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Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology

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Traces the careers of individuals who have contributed to the history of science from the time of ancient Egypt

941 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1964

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About the author

Isaac Asimov

4,013 books24.1k followers
Isaac Asimov was a Russian-born, American author, a professor of biochemistry, and a highly successful writer, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.

Professor Asimov is generally considered one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. He has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (lacking only an entry in the 100s category of Philosophy).

Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, was considered one of the "Big Three" science-fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov's most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified "future history" for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He penned numerous short stories, among them "Nightfall", which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time, a title many still honor. He also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as a great amount of nonfiction. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.

Most of Asimov's popularized science books explain scientific concepts in a historical way, going as far back as possible to a time when the science in question was at its simplest stage. He often provides nationalities, birth dates, and death dates for the scientists he mentions, as well as etymologies and pronunciation guides for technical terms. Examples include his Guide to Science, the three volume set Understanding Physics, and Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery.

Asimov was a long-time member and Vice President of Mensa International, albeit reluctantly; he described some members of that organization as "brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs" He took more joy in being president of the American Humanist Association. The asteroid 5020 Asimov, the magazine Asimov's Science Fiction, a Brooklyn, NY elementary school, and two different Isaac Asimov Awards are named in his honor.

Isaac Asimov. (2007, November 29). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:50, November 29, 2007, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_As...

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5 stars
66 (68%)
4 stars
18 (18%)
3 stars
12 (12%)
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0 (0%)
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1 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews
144 reviews2 followers
August 17, 2007
What I learned from this book? That I want to own it! This incredible guy ties history of science to human psychology to history of everything else...and does it so so well. Liked a few of his science fiction stories/series, used his non-fiction writing for years as a basic foundation when starting a new area of study, but this book alone would be enough to make a writer's reputation.
Profile Image for Liedzeit Liedzeit.
Author 1 book74 followers
July 9, 2019
I first discovered this book in 1980 in the university library. What an amazing book. In the days before Wikipedia and the internet, we have the lifes of all mayor scientist. As compiled by single man. Who for this work alone would be considered a genius by me. I was tempted to steal this book, but instead hunted for it for many years and finally found it in the Strand bookstore in 1999. So, this took me 19 years. And then it took me 19 years to actually read it cover to cover. The reason it took so long is that I did not ever want to reach the end. So, I would only take small bites.
Of course, the biographies are not all of equal quality, a great many are just too short. Especially among the newer scientists. And it might be a little heavy on Astronomy and Chemistry. Whereas Mathematicians are handled with less enthusiasm (and knowledge) by the Good Doctor. The entry on Turing, for example, should definitely be expanded and improved. But all in all a truly magnificent book. Another thing that is of great interest are the many German Scientists who left Germany during the Third Reich. And not only Jews. A lot of them naturally I had never heard of before. This is really a good thing to know. It proves that intelligent people, who had the chance would not stay. Obviously with a couple of exceptions. But unless Asimov cheated a bit here, nearly all important scientists had left Germany.
Profile Image for Octavia Cade.
Author 88 books117 followers
July 11, 2022
This is an enormous brick of a book, and it has taken me simply an age to get through it, but get through it I have. Every single page. In some respects it is extraordinary, and I think the most effective thing about it, as it gives potted biographies of scientists (along with summaries of their work) is the sense of movement, of discoveries building on upon the other, as each person contributes their little share to advance the cause of scientific knowledge. Science, this book makes clear, is a community discipline. In service of this, the scale on which Asimov works here is immense, and the book covers scholars from Imhotep to Stephen Hawking, whose birth in 1942 marks the last of the 1510 biographies here. If I get nothing else from reading this, it is an appreciation for the waves of contribution and progress over time.

There are, however, some issues. Some of these are small and seriously picky, for instance the exclusion of some scientists. Obviously 1510 is a massive amount, and limitations have to be set, and no doubt most science fans who read this will note the absences of their particular favourites. In my case: there's no Lina Stern here. No Chien-Shiung Wu. The whole freakishly talented Bernoulli family is represented by Daniel alone. There is also, and I say this with nothing but disgust (for the man if not the omission) no Josef Mengele. The history of science needs to drag the cockroaches of the vocation into the light as well, and I understand perfectly why Asimov, born of a Jewish family as he was, did not want to do so - especially as the subtitle of this book refers to the lives and achievements of "great scientists", and Mengele was only great in monstrosity as far as I am concerned. Yet Fritz Haber gets a sympathetic listing, and that fucker was the father of chlorine gas and chemical warfare. Asimov does try to be objective, I think, but there is on the whole little engagement with potentially difficult subjects when they intersect with the lives of the scientists in question - consider, as another example, the entry on Alan Turing and the total lack of acknowledgement of the persecution he experienced.

You can argue that these are minor issues, but what dropped this down from four stars to three, for me, was a rather more serious limitation. It was a struggle to finish this book, it was, and that was mostly because the focus was so narrow. To be blunt, if a scientist's research couldn't win a Nobel Prize, Asimov wasn't interested... and this holds for the research performed before the prizes were established. It is an exaggeration to say that there are a hundred articles on scientists who studied electrons and none on scientists who studied ecology, but it is not a very large exaggeration. No doubt this results from the author's own chemical background, but the vast, vast number of biographies here focus on chemistry and physics, and when biology gets a look-in it is mostly only to do with medicine or physiology (i.e. that which could win a Nobel), and even then the entries are noticeably shorter. The focus on nuclear physics is fucking interminable, and you could slog your way through this book and be forgiven for thinking that, in the whole of human history, only a tiny handful of people ever gave a damn about anthropology, archaeology, psychology, zoology, ecology, and so forth.

If this was an encyclopaedia of chemists, physicists, and physiologists it would earn its four stars alright, but this markets itself as an encyclopaedia of scientists, full stop, and there it falls down somewhat.
Profile Image for Curtiss.
718 reviews47 followers
November 26, 2011
If asked to name the one book I would want to have with me on a desert isle, I would choose this one (in any of its editions), in which the Good Doctor covers 1510 biographies of the world's top scientists, mathematicians, inventors, and explorers from Imhotep to Dr. Carl Sagan of the TV series "Cosmos."

The Good Doctor's list of biographies originally stopped at 1000 entries, but Asimov later expanded the number of entries to 1195 so it could finish with an entry for his good friend and fellow science writer, Dr. Carl Sagan. A subsequent edition was expanded to 1510 entrees in order to conclude with an entry for Dr. Stephen R. Hawking.

Each biography features highlites of the career of a scientist/mathematician/inventor/explorer whose contributions materially advanced humanity's understanding of the universe or its ability to enjoy longer more productive lives as individuals.

The entries are also copiously cross-referenced so that starting from any entry taken at random and then following up every cross-reference, the reader will eventually read nearly every entry and come away with a feeling that science & technology consists of an interconnected community of striving individuals whose achievements continue to build upon the efforts of those who came before. As the Good Doctor puts it "science is a tangled skein, with every thread connected to every other thread."

I love this book and have copies of all three editions.
Profile Image for Dean Parker.
303 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2013
I liked this comprehensive reference book (2d Revised Edition). It gives a detailed background on all the early scientists (astrologers, biologists, chemists, mathematicians, physicists, etc.)from Imhotep born in the 13th century to Stephen Hawking born in 1942.
Profile Image for Zenko.
85 reviews2 followers
August 24, 2013
Aunque leer una enciclopedia parece de locos no es una enciclopedia corriente, presenta a los inventores cronológicamente y los trata en conjunto y sus relaciones de modo que es una especie de historia de la ciencia contada por Asimov
Profile Image for James.
1 review1 follower
January 20, 2013
Read this cover to cover, on a road trip from NYC to Miami and back in the 6th grade. So much I have forgotten.
Profile Image for Blóking.
Author 87 books4 followers
April 5, 2021
Impresionante y muy amena enciclopedia de ciencia y tecnología.
Displaying 1 - 11 of 11 reviews

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