At his death in 1992, Isaac Asimov had published at least 475 books, ranking him as one of the world’s most prolific authors. The Foundation Trilogy rapidly earned status as a science-fiction classic, while two other novels in the series became long-term best-sellers. A learned student of science—he held a Ph.D. in chemistry and was a professor of biochemistry—and a devotee of history, Asimov virtually founded the science-fiction subgenre of future history. He earned many major awards, including numerous Hugos and Nebulas, and was named a Nebula Grand Master in 1987. Throughout the Foundation series novels, Asimov’s scientifically or technically trained leading characters are aided or guided by historians. In the Foundation series as elsewhere in his writings, Asimov acknowledges drawing heavily on themes embodied in widely influential historical and metahistorical studies, notably Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), Arnold J. Toynbee’s A Study of History (1934-1954), and Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1926-1928). Although differing in their subject matter and their perspectives, each of these works is concerned, as was Asimov, both with identifying recurrent patterns in history and with tackling the venerable historical question of whether such patterns are determined primarily by profound social forces or instead by individual actions or chance. The mutant...
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