Isaac Asimov

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 632

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.

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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 position as instructor at the Boston University School of Medicine, teaching biochemistry.

Asimov’s career in science fiction began in 1935, when he started writing letters to the editor of Astounding Science Fiction. In 1938 he visited editor John W. Campbell, Jr., in his office, taking with him his first story, which was rejected. “Marooned Off Vesta,” his third story, was published in the March, 1939, issue of Amazing Stories. Asimov succeeded in selling his tenth story, “Trends,” to John Campbell for the July, 1939, Astounding Science Fiction.

In the years to come, Asimov would visit Campbell once a week, suggesting an idea (or receiving a suggestion for one) and returning with a publishable story. His series of robot stories began with “Reason” in the April, 1941, Astounding Science Fiction. The following year he published “Foundation,” the first of his Foundation stories eventually collected as The Foundation Trilogy (1963).

Asimov would write many more stories and novels, including novels of future “locked-room” crimes featuring Lije Bailey and his robot assistant/competitor R. Daneel Olivaw. Eventually, in the last decade of his life, Asimov became a best-selling author by returning to his robot and Foundation roots and combining them into a future history culminating in the creation of the Galactic Empire and the foundations that try to cushion its fall.

In 1958 he left teaching over a dispute about his academic research style (his writing was his research, he insisted) for full-time writing, which was providing more income than his teaching salary. The launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik convinced him that he should pursue the science popularizations that he had begun in 1952 with Biochemistry and Human Metabolism and in 1957 with monthly science columns in Fantasy and Science Fiction. He would publish no more science fiction novels except the novelization of the film Fantastic Voyage (1966), The Gods Themselves (1972), and Foundation’s Edge (1982). Instead he published hundreds of science books and became known as an erudite and entertaining public speaker.

Asimov separated from his first wife and moved back to New York in 1970. He was divorced in 1973 and married Dr. Janet Jeppson, a psychiatrist. He died April 6, 1992, from complications of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) acquired through a transfusion during earlier open-heart surgery.

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