Isaac Asimov – The Great Explainer

I’ve just spent the most pleasant few hours this morning – guzzling hazelnut coffee as I began to explore the first 120 pages or so of Isaac Asimov’s “I, Asimov: A Memoir.” I’ve been blown away by what I’ve read thus far.

My experience with Asimov thus far in my reading journey has been woefully light, especially considering he was one of the most prolific writers of all time. Years ago, I read “Foundation,” one of his seminal works, and meant to press on with the subsequent books in that series but never got past the stage of purchasing a few of them. Our paths crossed again, more fruitfully, in 2008 when I had an ambitious reading plan (“Project: Shakespeare”) wherein I hoped to read through the bard’s plays over a year’s time. I chose as my guide for that project Asimov’s book, “Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare,” with which I’ve probably logged about as much time as any book in my reading life (and still haven’t read it all!). I’ve since learned that he also wrote a “guide to The Bible” which I’d like to give a whirl at some point. I also read his famous collection of related stories, “I, Robot'” a few years ago.

Why I am enjoying this memoir so much? Well, while I certainly make no claims to possessing an intellect even remotely close to his, I do feel as though I’ve found a kindred spirit in him, especially in how he describes his youth and how (and where) his intellectual curiosity led him. I also share his notion of having “problems with ANY people who are above me in ANY hierarchy” (my emphasis) which is why, he explains, a career path of self-employment as a writer was a welcome one for him. He also praises public libraries, which I also happily endorse (I’m sitting in one as I type this, as a matter of fact!). Growing up relatively impoverished, the library was a godsend for him:

“For an impoverished child whose family could not afford to buy books, the library was the open door to wonder and achievement, and I can never be sufficiently grateful that I had the wit to charge through that door and make the most of it.”

Sadly, he also reminds us (and this was written more than twenty years ago) that:

“Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut, I can only think that the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself.”

Stay tuned for more about this great book, as I suspect I will blow through it’s 700+ pages fairly quickly…

Any other Asimov fans out there?

Sent from my iPad



  1. Falaise said,

    July 23, 2011 at 11:30 am


    I loved the Foundation books and I, Robot but I have to confess that my favourite Asimov books have always been the Black Widower tales and the Union Club stories. I suspect Asimov thought of these as mere trifles but I love the playfulness.


    • Jay said,

      July 27, 2011 at 6:48 am

      I wasn’t aware of the Black Widower series until reading this memoir, which does describe the genesis of those tales. They sound great and I am looking forward to exploring them as well.


  2. July 23, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    I am a huge Asimov fan. I have read the entire foundation series and all the prequels as well as I, robot. The foundation series was so thoroughly enlightening and entertaining I stopped after finishing them because I assume there was nothing that would eclipse them either from Asimov or the scifi genre in general.


    • Jay said,

      July 27, 2011 at 6:51 am

      I’ve finished reading the memoir now, and Asimov does describe how, when he returned to the series to write Foundation’s Edge, he reread the originals and felt the same sense of frustration that his fans must feel when he reached the end and there was nothing more to read. I probably will read the original three Foundation books sometime this year. They’re in the queue!


  3. Dale Barthauer said,

    July 24, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Great quote about lack of funding for libraries! I haven’t read much by Asimov, but have always wanted to. I will have to check him out soon.


    • Jay said,

      July 27, 2011 at 7:00 am

      Go for it, Dale! I think I will start the Foundation series soon. Read along with me if you like…


      • Dale Barthauer said,

        July 27, 2011 at 7:35 pm

        Right now I am finishing up The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Very good in spite of some rather disturbing parts! Let me know when you start the Foundation series. I think reading along with you would be great! I had my reading list set through August, but it’s never set in stone!


  4. Alex said,

    July 25, 2011 at 5:58 am

    I pride myself in being a sci-fi fan, but shamefully never read Asimov. He’s been on my radar for ages – especially Foundation, but I never seem to get around to him.


    • Jay said,

      July 27, 2011 at 6:58 am

      I’m not sure what to recommend to you to start with. Maybe I, Robot since it is one of the more ‘culturally relevant'(??)

      After reading this memoir, I’m sure I’m going to delve deeper into his works. I was really impressed. It was 700 pages on my e-reader and I read the whole thing in three days (one of which I worked a full day) which is very fast for me.



  5. Jade said,

    July 25, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    A. I am slightly jealous that you were guzzling hazelnut coffee and B. I think you are probably one of the most literate, intelligent male bloggers I’ve ever seen and C. I’ve never heard of this guy, but you have made him seem interesting.


    • Jay said,

      July 27, 2011 at 6:54 am

      A) I rarely log a day without at least one cup of Hazelnut… 🙂
      B) you are too sweet; thank you!
      C) he’s most famous for his science fiction, so if you don’t read that genre I guess you could miss him. If you ever get into Shakespeare, you should look up his guide, though, I found it very helpful.


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