Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 957
Isaac Asimov is one of the best-known and most prolific science-fiction writers in the genre’s history. His name is found at the top of any list of the most widely read authors of the twentieth century. The fiction and nonfiction volumes which he has written or edited number in the hundreds, while his shorter pieces and articles are too numerous to be cataloged by anyone other than an assiduous bibliographer.
Asimov began keeping a personal diary as a teenager, making his first entries in early 1938. He continued this habit throughout much of his life, with the result that he published in 1979-1980 two autobiographical volumes based upon the diaries. These two titles chronicle his life from birth to 1978. The first, In Memory Yet Green: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1920-1954 (1979), considers his childhood in Brooklyn as the son of Russian immigrants, his early education, his student years at Columbia University (where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry), and his World War II experiences as a chemist at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. This first volume also surveys his early interest in science fiction and his initial efforts at writing. Asimov was encouraged by the legendary John Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, and this first volume documents the writing of Asimov’s masterpiece “Nightfall” and the publication of his books I Robot (1950), Pebble in the Sky (1950), Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1952).
In Joy Still Felt, the second autobiographical volume, is the recounting of Asimov’s years as a fully established and successful writer who rapidly moved from success and acceptance in science-fiction circles to the status of a major writer of both fiction and nonfiction works with a national, then international, audience. The volume is divided into five parts, each developing the story of his life in chronological fashion from 1954 to 1978. Within each part, successive chapters provide a narrative which links together the major events of his literary production, the concerns of his personal life, and the increasing demands of his career as a public figure. In addition, each chapter is divided into subsections which deal with specific events in his life.
Asimov opens In Joy Still Felt with a recounting of his teaching career at the Boston University School of Medicine, the birth of his second child, and the domestic concerns of family life in the suburbs. It would have been a comfortable and fulfilling life for the young professor, except that the mid-1950’s presented Asimov with a dilemma: His growing success as a popular science-fiction author demanded more and more of his time, and this intruded upon his professional and scholarly duties as a medical school faculty member. Nevertheless, he continued writing fiction and enjoyed publishing successes with such books as The Caves of Steel (1954) and Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958). He also began writing nonfiction scientific books for laypersons, such as his 1956 Inside the Atom. His entry into the field of writing “science fact” books (as these works are sometimes called) increased his reputation as an accomplished explainer of scientific principles for the lay reader. The decade of the 1950’s saw a continuing progression of such works, including The World of Carbon (1958), The World of Nitrogen (1958), The Clock We Live On (1959), and his useful two-volume compendium The Intelligent Man’s Guide to Science (1960).
The late 1950’s also saw Asimov abandon the classroom, although he retained his appointment at Boston University as a nonsalaried faculty member without portfolio. Thereafter, he devoted his full effort to his writing career, and, in so doing, his publication list began to grow rapidly. The 1960’s and 1970’s were decades of increasing production and literary accomplishment for Asimov. During this time, he turned completely away from science fiction for long periods and concentrated on writing popular scientific works which had, as their primary purpose, the explanation of complex theories and abstruse scientific discoveries to a general readership. His devoted science-fiction fans provided him with a ready audience for these works, while the clarity of his nonfiction writings won for him an increasingly broader readership which was then attracted to his fiction.
Asimov also began to write mysteries, most notably the short stories compiled in Tales of the Black Widowers (1974) and the novel Murder at the ABA (1976). His passion as an explainer also thrust him into writing history, literary criticism, religion, and humor—including The Greeks (1963), The Birth of the United States (1974), Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare (1970), Words in Genesis (1962), Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (1968-1969), The Isaac Asimov Treasury of Humor (1971), and Lecherous Limericks (1975).
The literary successes of the 1960’s and 1970’s were simultaneous with the growing to adulthood of his two children and his gradual estrangement from his first wife, Gertrude Blugerman. By the mid-1970’s, Asimov had been married a second time (Janet Jeppson, a psychiatrist and author), had moved from Boston to New York City, and—because of his literary prominence and extensive readership—had become a noted figure in American popular culture. He appeared as a guest on television talk shows, had regular access to celebrities and important decision makers, and gained the status of a sought-after national pundit for the news media in explaining scientific developments.
By the late 1970’s, when this volume ends, Asimov’s reputation had become so well established with the general public that during a New York City taxi ride, Asimov’s cabdriver (without knowing his fare’s identity) chatted with him, and the subject eventually came around to writing. Asimov recalls the exchange:“I once wanted to be a writer,” said the cabbie, “but I never got around to it.” “Just as well,” I said, consolingly. “You can’t make a living as a writer.” The taxi driver said argumentatively, “Isaac Asimov does.”
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57
Fielder, Jean, and Jim Mele. Isaac Asimov, 1982.
Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of Science Fiction, 1982.
Miller, Margorie M. Isaac Asimov: A Checklist of Works Published in the United States, 1972.
Patrouch, Joseph F., Jr. The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov, 1974.
Shusser, George E. Isaac Asimov: The Foundations of His Science Fiction, 1979.
Wolheim, Donald A. The Universe Makers, 1971.
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