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Assists today's readers in keeping abreast of all recent discoveries and advances in physics, the biological sciences, astronomy, computer technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, and other sciences

940 pages, Hardcover

First published October 1, 1960

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About the author

Isaac Asimov

4,005 books23.5k 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 54 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
April 16, 2010
I was a biological secret weapon, or, what did you do in the Cold War Daddy?

It occurred to me yesterday that, while still a teen, I acted as a guinea-pig in two large social engineering experiments. One of them started when I was about 14, and was concerned with chess. Paul was asking the other day, apropos a Kasparov review, what would have happened if other countries had tried to organise a chess infrastructure similar to the one the Soviet Union built up, and systematically nurtured young talents. In fact, this is exactly what Leonard Barden tried to do between about 1970 and 1980. He studied the Soviet model, and copied it to the best of his ability; there were regular training weekends in London, where all the top British junior players took part. We played a six-round tournament, and between the games you got free coaching from International Master level players. (In those days, an International Master title was worth something; now, if you aren't a Grandmaster you aren't anything). There were lists on the walls, written in green marker pen, showing the top players in each age bracket. After a while, we noticed a young Azerbaijani called Kasparov, who was working his way up the ladder with incredible speed. Even at age 10, he was already on our radar.

Barden was a strange, shy, nerdy kind of person, and we all laughed at him behind his back, but I have to give him credit: the program was a stunning success, and made Britain one of the top chess countries throughout the 80s and early 90s. In 1986, England took silver in the Chess Olympiad (the world team championship), and had an excellent shot at gold. Then, in 1993, Nigel Short played Kasparov for the world title. He got creamed, but it was the first time in more than a century that a British player had reached the final.

Before I ever got seriously interested in chess, though, I realise now that I was part of another experiment. This time, the key person was Isaac Asimov, like Barden a strange, geeky guy who simply refused to acknowledge what he was up against. In 1957, Asimov was one of the US's most successful science-fiction writers; he'd abandoned a promising career in biochemistry to devote himself to writing SF, and was making more from that than he ever had as an academic. Then Sputnik happened. Asimov saw what he regarded as proof that the US was falling behind in the science race, and decided it was his patriotic duty to help. You could view it as a mild version of Ayn Rand syndrome; Asimov was also born in the Soviet Union and moved to the US, but he did it much younger than Rand, and his hatred for all things Communist was correspondingly less vitriolic. Instead of writing Atlas Shrugged, he decided that he would help educate the next generation of American scientists. He had a simple and effective strategy: he knew about science, and he was a good writer, so he'd use his skills to make science accessible and exciting to young hopefuls.

I think he did a good job. I discovered his books around age 9 and I just devoured them, both the science-fiction and the popular science. The Intelligent Man's Guide to Science was one of my favourites, and I read it two or three times. The book has many things that a geeky, precocious kid is going to find seriously cool: for example, he tells you what "E = mc2" means, and gives you a reasonable explanation of how to derive the formula. I loved that. But, in retrospect, the most important thing was the way he described the history of science, and how scientific method works. I still vividly recall how impressed I was by his explanation of the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment, probably the most important experiment done in physics since Newton. If you don't know about it, Michelson and Morley had a clever idea: they would measure the Earth's velocity through space by comparing how quickly light travels in different directions. When light is being beamed in the direction the Earth is moving, its speed should be different from when it's being beamed in the opposite direction. They set up instruments ingeniously calibrated to be able to measure the tiny differences, but came to a shocking conclusion: light always travels at exactly the same speed, regardless of direction. It made no sense, but they were honest enough to report their "failure", and it led directly to Einstein's theory of relativity. I wanted to get involved in this story too, and I'm sure Asimov helped nudge me into a scientific career

Putting it together, I am kind of shocked that two weird geeks, Barden and Asimov, were able to recruit me and thousands of other impressionable kids in their bizarre schemes. I must admit that, personally, I didn't turn out to be a very good cold warrior. In chess, I played three top Russians, and lost all three games; at least my loss against former World Champion Smyslov was interesting enough that you'll find it on the Web if you look around. In science, I did end up doing something moderately cool for NASA, but by then the cold war was over, and the US and Russian space programs had merged.

However, other people in my cohort were much more successful; basically, I would say that both programs worked, and, if you want to change the world, there's a lesson in this story. Barden and Asimov had very limited resources, but they used them imaginatively and made a difference. The key idea is well-known, but no less effective for that: get them when they're young.
Profile Image for Hollis Williams.
325 reviews5 followers
February 18, 2009
I had previously avoided Asimov's non-fiction books because he never seems to be mentioned in popular science circles: I assumed that his science was of the ''dumbed-down'' variety. How wrong I was. This book takes a grand Asimovian sweep across the entire world of science and covers every area: no book I have ever read has communicated so vividly the wonder of science as a whole and not simply an area of it such as chemistry or biology. I don't know how many times I found myself thinking ''ah, so that's how it works!'' during the course of reading this. Probably hundreds. The Guide is intended in part as an encyclopedia so you can keep it on your shelf and flick through it if you ever need to find out what a neutrino is or the average distance of Jupiter from the Sun. However, it is so readable that you will want to go through it cover-to-cover, finding out lots of new things you never knew about. Unlike many science writers, he actually explains where words have their origins: for example, why the particle families ''baryons'' and ''leptons'' have those names. I would seriously recommend this to anyone interested in science.
Profile Image for Peter.
12 reviews4 followers
November 3, 2011
This is, quite possibly, the best history of science ever written. I would recommend the hard cover (1984) edition if you can find it, as the paperback edition that is still in print has slightly fewer pages. I'm not sure if this means it is missing something or not. In any case, the book is a very thorough history of science up to about 1980, with an extensive biographical index and a subject index. I refer back to it all the time when preparing my lectures. The coverage is by subject rather than a chronological account, which I think makes sense given the enormous complexity of the subject. Asimov wrote a surprisingly huge number of non-fiction books in addition to all of his science fiction. I can vouche for the high quality of his coverage in the area of molecular biology where my expertise lies. The best thing of all about Asimov was his ability to explain complicated scientific concepts with a rare combination of ease, clarity, and rigour.
Profile Image for G. Branden.
131 reviews52 followers
November 14, 2019
Outstanding, if imperfect. But can a book this wide-ranging ever truly be perfect?

Reasons for not having five stars:
1. It's dated (1984). Almost all of this is still solid but science does march on.
2. Very light on geology. He refers to igneous and sedimentary rocks but does not explain how they are different, nor mention the metamorphic type. A bit more coverage of phases of matter, including exotic ones that have been explored better in the years since, and of materials science, would have been helpful.
3. Very light on gross anatomy of any species, including humans. I can understand this sacrifice for the sake of scope control. Cellular structures are only mentioned insofar as he needs them for his overall through-line. He mentions mitochondria's synergetic status with (most) eukaryotes but not its distinguishable genetic descent from nuclear DNA. Beyond that, knowledge of gross human anatomy is essentially assumed. That, too, seems fair, but he covers so much other material that seems basic to me that I found it noteworthy.
4. Light on mathematics. He mostly gets away with this, but some time spent early on on scientific notation and distinguishing constant vs. linear vs. exponential functions would have paid off well later. Asimov had written at least one excellent essay on the square-cube law that could have been usefully summarized here (he did make reference to the concept). Linear kinematics and special relativity, both of which are accessible to anyone with basic high-school algebra, are covered in the sole appendix.
5. He's very good on optical activity (polarization of light by molecules), but Feynman, in his Lectures on Physics, is even better. The key concept which demands emphasis is that photons are absorbed and re-emitted, not simply blocked or reflected. This insight makes circular polarization comprehensible.

This has been on my reading list for decades. At last my procrastination ended. Will I finally read the Foundation trilogy?
Profile Image for Remo.
2,287 reviews130 followers
June 26, 2021
Uno de los libros que me ha marcado. El conocimiento de todo lo que me gustaba a mi alcance, de manera amena, y con miles de puertas para profundizar en toda aquello que me llamara la atención. Asimov era un gran divulgador porque conseguía hacerte llegar no solo los conceptos, sino la maravilla de la existencia de esos conceptos. Un libro imprescindible.
Profile Image for Jim.
24 reviews35 followers
February 22, 2013
As a grown up science kid this book was like catnip to me. Asimov fans will clearly recognize the clear, straightforward prose that characterized most of his fiction and virtually all of his non-fiction.

I read Volume One of the original 1960 edition of this two-volume work - which covers the "hard" sciences - Chemisry, Physics, Astronomy, etc.

I was astonished at how well the Good Doctor wove a historical narrative for each discipline - later chapters made frequent reference to earlier ones. I knew perhaps 80% of the science but very little of the history so for me it read like a well-organized, non-linear novel.

Dr. Asmiov used no math for this volume, thus making all of the narrative readily accessible to a wide readership.

I think if I were a newspaper or magazine editor I would make this required reading for all of my writers.

For more detail try this Wikipedia entry:


4 reviews1 follower
September 6, 2015
This book deserves 4 or 5 stars for it's depth and range. I'm only giving it 3 because it's dated. Published in 1984, this is the 4th version of a book which started life in 1960 as "The Intelligent Man's (sic) Guide to Science". Also I personally would deduct a star because I'm not that intelligent! The style is quite readable but the subject matter can get hard going at times. That's hardly Isaac Asimov's fault. Nevertheless, When I read it many years ago I did read it straight through - can't remember how long it took. I've since dipped into it regularly.

All in all, I wouldn't want to put anyone off giving this book a try. Well worth the effort.

Bill Bryson's "Short History of Nearly Everything" must get a mention here as it is equally stunning in its scope. Less detailed and a much easier, conversational style. Have a look at that first and if it's not technical enough for you, try Asimov.

Anyone know any other "popular" science books covering "nearly everything"?

Profile Image for David Bonesteel.
237 reviews25 followers
June 3, 2013
In addition to being a legendary science-fiction writer, Isaac Asimov is one of the most successful science popularizers of all time, and this book demonstrates why. In it, he delivers a comprehensive, well-organized, well-written survey of the known sciences as of the time of publication. But, since that time was over twenty years ago, is his book still worth reading today? Of course, it is! This is because Asimov takes a historical approach, first explaining the initial questions that puzzled observers of the natural world, then following the research of talented and brilliant scientists over the centuries that brought us to our present-day understanding. This lends much of the text the fascination of a mystery story, and gives the attentive reader a good basic grounding in the sciences.
Profile Image for Pete.
134 reviews
May 19, 2012
This is a tremendous read - its depth and breath of coverage is impressive. Highly recommended
Profile Image for Khurram Solangi.
19 reviews2 followers
May 20, 2013
Fantastic, abridged chronological history of scientific advancements.
Profile Image for Cliff Ward.
129 reviews3 followers
January 18, 2021
Issac Asimov was much more than just a genius scientist and famous science fiction author. He wrote more than 500 books on varied topics, even Shakespeare!
Often I would discover with hard reality and a sense of disappointment that a technical genius writes a book about an exciting subject, which having started enthusiastically, I find I cannot understand past the first chapter. Not so with Mr Asimov. His writing takes the reader on an amazing guided tour of scientific explanation and puts the whole thing in historical context.
Covering the virtual history of scientific discoveries through civilization this books reads something similar to Bill Bryson's 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'. But it substitutes Bill Bryson wit and entertainment for scientific wonderment and still has space for plenty of attachment to a sense of reality for the average person.
Time after time in every chapter without exception I found myself repeating, 'ah, so that's how that works'. Amazing and exciting. Thanks Issac Asimov.
Profile Image for Ben Sutter.
54 reviews24 followers
July 11, 2021
Despite being a little dated, this book is a grand tour through the world of science, with a level of detail often missing in other general science books.

For a single author to be able to write so articulately on such a range of technical subjects is astounding. I already knew that Asimov was one smart guy, but the true depth and breadth of his intelligence truly emerged as I read this book cover to cover.
Profile Image for Jared Della Rocca.
595 reviews13 followers
November 6, 2014
First of all, this title is hilarious, for the reason that it this fourth edition was written in 1984. So the "New" Guide to Science is 30 years old now. Unfortunately, it was the last one he wrote, and so the one I have to utilize for my review.

This is not a book meant to be read cover-to-cover. Let me set that out there straightaway, for anyone who thinks this may be an interesting read. It's nearly 900 pages covering approximately 17 major areas of science, and about 100 subcategories. Asimov's brilliance, besides his breadth of knowledge (more on that later), is his ability to boil down topics for easier comprehension. The book, or let's say the individual chapters, rank high for readability. It's more science and less anecdotal than Bill Bryson's, but more anecdotal and less science than Stephen Hawking. I'd suggest this book (or would have at the time of publication) for readers interested in a particular scientific topic, to get an overview of that field. But reading straight through was nearly impossible, and its age has made it a relic.

Now, as this is the last of the Asimov books I'm reviewing this year, I just have to say he is one of the most brilliant humans our world has ever seen. While he began his career as one of the greatest science fiction writers ever, he then transitioned to science writing textbooks and then popular science books. He's written popular history, mystery, annotated Don Juan, Gulliver's Travels, and Paradise Lost. To summate, Kurt Vonnegut once asked Asimov, "How does it feel like to know everything?"
5 reviews1 follower
July 24, 2021
Encontré una copia de este libro en español en un mercadillo de la Felguera por 3€ y no dudé en comprarlo (soy fan de Asimov, aunque de él he leído mucha más ciencia ficción que ciencia o historia). Es una edición de RBA Editores que parece ser se distribuyó con la revista Muy Interesante o como parte de alguna de sus colecciones de libros. La edición en español es de 1993 si bien el libro original es una cuarta revisión de 1984 (siendo las previas de 1960, 1965 y 1974). Como bien indica Asimov, en cada una de ellas fue actualizando el libro con los nuevos descubrimientos en ciencia y tecnología, que a la velocidad a la que se fue desarrollando en el siglo XX no fueron pocos.

Vaya de antemano que evidentemente en algunos aspectos el libro está algo anticuado en el sentido de que se han hecho muchísimos más descubrimientos y desarrollos en prácticamente todos los temas que toca. Sin embargo, eso no quita que la mayoría de cosas que contiene no sean ciertas. De hecho, gran parte del contenido de ciencia viene acompañado de su desarrollo histórico por lo que resulta altamente interesante. Además, otro aspecto sumamente interesante es la percepción del autor de temas de actualidad, como cambio climático, energía nuclear (cómo no, fue escrito en plena guerra fría y del desarrollo global de las armas nucleares), combustibles fósiles y toca muy superficialmente las energías renobables. Merece la pena detenerse un poco a comentar estos temas.

Como la versión revisada es la traducida de la versión de 1984 no se si incluyó algunos comentarios con anterioridad, pero ya en ese año se advertía de las graves consecuencias del cambio climático por efecto invernadero (osea, calentamiento global). De hecho, Asimov menciona que ya hacía años que se sabía, y en concreto multinacionales de los combustibles fósiles que llevaron a cabo estudios científicos en este tema creo recordar que en los años 1960. Si bien esto se sabe ahora porque actualmente estamos empezando a sufrir las consecuencias del cambio climático, es algo que no estaba presenta en la vida pública en los 80 ni 90 del siglo XX. Sin embargo, los científicos ya eran plenamente conscientes de los riesgos y posibles consecuencias y como es sabido, las sociedades no tomaron ninguna medida.

A raíz de eso, y de que como él mismo menciona, los combustibles fósiles son limitados en un mundo finito (¿hola, economistas?) plantea la necesidad de una transición energética a energías renovables. Sin embargo, como por aquella época a penas estaban desarrolladas tal y como las conocemos ahora (la hidroeléctrica sí, pero tiene pocas posibilidades de expansión), comenta que se podría hacer una transición considerando la energía nuclear de fisión como transición intermedia mientras se desarrollan las renovables, aunque también comenta todos los problemas de la nuclear, como desechos y posibles castrofes en la central. Cabe recordar que a fecha de 1984 a nivel civil solo hubo la catástrofe de Three Mile Island en EEUU, por lo que las catástrofes de Chernobyl (en vida de Asimov, en 1986) y de Fukishima (2011, Asimov murió en 1992) no vienen recogidas, pero si la de Three Mile Island.

Finalmente, comenta también sobre el uso de la fusión nuclear como medio de generar energía. La fusión siempre ha sido una especie de grial que está a 25-50 años vista de ser comercialmente viable, e incluso en el libro Asimov comenta que ya se llevaba al menos una generación (¿20-33 años?) trabajando en ello. Casi 40 años después aún no hay visos de que esté cerca.

En cuanto a la lectura, como en todos sus libros Asimov usa un estilo sencillo y directo para contar todo. A pesar de que el libro es muy largo (más de 660 páginas), no se hace largo. Al tratar tantos temas de la ciencia puede que haya algunos que no interesen tanto al lector, pero en general es un libro muy ameno.

La edición en español no está carente de fallos en la traducción. A parte de las típicas perdonables faltas gramaticales que a veces se cuelan, hay otras mucho más importantes. Una de las graves es confundir "casualidad" con "causalidad". Solo ocurre una vez, por lo que quizás fue un fallo sin querer. Sin embargo, como ocurre muchísimas veces, "trillion" y "quatrillion" se traducen erroneamente por trillón y cuatrillón al español, lo cual es un fallo muy grande. En inglés americano, "trillion" corresponde al billón español, mientras que "quatrillion" son mil billones. Esto además puede resultar más confuso por dos motivos: 1) el americano "billion" es mil millones en español, y esto parece que en el libro se traduce bien, ya que se usa "mil millones" muchas veces en el libro traducido. 2) En el Reino Unido (UK) de la época (años 80 y anteriores), se usaba el sistema español, es decir, mil millones, billones, mil billones, trillones, etc. tal cual lo usamos nosotros. Sin embargo, con el paso de los años, en UK se pasó a usar el sistema americano. Aunque esto ya lo sabía, me llamó la antención cuando vi un documental sobre la vida de David Attenborough en Nexflix, con metraje de sus documentables en los 50, 60, 70, etc. del siglo XX. En un extracto de un documental de los años 70 se refiere a la población de la Tierra en los "thousands of millions" (osea, miles de millones, traducción literal correcta), mientras que hoy en día usa la palabra "billions".

Todo esto es importante tenerlo en cuenta por lo siguiente. Un millon es 1 000 000 (10^6, o diez elevado a seis), mientras que mil millones son 1 000 000 000 (10^9 o diez elevado a nueve), un billón 1 000 000 000 000 (10^12), mil billones sería 10^15, un trillón 10^18, mil trillones 10^21 y un cuatrillón 10^24. Todo esto tal y como se usan los números en España. Cuando el libro habla de un trillón, viene del inglés "trillion" que sería nuestro billón (10^12). Sin embargo, al usar trillón en español da a entender que es 10^18, lo cual es una diferencia de seis órdenes de magnitud. Para ver lo importante de este fallo, imagínese que usted gana la lotería y le dan 1 euro en lugar de 1 millón de euros. Esa es la diferencia. (O al revés, el premio real es 1 euro pero por error le dan 1 millón de euros, para su alegría. En ambos casos la diferencia es de seis órdenes de magnitud, es decir, un factor de un millón.) Por desgracia, muchos traductores de ciencia no saben esta diferencia entre los billions, trillions, etc americanos y comenten errores importantes en las traducciones incluso hoy en día.

Sin embargo, y a pesar de estos fallitos en la edición en español, es un libro muy recomendable. 5/5.
Profile Image for Jake.
232 reviews50 followers
April 16, 2018
I find it dumb that this book isnt more well known. The basic idea is a general overview of all of science. Granted, the book would change if it were written now, as there have been many advancements within theoretical physics (e.g. the acceleration of the universe, higgs boson stuff ?! , advancements in particle physics.. stuff I have not even begun to look into), neuroscience, quantum chemistry... etc etc..nevertheless it seems that most of the foundations of modern science have not radically changed, and therefore this book is still very much relevant . I'd take this over bryson's brief history any day. While I enjoyed bryson's book, it was much more revolved around the politics and humor of discovery than about the nitty gritty gears of the universe. Asimov does not shy to splash some data in your face.. for 900 + pages.

In short, if you are about to embark upon your education in science and wish to have a general overview, or maybe a review of information you have not looked at for 30 years , this is a great place to go.
Profile Image for Andrew Fish.
Author 8 books10 followers
April 16, 2021
Science is a big and ever-growing subject. The days when a gentleman scientist could be across several disciplines and present discoveries to a world which could broadly understand them has given way to a series of silos in which specialised elements of science are explored to a point of abstraction with little relevance to the broader population. Asimov saw this happening decades ago and decided that the solution was to produce a book to present the lay reader with an overview of the state of our scientific knowledge, crossing multiple disciplines and exploring the evolution of those disciplines from the earliest days to the then present. Over the decades he revisited and revised this book and this final edition was published in the early 80s, less than a decade before his untimely death. It’s not quite the Encyclopaedia Galactica, but it’s still a fairly large project and it’s impressive that the knowledge is compressed into a single, relatively readable volume.

I say relatively readable, because there are patches which are harder going than others. Asimov was never the most elegant writer – he is lauded more for his ideas than his literary flourish – but he suffers here with the presentation of some of the material. Some explanations are laboured, whilst others are rushed to point where they aren’t immediately clear. It’s hard to say why this is the case: perhaps it’s an artefact of the various revisions, maybe it’s based on assumptions about his audience, but the inconsistency jars. It even spills over into the limited number of illustrations: when there’s no diagram for any of the geometry underpinning our sense of the size of the universe, but a picture essentially to show the difference between left and right-handed, there’s something odd going on.

Surprisingly for a volume with such a large remit, some sections are also bogged down in unnecessary fluff: whilst an understanding of how the elements were discovered is generally useful, it adds nothing to give a blow-by-blow account of how each individual element was identified, much less the year in which the discoverer was given the Nobel Prize. And both the applied science section toward the end of the first half and the discussion of computing and robotics and the end of the second feel as if they are straying from the original remit – the invention of photography or the manner in which sound was encoded on early talkies is hardly necessary to a basic grounding in science.

Asimov also suffers from an occasional inability to separate his opinion from what the science supports. It is clear that in earlier editions he was too quick to dismiss theories such as plate tectonics (this edition contains an admission to that effect) and he famously made errors in his understanding of radioactivity in his early novels, leading to later editions having a preface to admit the mistake. One would think these embarrassments would make him more circumspect, but then he more or less dismisses the theories of Stephen Hawking – theories which would be stunningly proven less than a decade later. He also exhibits a willingness to buy into various misanthropic fears, whether in talking about Ehrlich’s population explosion, global warming or resource depletion. Whilst some of these concerns are currently still very much with us, others are disasters which never came to pass and actually putting a date to the point when the oil would run out (about ten years ago) is frankly embarrassing.

The book’s better half, as it were, is in Asimov’s own specialism – the biological sciences. It still suffers from imbalances (do we really need the chemical structures of countless amino acids?) and an obsession with Nobel prizes, but it’s clear that Asimov feels happiest on his home turf and much of the information about subjects such as how vitamins or viruses work is far less widely discussed than the nuts and bolts of physics. Again, some politics creeps in – I can’t imagine anybody reading this book is a creationist, so the diatribe against them seems unnecessary – but for the most part it’s less laboured than the politics in the physical sciences and soon passes.

Of course, the problem with science is that it changes. Contrary to the media narrative where there is one set of facts, generally referred to as “the science”, there are often multiple competing theories each of which fits the observed data in a different way, any of which may be wholly or partially right or wrong. The flat earth may never have been genuinely believed by anyone and merely be a device used to stifle debate, but there are any number of other discredited theories from phlostigon to the plum pudding model of the atom, which were sincerely held and believed, if only for a short period of time. The opening section of the book, where Asimov shows how the nature of science has changed, from the philosophy of the ancient Greeks to the disciplined work of modern scientists is a good primer in how thought changes, and to some extent, Asimov is right to see the purist attitude of the philosophers as a limitation. The truth is, however, that even when this book was being written we were beginning to lose the positive lesson of philosophy, that scientific knowledge should never be beyond question and we should always be open to competing theories.
Ultimately, this book is interesting but flawed. Its not old enough to be a curio – much of its content is still the current view – but Asimov is less good at presenting his subject than someone like Bill Bryson or Simon Singh. Douglas Adams once dismissed Asimov as someone he wouldn’t hire to write his tax returns, and whilst I’ve always considered this somewhat harsh, if Adams had based this view on solely reading this book I think it at least explicable.
Profile Image for Enrique Mañas.
Author 5 books44 followers
May 18, 2023
This literary opus from Asimov takes the reader on an exhilarating intellectual journey. It took me almost half a year to finish it, and I read at a decent pace. The book comprises every chapter of human science, divided between physical and biological sciences. There is an overview of each discipline from a historical perspective, but also diving into its specifics. While certain domains received less emphasis, such as geology's scarcity, others luxuriated in extensive exploration, such as the early chapters' foray into the realm of astronomy and space physics.

The book was published in 1984, and it is interesting to see how some of the scientific facts exposed in the book have been questioned and deprecated. For instance, the leading theory is that the Moon originated after the impact of a Mars-sized body against the Earth, but back in time there was not too much evidence backing this up. It is inspiring to see how science evolves over time, theories are confirmed or replaced by better models.

Another thing that seems to be a constant historically are scientists that stay on the background whereas more known ones use their inventions and ideas. The most famous case was Tesla versus Edison, but there are more through the course of time, like Graham Bell and Elisha Gray.

The work accentuates the disproportionate Germanic preeminence that permeated the late 19th and early 20th centuries—an observation expounded upon Asimov's indispensable companion tome, "Chronology of the World", and how the massive migration of scientists during the Second World War and the previous years to it contributed to the entrenchment of the US as a scientific world power.

This work is just tremendous, and it will fill the most insatiable minds and eager for knowledge. I wished I would have read this book while I was a teenager during my science classes. For each person something different will resonate: I was specifically attracted to the chapters on space science, due to Asimov background as a SciFi writer.

Were I to embark on this odyssey anew, I would not do it from the beginning to the end, but I would jump between chapters as I develop more interest on a topic. A must read for all science lovers.
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135 reviews23 followers
August 9, 2020
O introducere exhaustivă în lumea științei. Impresionantul bagaj de cunoștințe al lui Asimov poartă cititorul prin lumea astronomiei, fizicii, astrofizicii, chimiei, biologiei, biochimiei, medicinei, ba uneori chiar și a filosofiei, într-o manieră interesantă: de la mare la mic. Începând cu descrierea universului și a galaxiilor, continuând cu explorarea sistemului solar, a Pământului, apoi cu elementele chimice, moleculele, proteinele, celulele, corpul uman și mintea, Asimov acoperă un număr impresionant de științe.

Această introducere trezește interesul față de toate domeniile cunoașterii, căci prezentând elementele de bază ale lumii în care suntem imersați, ne face conștienți de toate aspectele pe care le-am acceptat fără discernământ și care deschid noi orizonturi de a privi și înțelege lumea. De asemenea, întrezărirea marginilor propriei ignoranțe prin aflarea tuturor lucrurilor pe care nu le știi, duce la înflorirea dorinței de a afla mai multe.

Pentru mine primele capitole nu au adus foarte multe lucruri noi, căci sunt destul de familiară cu astronomia, fiindu-mi un domeniu drag. Iar capitolele referitoare la chimie au fost revelatoare atunci când vorbea despre chimia non-organică și de-a dreptul dureroase când s-a adâncit în chimia organică. Cu toate acestea, explorarea moleculelor, a celulelor și a corpului uman m-a făcut să conștientizez importanța chimiei organice și să percep problemele pe care le pune ca fiind adevărate puzzle-uri intelectuale. Probabil merită efortul de a-i stăpâni fundamentele, căci poți jongla cu astfel de probleme interesante.

Recomand această introducere tuturor celor ce-și doresc să înțeleagă lumea din jur cu toate aspectele și complexitatea sa și a celor ce sunt pregătiți să-și descopere propria necunoaștere !
278 reviews4 followers
June 24, 2018
Prácticamente nada de este libro ha quedado anticuado.

Aunque he leído la edición original en inglés, también tengo la de P&J en tapa blanda y he de decir que la traducción es poco menos que exquisita. Mi edición en español carece de la bibliografía y del índice de materias, pero la edición electrónica que anda por ahí sí que lo tiene.

Tan solo he detectado un error: falta medio párrafo en no me acuerdo qué lugar casi al final de la primera parte, que no está ni en la electrónica ni en la P&J. Por lo demás, impecable.

August 3, 2020
A very well written introduction into modern science. The book follows a natural transition between different topics, making it easy to follow. It also lays an adequate emphasis on the history of science. It may feel like an information overload, but by the end, the reader will feel they are familiar with many scientific terms, and interested to dig deeper into some of their favourite topics, and that is the book's greatest success, imo. Suited for people of all age groups, but high school students and early undergrads have the most to benefit.
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Author 1 book68 followers
July 3, 2018
I do not quite like the structure of the book. Historical and systematic at the same time. But Asimov complained there was too much editing/cutting. So I should read the later installments.
Profile Image for Ahmet Buğra.
1 review
April 16, 2020
Although it is not up to date, it has Interesting philosophy of chronological learning on science
August 20, 2020
Great book to understand some aspects of science without a scientific background.
I read this book the first time when I was 12 and was eye opener.
1 review
March 17, 2022
I want to read this book
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