Study Guide

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov Biography

Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

ph_0111207059-Asimov.jpgIsaac Asimov. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Asimov was born in the village of Petrovichi, in the Soviet Union, on January 2, 1920, the first child of Judah Asimov and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov. The Asimovs emigrated to the United States in 1923 and settled in Brooklyn, where Asimov’s father owned a series of candy stores. Asimov taught himself to read at the age of five and was regarded as a child prodigy, both for his ability to learn and for his prodigious memory.

After skipping several grades and completing junior high school in two years instead of three, Asimov enrolled in the Boys’ High School of Brooklyn, a selective, prestigious school noted for mathematics. He entered at age twelve and a half, two and a half years younger than his fellow students, and continued to be sheltered from the lives of his fellows, particularly girls.

Asimov then entered Columbia University, intending to become a doctor. After he had to kill and dissect a cat in anatomy class, he switched to chemistry and after graduation continued the study of chemistry at Columbia. He had obtained his M.S. and was on his way to his Ph.D. when the United States entered World War II. Asimov interrupted his studies to work at the U.S. Navy yards in Philadelphia (with Robert A. Heinlein and L. Sprague de Camp). At that time he married Gertrude Blugerman, with whom he would have two children: David, born in 1951, and Robyn, born in 1955. He served less than a year in the Army before resuming his studies at Columbia, earned his Ph.D. in 1948, and after a year of postgraduate work accepted a...

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Isaac Asimov Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Professor George G. Simpson of Harvard University called Asimov “one of our natural wonders and national resources.” Simpson was referring to Asimov’s science popularizations, but Asimov always viewed himself as a science-fiction writer, and his science-fiction writing, noted for its clarity, rationality, and scope, was a foundation for later science fiction. It will be remembered and read long after his other works are forgotten.

Isaac Asimov Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Brought to the United States when he was three, Isaac Asimov was reared in New York by his Jewish parents and was taught to take education seriously, especially science. A child prodigy, he was graduated from high school at fifteen and went on to earn his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. in chemistry at Columbia University, with a brief interruption for noncombatant military service at the end of World War II. Although he failed to achieve his dream, and that of his parents, to become a doctor, he did join the faculty of the medical school at Boston University, where he became an Associate Professor of Biochemistry before turning to full-time writing. A science-fiction fan since his early teens, he published his first story at eighteen. After nineteen books of fiction in the 1950’s, however, he concentrated much more heavily on nonfiction. He was married twice, to Gertrude Blugerman from 1942 to 1973, with whom he had two children, and to psychiatrist Janet Jeppson in 1973. In the early 1980’s, Asimov endured a thyroid cancer operation, a heart attack, triple bypass surgery, and his second wife’s mastectomy. He treated all these sufferings as temporary setbacks in the “game of immortality” that he played—writing as much as he could with the hope that at least some of his works would live beyond his death. Asimov died of kidney failure on April 6, 1992, in a New York hospital. He was seventy-two.

Isaac Asimov Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Isaac Asimov emigrated to the United States with his Russian Jewish parents when he was three years old; they settled in Brooklyn, New York. Unsure of his actual birthday, due to poor record keeping in Russia at the time, he claimed January 2, 1920. Encountering early science-fiction magazines at his father’s candy store, where he began working when his mother was pregnant with his brother, led him to follow dual careers as scientist and author. Asimov was the eldest of three children; he had a sister, Marcia, and a brother, Stanley. He considered himself an American and never learned to speak Russian; in later life he studied Hebrew and Yiddish. In high school, Asimov wrote a regular column for his school’s newspaper. He entered Columbia University at age fifteen, and by age eighteen, he sold his first story to the magazine Amazing Stories.

Graduating from Columbia with a B.S. in chemistry in 1939, Asimov applied to all five New York City medical schools and was turned down. He was also rejected for the master’s program at Columbia but convinced the department to accept him on probation. He earned his master’s degree in chemistry in 1941. His doctoral program was interrupted by his service in World War II as a junior chemist at the Philadelphia Naval Yard from 1942 through 1945. He worked there with fellow science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein.

Asimov earned his doctorate in biochemistry in 1948, and after graduation he...

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Isaac Asimov Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207059-Asimov.jpgIsaac Asimov. Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Although often singled out for the great number and wide variety of his books, to the general reader Isaac Asimov (AZ-eh-mof) is best known and most likely to be remembered for his works in science fiction. He was born in Petrovichi, a shtetl (a small, culturally homogeneous Jewish community) about 250 miles southwest of Moscow. Throughout his life Isaac, the first son of Judah and Anna Rachel (Berman) Asimov, celebrated January 2, 1920, as his birthday, although as a result of lost records and faulty memories the actual date is uncertain. At the urging of relatives in the “golden land” of America, the Asimov family, which had recently added a daughter, left the Soviet Union in 1923 and traveled to the United States, settling in Brooklyn, where another son was born. Judah Asimov did odd jobs, accumulated some money, and in 1926 bought a small candy store, in which he and his wife labored for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Isaac, who learned from his father to respect hard work and careful study, helped his parents after school.

Asimov became an American citizen when he was eight years old. By that time, he was already recognized as an exceptionally bright student in the Brooklyn public school he attended. Even before he began school, he had become a voracious reader, a practice that led him in the summer of 1929 to experience his first science fiction in Amazing Stories. Because Judah Asimov believed that only bums read the pulps, he initially refused to allow his son to read these magazines in his store’s racks, but when Science Wonder Stories appeared, the word “science” convinced him of the new publication’s value. Soon Isaac was an avid fan. These magazines interested him not only in science and fiction but also in writing, and by the age of eleven he was composing stories of his own.

In 1935, when he was fifteen, Asimov graduated from high school and enrolled in Seth Low Junior College, then a part of Columbia University. Following his father’s recommendation, he started as a premedical student majoring in zoology, but he switched his major to chemistry in his sophomore year. While in college he continued to write stories, and his father bought him a typewriter to facilitate the process. In the summer of 1938, he completed a story called “Cosmic Corkscrew,” whose generating idea was helical time travel. Asimov knew that John W. Campbell edited Astounding Science Fiction in New York City, but he was surprised by his father’s suggestion that he take his story to Campbell in person. Campbell graciously talked with Asimov for more than an hour, and although he turned down the story, he encouraged the young writer to keep trying. Twelve rejections later, Asimov made his first sale, “Marooned off Vesta,” to Amazing Stories in October, 1938.

After receiving his B.S. degree in 1939, and after failing to get into medical school, Asimov continued at Columbia University in pursuit of a graduate degree in chemistry. Despite these moves toward a career in chemistry, he thought of himself more and more as a science-fiction writer, particularly after Campbell and other editors began regularly publishing his stories. He wrote his most famous story, “Nightfall,” in 1941 at the suggestion of Campbell, who, building on an idea of Ralph Waldo Emerson, wondered how human beings would react to the stars if they were visible only once every thousand years.

In the summer of 1941, after obtaining his master’s degree, Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman, a union that eventually produced two children, a boy and a girl. During World War II, he worked as a civilian chemist at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia, and starting in 1945, he served in the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of corporal. In 1946, following his discharge, he returned to Columbia, where he studied the rates of biochemical reactions. Having received his Ph.D. in 1948, he began postdoctoral studies on nucleic acids at Columbia, before accepting an invitation in 1949 to teach biochemistry at the Boston University Medical School. He became a tenured professor in 1955.

During his years as an academic, Asimov continued to write science fiction in his...

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Isaac Asimov Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Isaac Asimov was born in the Soviet Union, in Petrovichi, on January 2, 1920. When he was three, his family emigrated and settled in...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Isaac Asimov Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Isaac Asimov was born between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920. Two different calendars were in use in the region where he was born,...

(The entire section is 849 words.)

Isaac Asimov Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Janet Asimov was born Janet Jeppson on August 6, 1926, in Ashland, Pennsylvania, to John Rufus Jeppson, a physician, and Rae (nee Knudson)...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)

Isaac Asimov Biography (Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Isaac Asimov was born between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920, in a region of the world (Petrovichi in the former U.S.S.R) where two...

(The entire section is 903 words.)

Isaac Asimov Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Born in Russia on January 2, 1920 to Judah and Anna Rachel Berman Asimov, Isaac Asimov and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, when he...

(The entire section is 478 words.)