Friday, January 2, 2009

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) was born 89 years ago today. He is best known as a science fiction writer, and is considered one of the "big three" of science fiction (along with Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke). He was also a great author of science popularizations, and wrote or edited over 500 books.

I started reading Asimov's nonfiction when in high school, and it had a big influence on me. In fact, one of the main reasons I decided to study science in college was because of his books. I particularly enjoyed his collections of essays originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Asimov's writing covered all areas of science: biology, chemistry, physics, geology, astronomy, and medicine. My personal intellectual journey--from physics to biological physics to coauthor of the 4th Edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology--began with the scientific liberal education he provided. When I was young, my goal was to read every book Asimov had ever written. I read scores of them, but soon I realized that he was writing them faster than I could read them.

Which of Asimov's books do I recommend? Among his fiction, I suggest
I, Robot and the The Foundation Trilogy. Unfortunately, his science popularizations are a bit dated now, but you might still enjoy many of his books, including his three-volume Understanding Physics, The Genetic Code, The Wellsprings of Life, The Human Body, and The Human Brain. For those wanting an Asimov sampler, try Opus 100, Opus 200, or Opus 300. Asimov aficionados will enjoy his two-volume autobiography In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt. The Isaac Asimov Home Page has much information including a complete list of his books. One obsessive Asimov fan provides summaries and reviews of all his work.

Readers of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology may sometimes wonder how they will ever obtain the prerequisite background in physics, chemistry, biology and medicine necessary for such an interdisciplinary field of study. My solution was to start by reading Isaac Asimov. I don't know of any single author who could provide a better introduction to these topics.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Asimov. You left us too soon.

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