 15 years before _I. Asimov_. Astro jpc 19:26, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

Asmiov was a biochemist

This was removed on the grounds that just studying biochemistry at university didn't make him a biochemist. Didn't he start out as a professor but leave to pursue writing full time? And didn't he write biochemistry text books? - AdamW 19:38, 21 Mar 2005 (UTC)

If he practiced biochemistry to any significant extent in his career, we can call him a biochemist. If not, well then why would you? I don't think writing books about a subject is enough. Am I a mountain climber if write books about mointain climbing, but never actually spend much time on a mountain? ike9898 19:56, Mar 21, 2005 (UTC)
Well, I would consider getting a PhD was a significant amount of time as a "practising" biochemist in itself.
I'm almost certain he carried on (at Columbia?) for some years after getting his PhD. I'm sure somebody can confirm this (or otherwise). As for writing books, I agree that writing a book "about" biochemistry (a popular science book, say) doesn't require one to be a biochemist. After all, Asimov wrote at least one popular science book on mathematics and we wouldn't call him a mathematician. But to have the depth of knowledge to write a useful text book on biochemist would require one to be a biochemist in my opinion. I certainly wouldn't think much of a text book in any field I work in that was written by someone who had never worked in the field. Would you want to rely on a manual for mountain climbing written by someone who hadn't climbed a mountain themselves? AdamW 20:25, 21 Mar 2005 (UTC)
I agree with Adam. He not only earned his PhD, he taught biochemistry at Boston University. That certainly makes him a biochemist. So I am replacing the reference. --Blainster 22:55, 21 Mar 2005 (UTC)
If I remember correctly from Asimov's New Guide to Science, he stated his contribution to the field in a footnote: Isaac Asimov was the first to recognize that Strontium 90 was the most dangerous isotope present in radioactive fallout, because strontium is absorbed into the bones just like calcium, and with a half-life of 28 years, will emit radiation at strong levels throughout the lifetime of the victim. I don't know if he ever wrote a scientific paper on this. McPoodle 05:18, 22 Mar 2005 (UTC)

Public speaking

I was surprised to see not one word about his public speaking. It was apparently a large part of his professional life, if one is to believe the frequent allusions in his F&SF essays. Lefty 20:13, 2005 Mar 21 (UTC)

Good point. He was considered one of the best speakers for hire, and commanded enormous fees, once he learned that people would pay him for doing that. He always spoke for free at any SF convention he attended, though. He considered it his obligation to the fans who had made him both rich and famous. Maybe I'll dig out my sources and add that during fall break. Astro jpc 19:32, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

Beliefs and politics

Quoting the article:

"Isaac Asimov was a humanist and a rationalist. He did not oppose genuine religious conviction in others but was against superstitious or unfounded beliefs."

The linked-to article on superstition says that faith-based beliefs are superstitious, so this comment seems to be claiming that faith-based religion is not "genuine", and that religious belief should be based strictly on evidence. Surely that's far from NPOV? 21:00, 21 Mar 2005 (UTC)

It is not at all far from NPOV if Mr. Asimov said it himself. And since the article is about Mr. Asimov...--Wjbean 05:25, 22 Mar 2005 (UTC)


I believe this article is good, but not quite complete enough to meet featured article standards. Top of my head, there are at least three topics that should be added.

In no particular order.

Asimov was a very influential SF editor as well as writer. His two-volume collection (he added several more volumes over later years) of The Hugo Winners circa 1970, with gossipy and funny introductions to each story was almost certainly the most widely read anthology of SF short stories for at least a decade, and possibly remains so to this day. The fact that he was chosen as the editor for the official anthologies of the stories that won the most important award in SF says a lot about the regard his fellow SF authors held for Asimov. (Okay, so either the Hugos OR the Nebulas or the most important award in SF, but my point still stands.  :-)

This article could use more information and emphasis on Asimov's achievements and influence as a writer of science and technology books for the lay audience. There isn't enough of this, compared to the larger weight of matter about his SF achievements. For instance, there's no mention of his dominance of the science sections of popular bookstores, nor of how frequently he was a guest on television news and talk shows about science, especially concerning space exploration (he was vigorously in favor of space exploration).

Asimov was also very influential in SF writing circles (and mystery writing, AFAIK) in informal ways, through friendships and social networking. For instance, he was the de facto chief for many, many years of the Trapdoor Spiders Club, a monthly dinner gathering of a few dozen people - mostly SF writers, but some scientists and others. This group also served loosely as an inspiration for his series of mystery stories revolving around "The Black Widowers" club. And of course, Asimov was a busy correspondent and friend with many figures in the SF world.

I feel qualified enough to recognize the need for these additions, but not qualified enough to write them, else I would be bold and do so.

FWIW, Asimov gets his wish of being remembered more for his entire corpus of work than for any single book or series of books, at least with me.  :->

-L (01:47, 24 Mar 2005)

Improved the article by deleting an irrelevant note about why liberals should be pro-nuclear power, and the statement that Asimov disliked it when his name was misspelled or mispronounced. (It would only be worthy of note if he didn't.) User:Kalimac


(Rowena Morrill)

Somewhere -- and since seeing it, I've forgotten where, found it again, and forgotten it again, sorry -- Somebody complained that this article did not have a nice image of the Good Doctor. (If anyone knows where that comment was made, please to copy it here where it belongs, before these words.)

I got in touch with SF/F illustrator Rowena, who very graciously has licensed a small PNG of her painting of Dr. Asimov. I have preserved the former image and moved it to breathe a little life into the text at "Quotes". — XiongXiong2char.pngtalk 00:20, 2005 Apr 3 (UTC)

Readings and references?

No offense, but that section title is entirely ambiguous as to which resources were properly used as references and which were not. If all sources were indeed used to fact check or add material to the article, the section should simply be called references. Readings could mean anything including a list of resources that were not consulted by the page's authors at all. This ambiguity is intellectually dishonest. What also led me to discuss this was the external links section was simply renamed to the above, making it unlikely, though certainly not impossible, that all were used properly. Please separate those that can be confirmed to have been used properly into a references section, and those that were not used as references into either further reading or external links. Also external links used as references should be formatted according to the rules for webpages (not from periodicals) as shown on Wikipedia:Cite sources. In summary I am inclined to vote remove on WP:FARC because there could be as few as 1 actual reference used. Thanks - Taxman 12:44, Apr 4, 2005 (UTC)

There are many articles with sections like this. The ambiguity is much more likely due to emulation of others or not being aware of the convention for references. The Wiki Cite Sources article even recommends identifying good references whether they are used or not. One needn't jump to the conclusion that anyone is being "intellectually dishonest". Better to educate than berate. --Blainster 23:52, 5 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Well, no intent to berate, sorry. But it is improper for the reasons above, and I've also given a way to sort out the issue. I was hoping someone could point out some that were used as references. If not it really should be renamed back and some of those or others should be properly used to fact check the material in the article. I will do that if no one knows for sure which of those resources were used as references. - Taxman 03:34, Apr 22, 2005 (UTC)
A quick read-through indicates that all the books by Asimov himself (including those edited by family members) are cited in the article. The Gunn book is cited, but the Patrouch and White are not. I have read John Jenkins's summary of the White biography, but not the book itself; maybe somebody who has the real thing (or who doesn't mind secondary secondary sources) can incorporate some of that material. Anville 20:19, 30 Apr 2005 (UTC)
The section is now split. God bless you, insomnia. Anville 06:00, 24 Jun 2005 (UTC)


This article has too many categories. It becomes unweildy. I see that SimonP has put it into a Category:Isaac Asimov which is a member of 3 other categories, and this is a good start to reducing the number. This could be taken further, by adding Category:Isaac Asimov to a few more categories, but it isn't easy to see where to draw the line on this.-gadfium 03:38, 10 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Historical Works Of Isaac Asimov, a Historiographical Analysis

I, Historian

Stephen: “But you are telling me, Susan, that the ‘Society for Humanity’ is right; and that Mankind has lost its own say in its future.”

Susan: “ It never had any, really. It was always at the mercy of economic and sociological forces it did not understand – at the whims of climate, and the fortunes of war. Now the Machines understand them; and no one can stop them as they are dealing with the Society, - having as they do, the greatest of weapons at their disposal, the absolute control of our economy.”

Stephen: “How horrible!”[1]

  • The author of this dialogue is Isaac Asimov. Similar references to the history of humanity are widely used in his literature works. The author is a well-known writer of future societies, not only in fiction but also as treatises of the ‘march of humanity’ into the future. Neither in his stories, nor in the historical essays of Asimov can one easily find references to great changes in a society through the works of great men, great ideas or greatness of an arbitrary institution. This paper will investigate the historiographical method and mode of historical writing of Isaac Asimov.

The Writer:

Seldom thought of as a scientist, less even as an essayist, and almost never as a historian. The famous author of some of the best-known science fiction literature... Hailed as a “Grand Master” in 1986 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy writers of America Inc., Isaac Asimov has produced over 470 books on a large variety of subjects[2]. Among his portrayals as a writer are, as listed by one of his publishers Houghton Mifflin Company, novelist, humorist, futurist, current world record holder in literary output etc. Yet, more importantly Asimov was a PhD holder in the field of chemistry, a professor in Boston University. More relevant still for the purpose of the present work is the historian persona that Asimov assumed numerous times.[3]

  • Asimov was born in January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi, Russia to a Jewish family that emigrated to the United States. He grew up in Brooklyn and graduated from Columbia University in 1939, obtaining his PhD in the same establishment in 1948. He joined the faculty of Boston University thereafter, and remained associated to B.U., however not in a teaching capacity from 1958 on. He died in 1992, his death was later revealed to have been as a result of contracted HIV from a bypass surgery he received in 1983[4].
  • Despite the fact that there are various different elements to his character, Asimov was a writer first and foremost. His first publications were in the genre of science fiction, first of which was published in an issue of Amazing Stories magazine in March 1939. Asimov claims that writing had been “ . . . merely an amusement,” and that he had hoped for a few dollars to help pay his college tuition.[5] Furthermore, for the introduction of his one hundredth work, he professes that he had never planned anything at all in his writing career, and that his commercial success was an “incredulous relief.” As for his historical works he claims that they were “primarily intended for non-historians,” as his science books were primarily intended for non-scientists.
  • He is not only an amateur that has deep interests in history, but also a science-fiction novelist, whose literature work is influenced by his knowledge of history. Asimov’s major works, the Foundation and Robot series to name a few, depict the future not through the wars and technological accomplishments of humanity but they portray the human societies of the future, with a dominant preconception of formation and function of the past societies. To name a specific case; he declares that the fictitious Galactic Empire that is in power in the Foundation Series were written with certain periods of the Roman history; “Justinian and Belisarus of the sixth century and a little bit Tiberius and Sejanus of the first century…” to be exact, in mind.[6]

The Works:

Isaac Asimov is interested in history not only out of personal curiosity, but he can also justify this curiosity in terms of his profession. Asimov states; “… we surely cannot grasp the significance of population, energy, technology, and other subjects today without seeing them in the context of the past.” Therefore as a professional author of science fiction, and a speculator of future societies, Asimov believes that “… without knowing where we came from, we cannot easily detect where we are going.”[7]

  • His outlook of history is pre-deterministic and conceptualized materialistically; and for the most part simplistically. In dealing with the rise and fall of political unities, he often refers to demographic, geographic and economic forces at work. The main theme throughout this attempt at universal history is the evolution of the mankind catalyzed by a series of necessities and solutions. The reader is bound to find statements concerning the social forces at work, such as: “…the more people there are, the more complex the society, and the greater the pressure to think of solution to social problems.”[8]

His historiographical mission can be identified as universal history writing. Particularly, ‘The March of the Millennia” is a book that aims to cover the history of all human civilizations of all regions. Although admittedly euro-centric in content, the book nevertheless is an earnest try to accomplish this feat. Furthermore, when the author believes there is enough material to write the histories of all regions, he launches into chapters of individual regions in the same time-periods.

In dealing with the rise of civilization in the Mesopotamian region, Asimov enlists this argument to justify this region as a ‘natural selection.’ The density of the population, Asimov asserts, is the necessary prerequisite for crucial advances such as the Neolithic revolution.[9] The next logical advance in an already agricultural and relatively densely populated region was, according to Asimov, city-dwelling. Another simple and commonsensible statement deals with this necessity: “… once agriculture was instituted, the city was sure to follow.” The resulting invention would take the shape of a city “…plus the surrounding farms that belonged to the city dwellers, made up a community that came to be called a city-state.” [10]

Surprising as it seems to believe such a statement in first glance, some scholars of archaic Greece would agree with this simplistic union of farmers for common goals and common security, that is supposed to have taken shape of a city-state.[11] There are also other anthropological models present in Asimov’s history of pre-historic human societies. In explanation of irrigation ditches, Asimov claims that such feats of engineering had to be supervised and organized, therefore hinting just which necessity would be the crucial one in order for humanity to advance; namely central leadership.[12]

  • Some vague generalizations on the subject of state and forms of government can also be found in Asimov’s conception of history. In a Polybian sense, Isaac Asimov compares and contrasts different forms of government in a periodical fashion. General statements concerning the rule of kings and nobility, stability of central rule, and the economic and political consequences thereof, are common throughout Asimov’s historical treatise.[13] The main forms of government of antiquity and pre-history in contrast are the monarchial, feudal and imperialistic. Much like Polybius, Asimov points to the shortcomings and benefits of each.
  • On the development of the imperialistic regime, Asimov asserts that this was another development, much like technological developments, and in relation with them. “The Empire,” claims Asimov, “was made possible by many other inventions such as writing and roads, that allowed ruler to control large regions of territory.” Furthermore, despite its repressive and energy-consuming nature, the empire secured a relative security for its inhabitants, the number of which in turn increased and hence a new cycle of productive and creative forces were initiated as a result of scarcity. [14]
  • On the subject of rise and fall of societies, Asimov has a materialistic notion. According to the author the civilizations evolve and develop and at a certain stage in their existence it almost seems like “. . . they can burn themselves out, with periods of intense activity.” As an example, Asimov maintains, concerning Hellenistic societies of the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C.: “[in] the case of the Greeks, they had more or less depleted their considerable energies by this time. Their culture displayed less creativity…”[15] As for the decline and fall of the Western Roman Empire; “[in] terms of social evolution , it might well have been necessary for the political grip of the empire to be loosened, so that a new and more vital society could take its place.”[16]
  • Although biblical and mythic references to events are widely used in Asimov’s history, the author seeks causation of major events with rationalistic and materialistic reasoning. In case of the Trojan War, for example, the author asserts “The Greeks felt that they could reduce their costs [of their commerce] by controlling the Straits [Bosphorus and Hellespont] themselves. They therefore laid siege to Troy, took it and destroyed it.”[17] Another economic and sociological consequence addressed in context of Greek history is the impressive colonization drive of the nation. Asimov speculates the massive drive to expand outward must have been necessitated by overpopulation.[18]
  • The relationship between the competing (or collaborating depending on the era) of religion and secular authority is another important theme in Asimov’s history. He associates the centralization of religion and its political applications first with the rulers of Sumerians.[19] In later stages of his account of the past, Asimov follows the subject in Egyptian and Roman system, to name a few.
  • As it is already noted, Asimov’s conceptions of evolutionary stages for human achievements are the main current of his history. The causation between the necessity and the pursuing ‘inevitable’ progress dominates especially the anthropological treatment of the past. Yet ,another example to this effect is the relationship between the invention of alphabet and trade. Asimov holds commercial nature of Phoenicians as the reason for their breakthrough, and in turn holds their geo-political position among territorially expansive and aggressive powers in the region for their maritime improvements.[20]
  • Possibly the most interesting aspect of Asimov’s conception of the past is its classification of resourcefulness of the states. Other than the geographical extend of a state, which can be expected in such an application of historical writing, Asimov measures the powers of political entities in terms of their command of a large pool of human resources. In accordance with Asimov’s concept of political, economic and military strength in context of command over large reserves of natural resources or holding monopolies on technological advances such as iron-working;[21] a state’s command over a large population is crucial. As it is shown, the population, in Asimov’s history, is not only responsible for the economic, social and political factors in a human society but it also governs the evolutionary steps (i.e. technological advances).

The Critique

  • It can be observed from the methodical approach of Asimov to the events of the past, he is the type of historian that is engaged in “specialized research in that universal history.” Furthermore, we cannot claim that he is in agreement with the Ranke school of historicism, since he can't be argued to be “…investigating the particular never loses sight of the complete whole, on which it is working.”[22]

Although unmistakably striving to achieve the ideal of universal history, Asimov is unorthodox in his approach. Ranke’s description of an ideal historian, particularly one that tackles the immense responsibility of universal history, is formulated as: “… The historian must keep his eye on the universal aspect of things. He will have no preconceived ideas as does the philosopher; rather, while he reflects on the particular, the development of the world in general will become apparent to him.”[23] This is clearly not the case for Asimov. The author launches his history with a mission of finding possible “threads of continuity in the roiling changes of the human past.”[24] Therefore, in direct opposition to what Ranke warns against.

While Asimov can be argued to be an accomplished historian in regard to the lesser laws of Rankean history, namely exposition of unity and progress of events, fairly well; he is suspect of not keeping with the supreme law: strict representations of facts.[25] Since he does not attend to the particulars with disregard of a pre-constructed mode of perception, Asimov is in opposition to Ranke. The Rankean objection against Asimov’s historical treatise would be that it is accordance with the ideas of philosophy of history, which observes: “…the human race [as it] moves along a course of uninterrupted progress, a steady development towards perfection.”[26] Consequently, we can observe that the Rankean critique of such historical writing holds true, namely:

“If this or a similar pattern were to some extend true, then general history would have to investigate the progress which mankind makes in the indicated direction from century to century; in that case the scope of history would consist in tracing the development of these concepts in their appearance, their manifestation in the world.”[27]

Until late in Asimov’s history, the history of humanity is treated as a singular history, it does not represent the multi-nationalistic perception of Ranke. Even in the later stages, the particular nations are not as frequently mentioned as the regions. The nations are only named in context of their achievements, as members of the western civilization. There are no references to the “peculiar characters” of nations; much less the external relations of these states. Yet, according to Ranke the transformations of that the world has experienced are caused by the external relations of the nations.[28]

On the predominance of necessities concerning historical progress, Asimov does not concur with Ranke. According to the Leopold von Ranke, “Necessity inheres in all that has already been formed and that cannot be undone, which is the basis of all new, emerging activity. What developed in the past constitutes the connection with what is emerging in the present. However, this connection is not something arbitrarily assumed…”[29] Further, necessity is not the sole determining factor, but it goes together with a force that cannot be arbitrarily assumed, freedom. Thus, Ranke’s freedom and the spontaneity of the history thereof are crucial. As Asimov conceptualizes history of humanity in accordance with and in relation to the technological advances there is not much space allowed for the spontaneity of which Ranke is idealizing.

However not all historians can be found to be that critical of a historical treatise like that of Asimov, and other laymen. Thomas Babington Macaulay describes the ideal method of historical more liberally, allowing for the value of imagination and narrative. “A perfect historian” writes Macaulay, “must posses an imagination sufficiently powerful to make his narrative affecting and picturesque.”[30] On the other hand, he warns against possible deficiencies in history, if imagination is used excessively. Macaulay stresses the fact that no history can relay the human past in its totality (to which Ranke would concur,) but “…those are the best pictures and the best histories which exhibit such parts of the truth as most nearly produce the effect of the whole.”[31]

In that light, Asimov’s selection of what he thinks of as the most crucial bits of human history is clearly related to the type of picture/history he envisions. Far from finding fault with it, following Macaulay’s logic one must perhaps praise Asimov for the simplicity of its representation and accessibility of his work. For all its minimalism Asimov’s history is an aesthetic representation of past. However, as Macaulay stresses, there were certainly faulty assumptions and imaginative reasoning in it.[32]

In Constantin Fasolt’s description on the other hand, a historian’s task is “… to confront that immutable absence without fear and wrest it from the darkness so that it may be exhibited to present and future generation for their appreciation and if possible instruction.”[33] In that sense, it is apparent that Asimov is not bringing to light any new information, nor does he always relay the sources on which he is basing his claims. Yet, this is just the means, for Fasolt, to reach the ends of informing future generations. On that, Asimov is undertaking what a historian must do. It is, of course, done in a different context than what Fasolt intends, he has in mind other historians to work on the new finds.

  • Apart from the historiographical treatment of Asimov’s historical treatises, the mode of historical thinking can also be investigated. It is relevant to contrast Asimov’s selective recollection of historical events with Karl Marx’s conception of history. The ideal starting point of history according to Marx must be the “…[geological, orohydrographical, climactic] natural bases and their modification in the course of history through action of men.”[34] One can clearly observe that Asimov’s history starts out from such premises. Marx’s materialistic conception of history is concerned with the social aspects of human existence, in which all other factors (i.e. religion, politics, ideology) are governed ultimately by the social conditions. The explanation for ‘social’ is given by Marx as the cooperation of individuals. Following from that definition Marx asserts that “… a certain mode of production, or industrial stage is always combined with a certain mode of cooperation is itself a “productive force.” Therefore, the history of humanity must be studied “… in relation to the history of industry and exchange.”[35]

The general argument found in Asimov’s conception of history is dominated with a similar attitude. The social relations, according to Asimov, determine the technological advances, and those in turn determine the forms in which the societies exist. Asimov, in his reasoning, is not exclusively determined in such material terms, yet his social and economic survey makes his history social in its mode. Therefore, all the criticisms on the model-conscious attitude of social history also apply to Asimov.


  • Overall, Asimov should not be classified as a historian, for all the reasons that he defies the definition of the profession. Yet, his attempts to popularize history using his own popularity must be appreciated. The author accomplishes to write a coherent and accessible narrative that would be beneficent in the hands of a layman of history, an inquisitive amateur or simply a child. His treatment of historical events of significance is scientific and analytical. For all his faults, we may like to keep in mind Macaulay’s words:

“If, in practice the some of the best writers of fiction have been among the worst writers of history, it has been because one of their talents had merged in another so completely that it could not be severed; because having long been habituated to invent and narrate at the same time, they found it impossible to narrate without inventing.”[36]

[1] Isaac Asimov, “The Evitable Conflict,” from “I Robot”

[2] Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. website: “

[3] For a full list please refer to the website:

[4] For extended biographical information refer to website:

[5] Isaac Asimov, “Opus 100,” pg 13

[6] Isaac Asimov, “Opus 100,” pg 222

[7] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: ix

[8] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 10

[9] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 10

[10] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 14

[11] See Victor Davis Hanson, “The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization”

[12] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 16- 17 / For the anthropological models for irrigation and state see Susan Pollock, “Ancient Mesopotamia” and Karl Wifffogel “Oriental Despotism”

[13] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 33-34

[14] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 83

[15] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 70

[16] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 91

[17] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 44

[18] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 63

[19] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 18

[20] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 47

[21] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 44

[22] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 61

[23] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 59

[24] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: vii

[25] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 57

[26] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 57

[27] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 59

[28] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 60

[29] Leopold von Ranke, “Varieties of History,” pg: 61

[30] Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Varieties of History,” pg: 72

[31] Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Varieties of History,” pg: 76

[32] Isaac Asimov, “The March of the Millennia,” pg: 75: “Caesar on the other hand, who had never before fought in a battle, found that he was a military genius at the age of forty two, “Opus 100,” pg: 215 “Pompey took the city [of Jerusalem] out of curiosity.”

[33] Constantine Fasolt, “The Limits of History,” pg: 5

[34] Karl Marx, “German Ideology” (from Marx-Engels Reader,” p: 149

[35] Karl Marx, “German Ideology” (from Marx-Engels Reader,” p: 157

[36] Thomas Babington Macaulay, “Varieties of History,” pg: 75


1. Asimov, Isaac; “I, Robot,” Bantam Books, New York, 1991

2. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. website: “”

3. Asimov, Isaac; “Opus 100,” Dell Publishing Co., Inc. New York, 1970

4. Hanson, Victor Davis; “The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization,” University of California Press, Berkeley, 1999

5. Pollock , Susan; “Ancient Mesopotamia,” Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999

6. Stern, Fritz; “Varieties of History From Voltaire to the Present,” Vintage Books Edition, 1973

Fasolt, Constantin; “The Limits of History,” The University of Chicago Press, 2004

Assessment comment

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needs inline citations --plange 21:17, 24 September 2006 (UTC)

Last edited at 21:17, 24 September 2006 (UTC). Substituted at 19:58, 2 May 2016 (UTC)