172. ISAAC ASIMOV: A lifetime of learning
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was a writer, known for his contribution to science fiction (including The Three Laws of Robotics, I, Robot and the Foundation series) and his staggering work in other genres and non-fiction.
Asimov had a formal education in chemistry, earning his PhD and working as a chemist for the Navy during WWII. He taught biochemistry and later became a professor at the Boston Univeristy of Medicine, all while writing stories for fantasy magazines in his spare time. He finally left the University in 1958 to focus on writing. Asimov’s output was truly mind-blowing, writing over 500 (!!!) books and 90,000 letters. He said: “Writing is my only interest. Even speaking is an interruption.”
Asimov’s non-fiction books were mostly on astronomy, but his other titles covered general science, history, mathematics, physics, Shakespeare, the Bible and mythology. He was completely self-taught in these areas and was successful for being able to take difficult scientific concepts and make them entertaining for the general public. He said he could “read a dozen dull books and make one interesting book out of them.” To get some idea of how vast Asimov’s knowledge was, his books appear in nine of the ten Dewey Decimal Classes.
The quotes used in this comic are taken from a fantastic interview Asimov did in 1988 (which you can watch on YouTube). In it, Asimov predicts how in the near-future, personal computers will help anyone learn anything ‘that strikes their fancy’ in the privacy of their own home and at their own leisure. Of course, that prediction came true with the internet, and even though the technology from The Matrix isn’t available yet, where we could upload information directly into our brain and shout “I know kung-fu!”, it has never been easier to learn whatever you want, no matter how niche. Thanks to reader Jenny for sending me the quote and the Brain Pickings article that featured the interview.
– I admit not having read any of Asimov’s books. Where should I start? The Foundation series? His story Nightfall was voted the best short science fiction story of all-time, so maybe that?
– Asimov said that one of only two men he knew who was smarter than himself was his good friend Carl Sagan.