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One of the great masterworks of science fiction, the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building. The story of our future begins with the history of Foundation and its greatest psychohistorian: Hari Seldon.

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. But only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future--to a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save humankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire--both scientists and scholars--and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledging Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind's last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves — or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.

296 pages, Mass Market Paperback

First published August 30, 1951

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About the author

Isaac Asimov

4,015 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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Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,419 reviews
Profile Image for Christy.
Author 5 books400 followers
June 26, 2008
Honestly, I don't get why this book/series is so popular. There are some interesting elements to it (for instance, the use of religion as a tool of mass control and the implicit resultant argument that religion is no more than a fraud, "the opiate of the people," after all), but the book gave me little to enjoy or dig into. The forces of the novel are broad, historical, dealing with masses of people; this means that there is little to no room for individual characters here and little to be done by the few characters who do appear. One leader says, in fact, in response to a crisis, the threat of warfare and annihilation, "I'm going to do nothing. One hundred percent of nothing, and that is the secret of this crisis" (191). This is a recurring theme. Plus, there are no female characters to speak of. One man's wife makes a brief and apparently unnecessary appearance for a page-long chapter, but that's it. All else is done by and to men.

There are a couple of minor things I do like about the book. One is Salvor Hardin's statement that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent," which I like for its endorsement of nonviolent alternatives. Another is the characters' habit of saying "Space" or "Galaxy" instead of God when they exclaim or curse.
Profile Image for Kevin Kelsey.
412 reviews2,220 followers
September 25, 2021
A great story, told in a terribly boring fashion. One-dimensional characters engaged in various trade negotiations, political upheavals and general planning. Dry beyond belief. The concepts are engaging—religion as a means of control, psychohistory—but the telling of the story leaves much to be desired. Some sections are much better than others, particularly 1 & 3. There is a great story between the lines here; one that I think would work much, much better as a television series.

Don't even get me started about the lone female character. One scene only, she has no dialogue then gets distracted by the shininess of a necklace. Jesus, Asimov.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,861 followers
October 23, 2022
Psychohistory and predetermination have become driving forces of the Sci-Fi genre for very good reasons

AI, Big Data, internet, and digitalization of everything made it possible
Psychohistory itself has many real-life counterparts, I won´t even start counting. Just think of everything that gives one the possibility of predicting the future like statistics, AI, mathematics, etc that is combined with knowledge about all of the history of humankind and already available data. It´s exactly how the world is long-time managed today and Asimov saw it coming.

Modern real life psychohistorians
A big data analyst, spin doctor, etc. is in a certain way already a psychohistorian, because she/he predicts different periods of time of the future with sometimes great accuracy. And that is just what humans can do, a sophisticated AI may be the ultimate oracle, the all-knowing mixture of Cassandra and Nostradamus.

Epic knowledge battle between humanities and natural sciences
An allegory of the competition of soft vs hard science and in this special case, they are worthless without each other and no one can really get stronger without the other. Great use of this fact for the plot too, as the so highly developed technical foundation can´t survive without the soft sciences. Although, super psi forces could probably be made both ways, by meditating or by brain implants, but both combined may be the best way. Onsidedness, too mental biological, or too high tech machine driven, is always bad.

5 short stories combined into one of the funniest mirrors of human society
Each one is dealing with another form, satire of, or smart solution for the stereotypical stone age, feudal, neoliberal, extremist, ideologic, theistic, craziness. With science and smartness, many of these maladies can, if not cured, at least be contained to not spread the mental virus infection to other planets and finally the whole galaxy. To see which badass non violent ways the protagonists find for new diplomatic solutions of avoiding war and escalation is very satisfying. One could even go so far as to even see some prophecies for real life Mutual Assured Destruction and similar stuff, but that would be a bit too far fetched.

See the impact in dozens and hundreds of works of sci fi that have been inspired by Asimov and why there is no substitute
It´s a bit like with Tolkien and fantasy, without Asimov, sci-fi might look completely different and especially not as fascinating as it is. Especially because the other players in the game at this founding time can´t reach the same entertainment levels mixed with philosophy and satire. The only great and also famous titan at the same level is Clarke with very heavy mental overloads while reading and sometimes feeling more like work or learning than entertainment, brrrrr. Dick and Heinlein simply aren´t that great writers and the pretty unknown Lem and Capek are as badass difficult to read as Clarke. Social sci-fi has some pearls, but because this is a completely different (also pretty unknown and underrated) sci- fi subgenre than space opera, military sci-fi, and sci-fa, comparisons aren´t possible. The focus on audience and thereby writing style is just too different.

When rereading a third time, I´ll try to fully fill all the grandiosity in this review
But it´s simply too much and I´m too lazy. Not just all the brilliant story ideas in the first part and how they develop or reappear during the rest of the series, but all the deeper stuff, allegories, and metaphors, the cynicism, wit, and humor in both plot and the characters. All just simply at a level that it could hardly ever be reached again except by some new geniuses. But comparing them with Asimov and how they modified, darkened, or continued his legacy would be as much avoidable work as mentioned expanding this review to ridiculous length because, you know. Procrastination until resurgence or until it´s too late forever, but at least no stress or pressure.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,119 reviews44.8k followers
May 6, 2020
This is the most ambitious thing I’ve ever read.

The scope of this is just hugely imaginative. The idea is to create the new, and perfect, galactic empire. The old one is dying. But new empires don’t just pop up overnight; it takes years for the right circumstances to arise; it takes years for all the pieces to slot perfectly into place. The brightest mind of the age has used his incredibly farfetched, yet incredibly brilliant, psychohistory to predict the exact date the empire will fall. He has used this field of academia to predict the future, and because of this he can alter events, long after his death, and guide his fledgling civilisation into power.

The old empire will crumble in exactly 300 years, so he manipulates the ruling body to send him, and his following, to a remote planet that will eventually develop into something grand. The settlers are all scientists, and they’re all set on one manipulated goal. Harry Seldon controls the future from the grave; he knew what would happen, and he knew exactly when the people of the future should act. He predicted that it would take 1000 years for the new empire to be born. So he appears to them in real moments of crisis in pre-recorded holograms to guide them in the right direction.

“To succeed, planning alone is insufficient. One must improvise as well.”


It’s a remarkable book, so broad and innovative. I’m shocked reading this today; imagine what it would have bene like reading it in the 50s. It clearly defines so much of the genre. Star Wars and Star Trek clearly drew upon Asimov’s foundation. Would they have existed without it? The parallels are here. It’s a visionary book, though there are a few problems with it. All the characters are scientists and politicians; they are powerful and driven; they are singular in their forceful purposes. None of them really have the chance to develop. That’s not the purpose of this story. The idea is to show the development of a nation, of an empire, across the centuries. I found it hard to fully invest in it because of this. The scenes that didn’t have Harry Seldon in felt a little flat. He was the glue that held it together, the rest of the characters were forgettable.

Thus, there is no action or real climax. Structurally speaking, this is essentially five short stories put together. They’re decades apart, and so were the characters. It shows the development of an empire, but from a great deal of distance. There was no real human element or emotions involved. This work is practically a work of genius, though it was impossible to fully care about the story because everything was objectified. It was a major case of show rather than tell. So I couldn’t rate it five stars even if I was tempted to. I’m a realist, I know he couldn’t have told the story any other way, but for me it lacked the human angle.

“The fall of Empire, gentlemen, is a massive thing, however, and not easily fought. It is dictated by a rising bureaucracy, a receding initiative, a freezing of caste, a damming of curiosity—a hundred other factors. It has been going on, as I have said, for centuries, and it is too majestic and massive a movement to stop.”

This was a great book, though it lacked that vital element of storytelling. It was very deceiving at the start too; it was quite dry. I almost gave up with it, but I’m glad I persisted. I will be reading further into the series to see how things go, but I will most likely only go so far as the original trilogy.


You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,554 followers
July 13, 2017
2.5* rounded up to 3 for the idea.

I postponed writing the review as I was hoping that something would click in my head and I would realize just how magnificent this novel is. It did not happen, unfortunately.

First of all, I was made to believe that this is a SF book. It isn’t. Not really. It is more of a socio-political one. It is not even a novel, but a set of stories who present a series of political, sociological, psychological and religious ideas all based on the famous Psychohistory concept. The ease with which a religion can be created and the power it can have over the masses scared me as it is so valid even today. To use religion to control planets was a brilliant and scary idea and it felt the most interesting part of the book.

The premise of the Foundation is brilliant, I admit. However, it would have been marvelous if the author have made me care about any of it. The characters had no growth, no real personality and the prose was so dry. The book is mainly a series of dialogues between different people who scheme and try to outrun each other with their cunning and intelligence in order to gain power. The fact that the whole thing takes place in space feels secondary to me.

Please do not throw virtual tomatoes at me for what I am about to say. Here it goes…I believe Asimov is not a very good writer. It seems he can only write in dialogue and descriptive passage longer than a paragraph gives him the chills. This is a pity as it adds up to the (false) idea some people have that SF is not literature. I read enough of the genre to know that there are well written SF novels but I don’t think this one (or the Prelude) is one of them.

If the novel is not very well written, too sciency or too deep than it is fun, right? Well, not really. It has its moments but mostly it is filler, filler and at the end we realize how smart the main guy of the story was.

A funny thing that I observed is that there are only male characters except for a single chapter about a bitchy, sour wife who makes life miserable for one of the rulers of a planet. I know, I know, it’s the time the book was written. I am not offended. Still, I could not observe a phrase that went something like this: On the Foundation planet (forgot its name) there were X people together with their wives and children. So wives are not people, interesting idea.

I appreciate the idea of the series and it could have been a wonderful experience had it been written by someone else. Like Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,564 reviews43 followers
September 17, 2021
(Book 527 from 1001 books) - Foundation (Foundation, #1), Isaac Asimov

The Foundation series is a science fiction book series written by Russian American author Isaac Asimov.

For nearly thirty years, the series was a trilogy: Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation.

It won the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Asimov began adding to the series in 1981, with two sequels: Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth, and two prequels: Prelude to Foundation, Forward the Foundation. The additions made reference to events in Asimov's Robot and Empire series, indicating that they were also set in the same fictional universe.

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «ظهور امپراتوری کهکشانها»�� «ظهور امپراطوری کهکشانها (هفت کتاب)»؛ نویسنده: ایزاک آسیموف؛ انتشاراتیها: (شقایق، نی نامه)؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش: ماه سپتامبر سال 1994میلادی

عنوان: ظهور امپراطوری کهکشانها - کتا�� نخست از هفت گانه بنیاد؛ نویسنده: آیزاک آسیموف؛ مترجم: محمد فیروزبخت؛ تهران، شقایق، 1371؛ در474ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نی نامه، 1382، در 474ص، شابک 9649521542؛ موضوع: داستانهای علمی و خیال انگیز از نویسندگان روس تبار ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده 20م

سه گانه را بارها خوانده ام، و گاه کتابها را گم کرده ام، و دوباره یافته ام، اما مجموعهٔ «بنیاد»، نام مجموعه‌ ای هفت جلدی، از «آیزاک آسیموف» است، که مشهورترین مجموعهٔ علمی-تخیلی خوانده شده‌ است؛ داستان این مجموعه به ترتیب زمان انتشار پیش نمی‌رود؛ آسیموف نخست: جلدهای سوم (بنیاد)، چهارم (بنیاد و امپراطوری)، و پنجم (بنیاد دوم) را نوشتند، و سپس با وقفه‌ ای طولانی، و تنها برای رضای دل خوانشگران مجموعه، جلدهای ششم (لبه بنیاد)، و هفتم (بنیاد و زمین) را، به آن سه گانه افزودند؛ پس از آن باز هم با وقفه‌ ای نسبتا طولانی، جلد نخست مجموعه (سرآغاز بنیاد)، و در نهایت نیز اندکی پیش از درگذشت خویش، جلد دوم (پیشبرد بنیاد) را نوشته‌ اند؛ ترتیب نگارش این داستان‌ها جدا از خط داستانی آن‌هاست؛

آسیموف در سال 1951میلادی، نگارش سه‌ گانه ی «بنیاد» را آغاز کردند؛ ایشان در سال 1951میلادی: بنیاد اول، در سال 1952میلادی: «بنیاد و امپراطوری»؛ و در سال 1953میلادی: بنیاد دوم را نگاشتند؛ ایشان برای نوشتن این مجموعه داستان از «ظهور و سقوط امپراتوری روم»، الهام گرفته اند؛ دنیای سه‌ گانه بنیاد، دنیایی رو به زوال کهکشانی است؛ «آسیموف» در این مجموعه یک امپراتوری را به تصویر کشیده، که دوازده هزار سال است، پا بر جاست، و از بیست و پنج میلیون سیاره ی مسکونی تشکیل شده‌ است؛ ریاضی‌دانی به نام «هری سلدون»؛ راهی می‌یابد، تا با استفاده از ریاضیات، سیر آینده ی تاریخ را، پیشگویی کند؛ او این دانش جدید را «روان-تاریخ» می‌نامد، و با استفاده از آن؛ سقوط قریب الوق��ع امپراتوری کهکشانی را، پیش‌ بینی می‌کند؛ سه‌ گانه شامل کتابهای: «بنیاد»، «بنیاد و امپراتوری» و «بنیاد دوم» است؛

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 21/08/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 25/06/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,883 reviews16.6k followers
September 3, 2023
I read this again after about a thirty year hiatus. I remember as a high schooler liking it, and I read and liked some of the sequels, but not entirely getting the full ideas presented.

After some time to grow up and mature, I think I can appreciate Asimov's vision better than before. Maybe it was the lack of much action that hindered my enjoyment as a teenager, but as an adult I really liked the concepts approached and the ideas put forth.

Great science fiction and very influential on the works that came later. This is a MUST read for SF fans.

*** 2023 reread -

Foundation is a foundational book in our modern science fiction literary culture.

Next time I reread, I will keep a journal and write down every time I noticed a possible origin of later Foundation references. SF writing since this 1951 publication has been heavily influenced by this seminal work from Asimov. It’s like a freshman level treatise on how to do science fiction. I picked up on references or just allusions to Foundation from all kinds of work from Star Wars and Dune to Barbarians to Bureaucrats, an MBA book about organizations.

Asimov is like Arthur C. Clarke in that characterization and dialogue, two elements I usually look for in writing, takes a back seat to great ideas. We do get to meet some interesting characters but this narrative is really about Asimov’s epic in scope recreation of a galactic empire.

Everyone talks about Harry Seldon, he’s the prophet in this timeline, but the barbarian is Salvor Hardin, the first mayor of Terminus and the one who set the stage for how it’s going to get done from here on out.

On a short list of greatest SF stories ever.

Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book938 followers
November 21, 2021
Foundation is one of these books most everyone pretends to have read; and perhaps that’s for a reason. This book was published during what is now called the “golden age” of pulp science fiction (the 1940s and 50s) when John W. Campbell ruled over the genre in the U.S. with his Astounding Science Fiction Magazine. Asimov, one of the contributors to this periodical, started telling stories about a declining Galactic Empire and a group of “psychohistorians” who, with the help of some sophisticated statistic or economic calculations, could predict the downfall of that civilisation, as well as the rise of another power called the Foundation… Over the years, there were five separate episodes on this topic, which later were collected into a single “fix-up” volume, the Fondation novel. Later still, Asimov would develop this into a massive trilogy (and many more sequels) that became a literary legend in its own right and a source of inspiration for other space operas, such as Starship Troopers, Dune, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ender’s Game, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Trek, Star Wars, and so on.

However, reading this first novel remains a rather disappointing experience. It is pretty evident that Asimov wrote these stories in separate, almost stand-alone and open-ended episodes, sometimes with wide intervals in-between. Each chapter has a different set of characters and a self-contained plot, loosely related to the rest of the novel. Each of these short stories tells about a crisis, where people, engaged in rather talkative playlets, are scheming and feinting to acquire power — thrown into the mix: religion, trade, nuclear weapons, diplomacy and intergalactic politics. However, most of the stakes and most of the elements of style feel embarrassingly dated and repetitive. In short, it’s like an old Sci-Fi movie: it feels strange, charming at times, and boring for the most part.

I also kept asking myself why this was a science fiction novel at all? Why did Asimov feel the need to extrapolate when it really could have been some historical fiction about the late Roman Empire and the rise of Christendom and feudalism, or even perhaps about the United States and World War 2?...

Edit: The Apple TV+ series (first season) is very loosely adapted from the first three parts, or short stories, of the 1951 book and borrows bits and pieces from other places in Asimov’s novels. The end product is visually spectacular, but the actors’ performances are uneven. Chiefly, the overall narrative — perhaps reflecting the novel — is like that coffee machine: from bean to cup, all fucked up.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
November 12, 2021
Re-read 11/11/21:

Comparing this to the prequels, indeed, any of the prequels, only makes THIS book shine like a diamond.

In the last few days, I read the Prelude, Forward, and the Second Foundation trilogy to get my chronological read-through. I thought it might have been fun.

But honestly? None of them hold up nearly as well as this. The economy of style, the broad sweep, the razor-sharp scope all builds a full universe with very few words -- simply outshining the rest.

Props where props are due.

There is a good reason why it's regarded as one of the best SF.

Original Review:

From my first reading of this Foundation Trilogy when I was fourteen to my latest reading today, I still put these in my top ten books of all time. No question.


So many reasons. And even though the characters and the short-story-like presentation of the different times are quite fine and memorable, it isn't these that I point to.

It's the ideas.
It's also how our history is writ large as SF.

It's the social exploration. It's the re-establishment of civilization, one building block at a time. It's the scary devolvement of all civilization, too. All dystopia and the glimmer of optimism. It's a grand slide and a hardscrabble in a far-future galactic civilization that might as well be us in a mirror.

I've since read Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and I've read about the ancient history of India's economic empire around 5 thousand years ago, mainly accomplished peacefully and with great demand, eventually leading to a grand civilization.

Both of these histories played a huge part in Asimov's imagining of his empire, but it's mostly the Roman Empire's history that this book emulates, from the ousting of its malcontents, the fracturing of the provinces, the devolvement of knowledge and learning into dogma and religious pomp.

Asimov curtails the worse parts of the Roman empire by having the Foundation eventually focus upon economics as a last-ditch stopping point before outright violence overwhelms the rest of the galaxy.

It's not a perfect solution, but this is merely the first of three novels that absolutely need to be read together. :)

I'm still absolutely amazed that history is retold so convincingly and grandly as an epic SF with such clear and sharp prose.

Asimov has always been known as a wonderful teacher. Even his most entertaining and important works, such as this, always remain a testament to his own learning and his absolute insistence on making everything perfectly understood to his audience.

The novel is ambitious, wide-sweeping, and terrifying. It's honestly mind-blowing, taken together with the other two, just how much information and development and implications are poured out onto the page. :)

If this is any indication, I think we're all doomed to repeat our History. :)

Of course, with all the things we know now, I'd have loved to see how Asimov would have written this today. :)
Profile Image for Emily (Books with Emily Fox).
554 reviews60.5k followers
November 3, 2021
I have a love/hate relationship with classic sci-fis.

I tend to love the concepts but the writing is usually dry and the sexism/racism/homophobia tends to ruin it for me.

While it wasn't the case with this one (no real female characters though), I struggled to be fully invested in the story. The scope of it makes it interesting but I'm unsure how I feel about it all after only reading book 1.

Will continue in hopes it gets better but I'm not in a rush.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
Author 3 books85 followers
July 9, 2011
Foundation. The name is apt.

Isaac Asimov's sprawling scifi tale is the rock on which much of today's space opera is built. Truer scifi historians than me would cite the late 1920s and pulp magazines such as Amazing Stories and E. E. "Doc" Smith as the DNA donors that spawned a thousand space operas. They would be right, but Asimov's fame towers above all others. His 1952 story of the decline and fall of the Galactic Empire is space opera's... foundation.

Unfortunately, the analogy continues. Foundation has all the elements of poor writing that makes stuffy literary aristocrats stick their noses up at the genre. And rightfully so. Flat characters, a lack of economical yet creative prose, and endless dialogue are the genre's Achilles heel, and not in a cool Ilium way.

This rant covers only Foundation itself. Despite owning an old edition which includes the entire original trilogy, I only managed to slog through the first book. Barely.

The first chapter with Hari Seldon and a death-or-exile-decision was promising. But the plot device that makes the story potentially interesting also pulls it apart like the gravity of a gas giant. Foundation spans decades and with each shift into a new era, you're introduced to new characters. You learn almost nothing about them and in some scenes the dialogue is so pervasive, violating the hallowed "show-don't-tell" rule so thouroughly, I was actually unsure where these people were.

One of my favorite parts of reading science fiction is being exposed to the new ideas of smart visionary authors. Good scifi ends up being right, cool or both. I obviously try to give anything as old as Foundation more of a pass on this front but I really didn't find any of its concepts mind-bending, or even mind-tickling. Psychohistory, as I understood it, was alright. I guess. Statistics.

Dated elements abruptly eject the reader from the ever so important suspension of disbelief. For days I couldn't shake the scene where two characters shared a bunch of "snuff". I thought, is it reasonable that humans are still using tobacco products 12,000 years in the future?? And snuff?? Atomic energy is the big technology in the Foundation universe. That's like, fascinating, and stuff.

Immediately after I "finished" Foundation, I picked up Scott Westerfeld's The Risen Empire. A quote on the cover claimed "In the tradition of Asimov". Uh oh. But wait. Intellegent turns of phrase? Break-neck action? Verisimilitude in the progression of civilizations? Technology that drives the plot, is extremely inventive and is extrapolated from today's knowledge base? Well-thought out characters whose behaviour makes sense but is not cardboard predictable? Other wicked-cool oddities like undead royal families? No snuff? Yes, I'm in the safe and familiar bio-tech embrace of a trusted friend: New Space Opera.

Stories like Foundation are the reason why we even needed a New Space Opera in the first place. Unlike the misadventure of New Coke, this was a significant improvement on the original. The authors of this reinvigorated genre like Banks, Hamilton and Westerfeld (with all due respect to Stephen Baxter and his physics lectures some call novels) focus on quality writing, character development and social commentary. Oh and scientific accuracy verging on "whooooa there". A few, like Dan Simmons' georgeous Hyperion, are masterworks in any genre.

All this poison being said, I can easily watch old GI Joe and He-Man cartoons and marvel at their sheer genius while a 10-year old today would brand me an idiot. Nostalgia is a shiny prism through which we all view our past. If I had not first read Foundation in my thirties but instead in my teens this review would like be entitled "Asimov is like chewing on expensive snuff!". But alas I am stuck with current me.

This review also marks several times now that I give poor grades to scifi written prior to 1980. I'm a linear person: old before new, read things in order, cake before coffee, no spoilers please. So I've attempted to read Asimov, Niven, Pohl and I have to say: meh. I now vow brown cow to not feel guilty by skipping the basement of my favorite genre and instead enjoy the first floor, second floor, jacuzzi, balcony and pool. I'll get to that basement. One day. When it's raining. Ooo look a squirrel!

Being a solid fan of New Space Opera, I must give proper respect to works upon whose shoulders it stands. I do so. But as with many of you, I have more books on my to-read list than I can tackle in a lifetime. I must prune and trim aggressively and I'm afraid the rest of the Foundation series is likely to end up on the greenhouse floor. Hopefully before I'm dust a clever New Space Opera idea about extending human life expectancy will give me more time to explore books about advanced civilizations prone to cancer of the mouth due to snuff addictions. Until then, I give thanks to the Old and say bring on the New.
Profile Image for Luca Ambrosino.
83 reviews13.7k followers
September 9, 2021
English (Foundation)/ Italiano

«HARI SELDON... born in the 11,988th year of the Galactic Era; died 12,069»

The life of the brilliant mathematician Hari Seldon, protagonist of the two prequels to Foundation series, draws to a close. However, thanks to "psychohistory", the complex discipline founded by himself to predict the behaviours of the masses over time, he timed it all perfectly. He leaves to future generations precise instructions in order to avoid several millennia of intergalactic barbarism. "Psychohistorians", "Encyclopedists", "Mayors", "Traders" and "Merchant Princes", five categories of people which characterise five different time points, told in the novel through the vicissitudes of three generations.

Well, it starts for me the science fiction (and political fiction) series that goes further into the future than any other book I read. A distant future where the origins of humanity can't be tracked anymore, where you doubt about the assumption that the human race was born on one, single planet.

Vote: 7,5


«HARI SELDON... nato nell'anno 11.988 dell'Era Galattica, morto nel 12.069»

La vita del matematico Hari Seldon, protagonista dei due prequel al Ciclo delle Fondazioni, volge al termine. Ma, grazie alla psicostoria, la complicata disciplina fondata da lui stesso allo scopo di predire i comportamenti delle masse nel tempo, ha calcolato tutto. Lascia in eredità alle generazioni future delle preziose indicazioni allo scopo di evitare decine di millenni di barbarie intergalattiche. "Psicostorici", "enciclopedisti", "sindaci", "mercanti", e "principi mercanti", cinque categorie di persone che contraddistinguono cinque momenti temporali differenti, narrati nel romanzo attraverso le vicissitudini di tre generazioni.

Comincia per me il ciclo di racconti di fantascienza/fantapolitica che si spinge decisamente più in là nel futuro rispetto a qualsiasi altra cosa io abbia letto. Un futuro talmente remoto da far perdere le tracce delle origini dell'umanità, dove si dubita del fatto che la razza umana sia nata su di un unico pianeta.

Voto: 7,5

Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
February 26, 2020
Life in the Garden of Letters

Foundation is a technological society which believes it can avoid its likely demise through the application of more technology. Even its ‘thought leaders’ believe their job is to preserve technological knowledge in anticipation of the impending dark ages.

But everything they think they know about the past and their projected future and their role in both is false. The question they face is: can a new purpose into which they have been manipulated by their ancestors as well as by current events be accepted as their own?

What does it mean to accept such a purpose which appears to be already determined? To fake participation in an inevitable fate? To promote technology as a sort of religious cult? Is anyone really in charge? Democracy, to which Foundation is ostensibly committed, is a fickle and unpredictable form. What is approved today may be cast aside tomorrow.

Asimov’s understanding of science and imaginative story-telling makes him a credible writer. His ability to incorporate perennial questions of human import - including the moral and political - into this understanding makes him a great writer. Dealing with our inheritance of what is usually called culture, or tradition, or simply the past is a difficult subject to think about. Does it matter? Can anything be done to overcome an historical trajectory? Or do we have some sort of cosmic duty to conform to its demands?

Perhaps there is a Plan after all. If not God’s then one very astute scientist’s. And perhaps it involves keeping as many of us alive as possible to carry it out. The essence of this Plan is not taking action until the only action to take becomes clear. The only decision in such a strategy is the refusal to take a decision. Who knows. Could be. The result could hardly be worse than the rationalised missteps of arrogant political leaders or the volatile preferences of the democratic mob.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews993 followers
June 5, 2021
Robot/Empire/Foundation. Book #9: Chronologically the third book in the Foundation series, although this was the first Foundation novel published way back in 1953. Psycho-history has predicted the fall of a universe spanning Galactic Empire and led Hari Seldon into creating Foundation. The first Foundation, the one featured in this book, is a collective of scientists settled on a planet on the very outskirts of the dying Empire. Five interconnected stories map the progress of the planet and how it manages the relations with its neighbours, often using the knowledge and guidance of Seldon's legacy.

Although this is a hugely well recognised series, the first book doesn't really stand up, when read outside the full first trilogy. I found it OK, pretty interesting and liked the ongoing theme of the superiority of science / facts over everything else, regardless of the issue at hand, be it politics, war, economics etc; it didn't really blow me away though, although the core concept of mapping data to foretell and plan the future really fascinated me.

On reading this book a second time (originally I read the entire trilogy in a single book), it's hard to not see the pyscho-historian planet / Foundation as just another form of colonialism, that, armed with what they see as superior knowledge seek to better all reality, whilst enriching themselves and abusing and/or negating other peoples' (planets') cultures? 7 out of 12.
Profile Image for Trish.
2,020 reviews3,436 followers
November 12, 2021

I've been an Asimov-fangirl for a long time now. But it started with the robots, not with this series. Nevertheless, once I did read this one, I was quite smitten. And it wasn't any different now that I've re-read it due to the AppleTV+ adaptation.

The difference, this time, is that I'm reading the full cycle. I even read the second trilogy that was penned by other authors. And boy, were those a let-down. However, even Asimov's prequels couldn't hold a candle to this one. The writing style is crisp, the events tight and therefore sweep you along from start to finish. For a more detailed analysis, read the original review below.

Original review:

Not my first work by Asimov but I was told that this trilogy, together with his robot stories (that I've read), are his finest work and some of the most important works in science fiction. I now understand why.

Asimov does not only have an extremely amiable writing style, he is a master in phrasing complex matter in a simple, unassuming way that immediately transports you tens of thousands of years into the future. Any concept, no matter how alien to us, becomes "normal" within only a few lines.

In this particular case we start out during the time of the Galactic Empire - humanity has spread across the universe but as with any great civilisation, stagnation sets in and with it, doom. A scientist has a mathematical way of predicting the future and not only predicts the fall of the Empire but also how long the ensuing "dark ages" will last.

Before that backdrop, there are 5 parts of this novel:
- The Psychohistorians
- The Encyclopedists
- The Mayors
- The Traders
- The Merchant Princes

The first part shows the aforementioned scientist and the outrage caused by his calculations as well as his measures to ensure that his plan can proceed. His plan, simply put, is to shorten the period of the "dark ages" (from the predicted 30.000 to 1.000 years).

The second takes place 50 years later when the so-called Enyclopedia Galactica (a collection of all the knowledge of the doomed Galactic Empire) is already under way but politics interfere with progress. However, to me, that is in no way the worst. Far worse is the discovery that so many supposedly studied people content themselves with reading ancient texts, comparing them, never researching for themselves, questioning what they are taught/told, even if they have the opportunity. In short: laziness and complacency is spreading which is exactly what is bringing down the entire Empire and therefore endangers the original plan/reason for the Foundation.

The third story takes place yet another 30 years in the future and here is where I disagree with the author. You see, in only 30 years technology has become a religion with technicians and maintenance personal being "priests". Now, I do believe that many people nowadays are ignorant as to how certain technological achievements work and therefore I do not doubt that could happen in the future too. However, 30 years to go from technology used by everyone (even if not understood), to being worshipped as something divine?! And what is more, it's not just ignorant people worshipping, the men being educated at the Foundation's main seat, Terminus, actually believe that their toolbox is a collection of holy artifacts. *bangs head against the wall*
Nope, not buying it, not in such a short amount of time.
This is also where I started doubting the Foundation. Before, I thought it was a great idea to preserve technology and shorten the "dark ages" but I despise religion and this one is no different.

The fourth story takes place 55 years after the third (135 years after the start of the book) and introduces the traders that bring technology to the far corners of the galaxy in order to expand the influence of the Foundation (financial and political). The religious part of the movement is retreating, in many circles (especially amongst the traders) even frowned upon. Naturally, this story is therefore full of political intrigue since some worlds refuse to enslave themselves by accepting to depend upon Foundation's technology. However, as we are told within this story: "Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!"
And I hope I'm not the only one seeing the Foundation as a bully by this point.

The fifth and final story takes place 155 years after the start of the novel and is about a trader being sent out into a far corner of space where Foundation ships mysteriously keep disappearing. It is believed that another world has technological growth, which puts the powerful position of the Foundation in jeopardy. Does the Empire still exist? Is there a new power? Again, we have political intrigue on Terminus (still Foundation's headquarters/home world) but also another protagonist that solves problems with wit instead of brutal force.

The main theme throughout the book seems to be that violence is not the answer. Knowledge, if used correctly, is a far better weapon. I'm not sure it is morally better though. I get where Asimov is coming from, especially considering that he wrote/published this in 1951 (consider the American political climate back then!), but what we see in these stories has me thinking if the Foundation's way really is better.

I deliberately left the rest of the novel shrouded because giving away too much would ruin the story (except that I will say there was another pocket of scientists much like the ones that started the Foundation on Terminus but installed on the other end of the galaxy and I'm already curious how that will play out). It's in no way a book that is supposed to be as thrilling as an action movie or horror book. Instead, there is a lot of social exploration in a very clever and accessible way, yet never preachy or boring or too theoretical.

One last comment about Scott Brick, the narrator of my audio edition - he is fantastic. Somehow seemingly stoic but engaging at the same time. Talk about perfect combination.

No surprise this trilogy (I assume at this point that the other two novels will be of the same quality) is so well-known and well-liked. They are ground-breaking books on several fronts, not least of which on the so-called psycho-history (the mathematical process with which to predict the future).
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
July 5, 2020
One of my very favorite old Golden Age SF novels. The old empire is dying, says one Hari Selden, a genius historian and statistician, even though hardly anyone believes him. Can he and his followers use their knowledge of history and human behavior to build a better galactic society when the current empire collapses? A quick and absorbing read that's great fun.

I cut my science fiction-lovin' teeth on this trilogy. Asimov was brilliant.

Read count: I dunno, 4 or 5 times?
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 30 books14k followers
August 15, 2023
Rereading the original "Foundation" trilogy after a gap of fifty years, I'm astonished to see how quaint and old-fashioned it's become. The sexism! The colonialism! The constant references to the futuristic, almost magical technology of atomic energy! The dreadnought-like Imperial cruisers! The bizarre absence of AI! The fact that everyone smokes! And, by Space, their libraries use microfilm! Doing a quick bit of subtraction, I find that the gap between current me and the publication of the first Foundation story (2023 - 1942 = 81 years) is about the same as the gap between preteen me and the publication of Jules Verne's Robur-le-Conquérant (1969 - 1886 = 83 years). It shows.

But all the same... there is still some of the magic left. Transposing the fall of the Roman Empire into a science-fiction setting was a great idea. And even if the whole notion of "psychohistory" is fundamentally incoherent, you do, against all the logic, feel that somehow it makes sense. Suppose you could find a way to analyse human behaviour so that it was possible to abstract away from the personal details and make predictions based on sweeping economic and social patterns? And suppose you were able to use these methods to nudge society's development in a better direction? When the holographic ghost of Hari Seldon materialises in the Time Vault to reassure his people that this, too, has been foreseen, there is, even today, something spine-tingling and wonderful about it. I suppose Asimov is borrowing again, now from Tolstoy and Marx rather than from Gibbon, but it doesn't matter.

Anyway. If nothing else, my actual goal when reading it in translation was to improve my sadly deficient Italian, and it's doing that. By the time I've finished the cycle, I think I'll be able to progress to Elena Ferrante.
Profile Image for Frank Hidalgo-Gato Durán.
Author 10 books221 followers
July 22, 2021
Relectura. Le doy una oportunidad más después de no haber creído en su primera lectura que este libro fuese, tal y como siempre se ha confirmado, lo suficientemente bueno. Y sí, estaba muy equivocado. Y tanto la edad, como el momento en la vida han tenido mucho que ver en mi cambio de perspectiva y el disfrute en sí. Me ha sucedido en varias ocasiones,por lo que invito a reflexionar sobre el tema. 😊👍
Este libro sí es una joya. Una ciencia ficción “fácil”, sin tecnicismos y las explicaciones científicas que, en mi opinión, sí considero necesarias en la literatura de ciencia ficción de la era en que vivimos...o...Tal vez no, Frank? Hmmm 🤔
La trama es sublime, basada en la sociopolítica, la ciencia “psicohistórica” de Asimov y la religión, en este caso y por suerte científica, la que pretende instaurar y eternizar su poder absoluto en la galaxia.
El libro a veces te recuerda al imperio Romano, el que en esta ocasión tal parece como si el autor lo trasmutase hacía el espacio.
He disfrutado finalmente de su lectura mucho, mucho.. 5⭐️. Continuamos con la segunda parte.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews928 followers
December 23, 2021
“A fire-eater must eat fire even if he has to kindle it himself.”

Apple lays Foundation for TV series based on Isaac Asimov's epic novels - CNET

Second reading: I really like that Isaac Asimov's The Foundation holds up! I'd been looking forward to reading the first three books in the series in one go and I'm excited to continue.

Isaac Asimov's Foundation is a good start to a great series! Really like the idea of Hari Seldon, the psychohistorian at the heart of the Foundation Series. Even though he largely disappears after the book's beginning, much of the subsequent action is based on his predictions. Seldon predicts the collapse of the 12,000 year galactic empire and what it will take to preserve the knowledge of mankind so that the period of barbarism between civilized life is shortened. That beacon of hope is the Foundation. With his team of mathematicians, Seldon looks at trends and makes predictions about crisis/critical points in history. During this reading, he reminded me of futurists I've been following who tell us about trends and what our world will look like in 20 or 30 or 50 years from now. For Seldon, though, his most consequential predictions are for thousands of years in the future.

Seldon's nearly prophetic vision (based on scientific reasoning) made me think of Asimov himself. He was also one of those visionaries (or futurists). His I Robot Series, for instance, envisions human/robot interaction nearly 70 years ago. Asimov also anticipated the ubiquity of personal computers and how the internet could be used for education. Asimov was clearly a visionary! It's no surprise that Foundation is an innovative and engaging space opera that has shaped science fiction since it was published. The downside is that the actual writing isn't great for this first book in the series. It does improve in subsequent books, though. Even though I am dinging Foundation a bit for the writing, it is an important and recommended book which I still enjoyed!

“Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,255 followers
April 15, 2019
psychohistory - "that branch of mathematics which deals with the reactions of human conglomerates to fixed social and economic stimuli" - says that the patterns and cycles of human societies can be accurately predicted.

Hari Seldon - that genius psychohistorian whose homely visage speaks to his followers hundreds of years after his death - says that the Empire must fall and that thousands of years of barbarism must follow.

The Foundation - that secretive colony of scientists established by Seldon on the planet Terminus - says that they will be humanity's last hope for shortening those thousands of years of barbarism and building humanity back up to its former glory.

Isaac Asimov - that celebrated science fiction Grand Master and clear-eyed progressive - says that he can fix up five linked stories and make of them a single novel with a single-minded purpose, a novel with prose that is straightforward but often witty and resonant, and a narrative that moves forward swiftly towards the inevitable.

mark monday - that dilettante - says that this novel was a pleasure to read. it often told instead of showed, but that was no problem. it often lead to a climax that was purposely anticlimactic, and that was no problem either. it had one story of the five that held familiar pleasures such as action and sweet revenge and a face-off with a villain, and that was a delightful surprise. it had mystery and intelligence and a dry tone with spiky undercurrents and a lot for him to think about. can humanity's behavior over time truly be predicted?

history - that condescending know-it-all, that ignored librarian, that screaming Cassandra - says that Yes, it can!
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,999 followers
December 30, 2020
I have read several Asimov titles over the years and while I have enjoyed some of them, his writing generally does not click for me. I am not sure what it is exactly because the subject matter is usually something that sounds interesting, but the way it is delivered I tend to zone out/start to lose interest. I feel kind of bad about this as he is a legend, but, it is what it is.

Foundation is a very creative idea that started out with a few intertwined short stories and eventually expanded to several books. Also, when reading up on this series after I was finished, it sounds like other authors have added their own stories to the Foundation universe. A quick synopsis is that the Galactic Empire is in decline but the Foundation is created to gather and preserve all available information which then allows them to predict the course of events into the future.

Sounds really cool, right!? Well - I know there are many out there that are very into this series, but this was another Asimov I ended up lukewarm on. If I had to give an in-depth dissertation on why I feel like I do, I don't think I could. My only evidence is that despite the short chapters and precise plot progression, I had to struggle to stay interested.

So, there it is. You may love it like some do or have a so-so experience like I did - and I cannot give you criteria to help determine which side you will fall on. I just hope you enjoy if you try it!
Profile Image for Sanjay Gautam.
233 reviews444 followers
August 23, 2015

Absolutely Loved it! Hail Asimov! He is brilliant! His writing is enchanting and filled with awe inspiring genius. Work of sheer Ingenuity! Height of Inventiveness!


Profile Image for Michael || TheNeverendingTBR.
479 reviews190 followers
February 11, 2023
This was not as good as I expected it to be, it was long-winded and boring for me.

It jumps around a lot as well, I also found myself wondering what the hell was going on at times and who was who.

The characters are dull because the author doesn't spend any time developing them and that's what kills it for me; I like good, memorable characters.

I'm aware I'm in the minority here, the majority rate it highly but I find it dated.

It just wasn't the epic science fiction experience I was expecting.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews806 followers
February 9, 2017
Yes, I have read Foundation before, chances are you have too! However, for some reason I missed out on the later Foundation books from Foundation's Edge, I can barely remember who Hari Seldon is or why “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent”. So reread the series from the beginning it is then; no great hardship really, a fun time is already guaranteed, and the three volumes combined are shorter than a single book by Peter F. Hamilton.

The very first Foundation story was published in 1942, around the time poor Anne Frank was writing her diary. I first read the trilogy in an omnibus volume in the early 80s, before Foundation's Edge came out. I did, of course, gobble up all three books up at once, and I did love it, in fact I have never met anyone who does not like the Foundation Trilogy (and I don’t want to, I suspect they are all churls).

The trilogy is auspiciously my first sci-fi series, I have since read many others, though I don’t think I have read a better one (yes, I prefer it to the Dune trilogy). This first Foundation book is a fix-up novel of connected short stories, unlike some fix-up novels I have read these stories join up beautifully into one cohesive novel. In this volume we meet the legendary Hari Seldon, the founder of the Foundation and ultra-brilliant “psychohistorian”, who is able to predict the future through mathematical algorithms combined with history, sociology and goodness knows what else. Such prediction is necessarily based on aggregate behavioral trends of vast numbers of people (billions). Seldon predicts the fall of the Galactic Empire and makes it his life’s mission to reduce the span of the dark ages which will inevitably follow. To this end the Foundation is established on a remote planet called Terminus ostensibly to compile a mega Encyclopedia Galactica but in truth to save mankind as a whole from an extended period of dark ages, and eventually to set up a Second Empire.

Seldon is not the only protagonist of Foundation, as the book spans hundreds of years and several generations three other heroes (no anti-heroes here) follow him: Salvor Hardin, Linmar Ponyets, and Hober Mallow. The first is a politician and the other two are traders. What they have in common is a can-do attitude, a disdain of violence, and the instinctive wiliness to outwit just about anybody they come across. In fact this series is a fine example of “The Triumph of Intellect and Romance Over Brute Force and Cynicism” (thank you Craig Ferguson). The showdown between these heroes and their antagonists are all battles of wit, no ass kicking is ever implemented.

What I did not appreciate in my teens is what a good writer and story teller Asimov is. He is not great prose stylist (witness the ample use of exclamation marks in the narrative), nor did he need to be for the type of stories he wanted to tell. However, there is a sincere and infectious enthusiasm in his story telling and a clarity that render the narrative very readable and entertaining; not to mention the witty and sardonic humour in much of the dialog. The scene where the Foundation citizens are waiting outside a vault for a hologram of Seldon to appear after 50 years is really quite thrilling.

The futuristic tech and world building are a lot of fun of course, though you will have to allow for some dated tech ideas or anachronisms such as messages printed on tapes, the use of microfilms and lack of AI (computers are not mentioned).

As good as this first Foundation volume is I find it to be the least exciting of the trilogy. I distinctly remember some edge of the seat developments in the two follow-up volumes; see links below.
My review of Foundation and Empire (Foundation #2)
My review of Second Foundation (Foundation #3)
My review of Foundation's Edge (Foundation #4)
My review of Foundation and Earth (Foundation #5)
• Here is an excellent reference for the series: Omni's Ultimate Guide to the 'Foundation' Series (spoiler galore!).
4 reviews3 followers
November 26, 2008
The Foundation trilogy (three first books) and the Foundation series (all seven) are often regarded as the greatest set of Science Fiction literature ever produced. The Foundation series won the one-time Hugo Award for "Best All-Time Series" in 1966. Isaac Asimov was among the world's best authors, an accomplished scientist, and he was also a genius with an IQ above 170, and it shows in the intelligently concocted but complex plots and narrative. There are already 331 reviews for this Science Fiction novel, however, I still believe I have something unqiue to contribute which is stated in my last paragraph.

This book and the rest in the series take place far in the future (allegedly 50,000 years) at a time when people live throughout the Galaxy. A mathematician Hari Seldon has developed a new branch of mathematics known as psychohistory. Using the law of mass action, it can roughly predict the future on a large scale. Hari Seldon predicts the demise of the Galactic Empire and creates a plan to save the knowledge of the human race in a huge encyclopedia and also to shorten the barbaric period expected to follow the demise from 30,000 years to 1,000 years. A select people are chosen to write the Encyclopedia and to unknowingly carry out the plan to re-create the Galactic Empire. What unfolds in this book and in the books that follow is the future history of the demise and re-emergence of a Galactic Empire, written as a series of adventures, in a similar fashion to the Star Wars series.

Even though this is arguably the greatest set of Science Fiction novels ever written, I do not recommend it to those who are only mildly interested in Science Fiction. Character development is not the focus of these novels and the large amount of technical/scientific details, schemes and plots can become both confusing and heavy for the unitiated Science Fiction reader. If you read this one you will feel the need to read the others which may take a long time. If you are new to Science Fiction start with something lighter and when you are hooked you can continue with this series. Also, in my opinion the second and third books were better than the first.
Profile Image for Orhan Pelinkovic.
91 reviews166 followers
September 3, 2020
This Sci-fi narrative takes place fifty thousand years into the future. Humanity has achieved the possibility of interstellar travel and inhabited a large part of our galaxy, although, strangely, still relying on oil, coal, and for the fortunate ones, nuclear power, as the primary source of energy.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Foundation begins on planet Trantor the administrative and ruling capital of the 12,000 year old Galactic Empire. Hari Seldon, who is on trial for treason in front of the Emperor himself, is a psychohistorian (a branch of mathematics that combines psychology and mathematics) uses his deterministic system and calculates that in 300 years the Empire will collapse and enter a 30,000 year dark age period. As predicted and wished by Seldon, he is ousted by the Emperor, along with his scientists and scholars, to a far off insignificant planet Terminus (Foundation) that is located at the edge of our galaxy where he would be allowed to unite all human knowledge and compose the Encyclopedia Galactica in order to reduce the dark age period to 1,000 years.

This book was written at a different time, mostly in the 1940's, but the story takes place in the high-tech future where you would not expect to hear phrases like "women and children", "man to man", etc. Also, it's surprising that, Asimov, envisions a future with a possibility of human interstellar space travel at parsec distances (which is close to impossible) but didn't foresee women having a roll in science, politics, military, and trade. As you probably assume all of the characters are male who still hunt birds for sport and smoke in public areas. Women are referred to as wives and mistresses.

We have here a fairly well-written book, with some really good dialogues, and somewhat developed characters. Although, the allegory of the story is very meaningful! It portrays knowledge as the only and true beacon of hope. The "religion of science", even though practiced by the few, is the path to equality, freedom, and a utopian society. There is also a hidden political message that was relevant at the time the book was written. If you like Sci-fi, you could give it a try.
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
August 23, 2020
For something that beat the Lord of the Rings as best series this was rather underwhelming, despite the clear influence of the ideas touched upon by Asimov
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent

A fascinating premise: with enough scale and data (foreshadowing big data and prescriptive analytics of our current age) a scientist in a future Galactic Empire can predict events. And those don’t look rosy for the said Galactic Empire. This rattles quite some on the capital world of Trantor (All the land surface of Trantor, 75,000,000 square miles in extent, was a single city.), which seems to have been taken by George Lucas one on one as Coruscant in Star Wars.
But the dark ages can be shortened to just a millennium by some forward guidance. In vignettes Isaac Asimov shows how two foundations (hence the title) are set up to preserve humanity’s progress on planet sized scientific monasteries. This analogy is also suitable to the feudalism and reversion to lower technology that comes with the decline of the empire.

Foundation was initially serialised and this is noticeable from the vignette structure, where we follow a few key players and how they navigate crucial periods in Foundation's history. The structure is similar to I, Robot but the tension and stakes felt much lower. Predestination versus free will to influence events is an important theme and individuals don't get the a lot of agency. This is in part due to the fact that the victory of the Foundation seems assured (since if one can predict the demise of an empire one can also predict the rise of an other) and if things get though then a time vault (Hyperion clearly took this term from this book) opens up and nudges our heroes in the right direction.

Not to say that the solutions to the problems facing the fledging Foundation are not innovative. Asimov uses religion as a control mechanism and later on trade takes this place. The method is similar to how westerners in Shōgun are trying to sell rifles to the samurai, but here nuclear technologies and outer worlds take the place of gunpowder and daimyos. Interesting enough the technology also does not feel very dated, with notable exceptions in respect to paper and tobacco.

In terms of critique, a lot of discussion of events take place off screen and Asimov seems to love dialogue while he is not especially talented in this respect. Another glaring aspect is that women are completely invisible in the tale.
Overall I liked the concepts of the book but the execution and form appealed less to me.
Profile Image for jade.
489 reviews310 followers
September 28, 2022
“violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

foundation still fascinates even 70 80 years after its first publication.

reading this series is a part of my quest to read more classic sci-fi so i get more of an understanding of the pillars the genre was built on. it’s always been one of my favorite genres, but i’ve never really gotten beyond dune and star trek: the original series in terms of Old Shit -- or classics, if you prefer [1].

i knew, however, that one day i’d still have to read asimov’s works. so here we are.

isaac asimov. the dirty daddy of the sci-fi genre [2]. mr. i, robot. and incredibly well-known for the series that beat out lord of the rings for the 1966 hugo award for best series of all time: the foundation trilogy.

i’ve always had a special interest in foundation because it’s built around the idea of psychohistory: a fictional, predictive science combining sociology, history, and statistics to extrapolate the behavior of massive groups. and as a certified statistics freak, that compels me.

as for how it’s used, the premise of the first book is this: brilliant psychologist and mathematician hari sheldon predicts that the vast galactic empire ruling the milky way will soon fall. and what will follow is a disastrous dark age of ignorance and violence that will last over thirty-thousand years.

determined to shave some years off that dark age and bring it down to only a thousand, sheldon creates the foundation: a population of mostly scientists and mathematicians who relocate to a planet on the galaxy’s outer rim while they work on an encyclopedia galactica (yes, the one spoofed by the hitchhiker’s guide). they’ll gather all the knowledge of the last twelve-thousand years of galactic empire history, while the empire itself slowly goes kaput.

this book covers the first two-hundred years from the foundation’s conception to its latest sociological evolution. as such, it’s divided into five mini-stories -- each with new characters and a new crisis to overcome at that stage in the foundation’s evolution.

© Michael Whelan

first off: i found this book surprisingly enjoyable! a lot can be said against it -- more on that later -- but it reads fast and easy, and every individual mini-story has a nice puzzle at its center to solve.

because there’s this uncertainty principle underlying psychohistory: the knowledge that as soon as a population gains knowledge of its predicted behavior, its self-aware collectieve actions become unpredictable. so the foundation population must remain in the dark about sheldon’s ulterior motives and plans, even far into the future.

and that actually made the reading experience more fun. i was afraid it would turn into this case of: “sheldon predicted everything with Cool Space Math so we’ll survive regardless!” but asimov circumvents that neatly.

every time the characters encounter a crisis, you’re joining them in finding a solution to the problem that incorporates both sheldon’s possible forethought and prediction as well as a clever, non-violent approach (mostly because the foundation doesn’t have a lot of means and power to go to war with at the start).

the book actually plays a lot with that theme: even though psychohistory can predict the behavior of extremely large groups, it cannot predict anything on an individual level -- and therefore it (and by extension, sheldon himself) does not account for extraordinary individuals with extraordinary ideas who manage to kickstart larger sociological change.

it makes the characters consider their movements more carefully, and it creates an imminent danger to the galaxy that could harm the scientist-run society that’s still in its infancy.

and THAT is what you should be reading this book for: for clever back-and-forth dialogue (which is 90% of the book) in which characters are presented with cool sociological puzzles, and for the occasional snappy character who employs sarcasm and one-liners in an endearing way.

for me, that was enough. i’m someone who tends to enjoy dialogue a lot and the concept of this book -- psychohistory and how to deal with the decline of your society -- was interesting enough for me to stay engaged.

but you’d best bring your own imagination and cheerleading pom-poms to hype up the characters a bit, because asimov is not giving you anything on that front. in fact, i think there’s a few very specific things he might’ve been allergic to. namely:

1. descriptions
2. women
3. characters with more depth than a thimble

so many planets, so many societies, and yet i have no idea what they look like or how they’re supposed to act beyond “violent and / or barbaric”. so many characters, and yet they’re all the archetypical mr. smart hero, except for the few spineless creatures who provide a nice hurdle (or support) for mr. hero.

so few women: only one, in fact [3]. appeared for a one-and-a-half page chapter and played out the role of a nagging wife. was then threatened to have her tongue, ears, and nose cut off by her doting husband and promptly stopped nagging when he gave her sparkly jewelry.

in contrast to that, asimov seems to be extremely fond of smoking cigarettes, cigars, and / or doing snuff. at least, almost all of his characters do. mix that together with the women allergy and it makes the book feel very dated indeed, which is kind of a pity.

salvor hardin was the only character i genuinely liked: he was clever, confident with a sweep of arrogance (which was kind of deserved), and he could be quite deadpan in dialogue. luckily for me (and hopefully for you, too), he features in two of the mini-stories as the main protagonist.
“never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing the right thing.”
in general, this book very much feels like a series of interconnected speculative vignettes with a focus on the sociopolitical, rather than straight-up hard sci-fi. there’s little to no detailed focus on technology and the worldbuilding is rather flimsy. i found this rather interesting, because -- well, pillars of the genre and all that.

one thing i’m curious about is if there will be a deeper examination of the continuous rise and fall of the galactic empire in the other books. because that is considered a fact due to the psychohistoric predictions, but there is not enough explanation as to why people (humans, i think? i’ve not seen any aliens anywhere) would consistently coalescence into a huge empire, experience a dark age, and then become an empire again.

(i’m sensing a roman empire inspiration here, but still. make it explicit.)

likewise, there is no discussion at all on whether the existence of such an empire is a good thing. a large part of the book is spent conquering other worlds, which are barbaric and violent -- and though there is great commentary here on which techniques can be used to control and influence the masses, there is always this… inherent superiority on behalf of the foundation.

it’s kind of an imperialist line of thought, and i hope asimov will examine that a bit closer in the books to follow. thematically, that’d also fit in with the rest of his philosophical and sociological explorations.

anyway! i will definitely be finishing the rest of the trilogy, and was pleasantly surprised by this sci-fi classic. don’t read this if you want to quit smoking or if you left your character-cheerleader pom-poms at home.

i kid, i kid. but do be warned that it’s probably an acquired taste.

3.5 stars.

[1] does frankenstein by mary shelley count as a sci-fi classic? if so, add that one to the List of Old Shit i’ve read.

[2] read up on What to Make of Isaac Asimov, Sci-Fi Giant and Dirty Old Man? by Jay Gabler for some background on the ‘dirty’ monniker if you’re curious.

[3] check out Foundation and Patriarchy by Osian Haines for an amazing breakdown of the problems with female characters in the foundation trilogy (spoilers for all three books!).
Profile Image for Michelle F.
232 reviews72 followers
March 3, 2022
I was absolutely intrigued and delighted by what this is, while being mildly disappointed by what it isn't.

Huge in scope and ideas in a way that feels eerily presentient, at least at the outset, I can understand why this is seminal science fiction. It's just really fricking cool and novel in its presentation.

I think Foundation's strengths are also part of what I found a little disappointing, which is an interesting conundrum. We follow this gigantic idea over decades-long time jumps, as an empire collapses and a new foundation for humanity begins to emerge. It is quite smart, these stops at crisis-points in a civilization that spans solar systems. How it all ties into Seldon's 'psychohistory', or mathematically predictive sociology, is fascinating and clever.

But man, every time I'd get pulled into a segment and really start focusing down, we'd jump away again. There's no true sense of character or setting or atmosphere. And I understand that for this story there really doesn't need to be, because that's not the point. It still felt sometimes lacking. Too broad. (I also have the "early sci-fi authors suck at writing women" complaint, but. Broken record, and all that.)

No doubt, though. This is a remarkable work. Part of a foundation in its own right, (har har see what I did there? ok.) I'm happy to have added this to my reading experience.
Profile Image for Markus.
476 reviews1,565 followers
February 10, 2017
”Now that the Empire had lost control over the farther reaches of the Galaxy, these little splinter groups of planets became kingdoms – with comic-opera kings and nobles, and petty, meaningless wars, and a life that went on pathetically among the ruins.
A civilization falling. Nuclear power forgotten. Science fading to mythology – until the Foundation had stepped in.”

After twelve thousand years of peace, prosperity and expansion, the Galactic Empire is crumbling. Its vain aristocracy is ignorant of this, but the psychohistorians, making predictions of the future under the guidance of the brilliant Hari Seldon, know it for a statistic fact. By careful planning and manipulation, they start the project that will provide a beacon of light and knowledge lasting through the Dark Ages in preparation for the formation of a new empire: the Foundation.

The book centres around the leaders and people of the Foundation itself, mostly on an around the main planet of Terminus, a faraway rock in outer space. The story is a series of novellas set at various points during the first two centuries of the foundation, and chronicle the future and developments of Hari Seldon’s ideal.

The internal workings and tenets of the Foundation are quite interesting, mainly how it manipulates, threatens and employs divide and conquer strategies to combat those who would seize its resources, all without using violence. ”Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent” is a fascinating mantra, and one the Foundation builds itself around.

The innovate and prolific Isaac Asimov is by many regarded as the greatest and most popular science fiction author of all time, the Foundation series often coming in second behind Dune on rankings of sci-fi series. More?

Most importantly, this book has become such a solid pillar of the genre, sending ripples through the future into the minds of later science fiction authors who became the heirs to Asimov’s legacy. While journeying through the pages of Foundation, the reader will discover so many passages and descriptions reminiscent of the greatest works the genre has later produced.

There are flaws. One issue that invited curiosity followed by annoyance is the astounding lack of women. I was two thirds through the book when I realised there had been not a single female character nor any mention of the existence of women. I was curious because I assumed there would be some form of explanation, and that this was all part of the setting. Then the appearance of one single unimportant female character only to try on some jewelry made it abundantly clear that there was no good explanation.

Another point, which is hardly a flaw, but something readers should be aware of, is that Foundation is not about the setting, the characters or even the story, but rather the ideas. As others have pointed out before, this reads more like a fictionalised essay than a tale of science fiction. Characters and places are never particularly compelling compared to later works of the genre.

But despite the flaws, and more than anything, this is an early work that inspired so many brilliant stories yet to come. Isaac Asimov’s most famous series is indeed a foundation for the genre of science fiction to stand on and develop from.
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