Building Blocks of the Universe Critical Context - Essay

Isaac Asimov

Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Building Blocks of the Universe was one of a series of books on science for young adults that Isaac Asimov wrote for Abelard-Schuman. The series had a significant effect on Asimov’s writing career. When publisher Henry Schuman approached Asimov in 1953 about writing science books for teenagers, Asimov was a successful science-fiction writer, as well as a professor of biochemistry at the Boston University School of Medicine. In both endeavors, he believed that he had gone as far as he could go. He was looking for something that would take him further, and he found Schuman’s suggestion very attractive. In retrospect, Asimov considered the first book that he wrote for Abelard-Schuman, The Chemicals of Life (1954), as the initial step toward the greater success that he eventually achieved as a prolific writer of nonfiction books for the nonspecialist. The success of these and other books allowed Asimov to become a full-time writer in 1958.

The book is now dated, both by the discovery of new elements since the 102 mentioned in the book and because of the occasional expressions of old-fashioned gender stereotypes. Asimov went on to write many more up-to-date books on science for the layperson—a dozen more in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry alone. In its time, however, Building Blocks of the Universe was widely read. Abelard-Schuman published a revised edition in 1961, and Cadmus Books published a special hardcover edition in 1965. The book was available in mass-market paperback editions from Lancer through the 1970’s. In 1958, the book earned an award from the Thomas Alva Edison Foundation.