Isaac Asimov (Itzhak Ozimov) - biography
Isaac Asimov (Russian:/ˈaɪzək ˈæzɪməv/; born Isaak Yudovich Ozimov, c. January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992) was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books. Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 9,000 letters and postcards. His works have been published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (The sole exception being the 100s: philosophy and psychology, although he did write a foreword for The Humanist way, which is published in the 100s).
Isaac Asimov is widely considered a master of hard science fiction and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, he 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, an accolade that many still find persuasive. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French. The prolific Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as much non-fiction. Most of his popular 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, Asimov's Chronology of Science and Discovery, as well as numerous works on astronomy, mathematics, the Bible, William Shakespeare's works and, of course, chemistry subjects.
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, a crater on the planet Mars, the magazine Asimov's Science Fiction, a Brooklyn, New York elementary school, and one Isaac Asimov literary award are named in his honor.
Asimov was born sometime between October 4, 1919 and January 2, 1920 in Petrovichi in Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (during the Soviet times the settlement briefly belonged to Mahiljow guberniya of the Russian SFSR, then it was transferred to Smolensk Oblast of the RSFSR, now Russia) to Anna Rachel Berman Asimov and Judah Asimov, a Jewish family of millers. His exact date of birth is uncertain because of differences between the Gregorian and Hebrew calendars and a lack of records. Asimov himself celebrated his birthday on January 2.
The family name derives from ozimiye, a Russian word for a winter grain in which his great-grandfather dealt, to which a patronymic suffix was added. His name in Russian was originally Isaak Ozimov (Russian: Исаак Озимов); but he was later known in Russia as Ayzyek Azimov, a Russian Cyrillic adaptation of the American English pronunciation. Asimov had two younger siblings; a sister, Marcia (born Manya, June 17, 1922), and a brother, Stanley (born July 25, 1929). His family immigrated to the United States when he was three years old. Since his parents always spoke Yiddish and English with him, he never learned Russian.Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Asimov taught himself to read at the age of five, and remained fluent in Yiddish as well as English. His parents owned a succession of candy stores, and everyone in the family was expected to work in them.
Education and career
Asimov began reading science fiction pulp magazines at a young age. His father, as a matter of principle, forbade reading the pulps, as he considered them to be trash, but Asimov persuaded him that the magazines had "Science" in the title, so they were educational. Around the age of eleven, he began to write his own stories, and by age nineteen—after he discovered science fiction fandom—he was selling stories to the science fiction magazines. John W. Campbell, then editor of Astounding Science Fiction, had a strong formative influence on Asimov and eventually became a personal friend.
Asimov attended New York City Public Schools, including Boys High School, in Brooklyn, New York. From there he went on to Seth Low Junior College for two years, then to Columbia University for the remainder of his master's degree, from which he graduated in 1939, eventually returning to earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1948. In between, he spent three years during World War II working as a civilian at the Philadelphia Navy Yard's Naval Air Experimental Station. After the war ended, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving for almost nine months before receiving an honorable discharge. In the course of his brief military career, he rose to the rank of corporal on the basis of his typing skills, and narrowly avoided participating in the 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.
Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944
After completing his doctorate, Asimov joined the faculty of the Boston University School of Medicine, with which he remained associated thereafter. From 1958, this was in a non-teaching capacity, as he turned to writing full-time (his writing income had already exceeded his academic salary). Being tenured meant that he retained the title of associate professor, and in 1979 the university honored his writing by promoting him to full professor of biochemistry. Asimov's personal papers from 1965 onward are archived at the university's Mugar Memorial Library, to which he donated them at the request of curator Howard Gottlieb. The collection fills 464 boxes, on seventy-one meters of shelf space.
Asimov married Gertrude Blugerman (1917, Canada–1990, Boston) on July 26, 1942. They had two children, David (b. 1951) and Robyn Joan (b. 1955). After a separation in 1970, he and Gertrude divorced in 1973, and Asimov married Janet O. Jeppson later that year.
Asimov was a claustrophile: he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces. In the third volume of his autobiography, he recalls a childhood desire to own a magazine stand in a New York City Subway station, within which he could enclose himself and listen to the rumble of passing trains while reading.
Asimov was afraid of flying, only doing so twice in his entire life (once in the course of his work at the Naval Air Experimental Station, and once returning home from the army base in Oahu in 1946) He seldom traveled great distances, partly because his aversion to flying complicated the logistics of long-distance travel. This phobia influenced several of his fiction works, such as the Wendell Urth mystery stories and the Robot novels featuring Elijah Baley. In his later years, he found he enjoyed traveling on cruise ships, and on several occasions he became part of the cruises' "entertainment", giving science-themed talks on ships such as the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.
Asimov was an able public speaker and was a frequent fixture at science fiction conventions, where he was friendly and approachable. He patiently answered tens of thousands of questions and other mail with postcards, and was pleased to give autographs. He was of medium height, stocky, with mutton chop whiskers and a distinct Brooklyn accent. His physical dexterity was very poor. He never learned to swim or ride a bicycle; however, he did learn to drive a car after he moved to Boston. In his humor book Asimov Laughs Again, he describes Boston driving as "anarchy on wheels".
Asimov's wide interests included his participation in his later years in organizations devoted to the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan and in The Wolfe Pack, a group of devotees of the Nero Wolfe mysteries written by Rex Stout. Many of his short stories mention or quote Gilbert and Sullivan. He was a prominent member of the Baker Street Irregulars, the leading Sherlock Holmes society. He was also a member of the all-male literary banqueting club the Trap Door Spiders, which served as the basis of his fictional group of mystery solvers the Black Widowers.
In 1984, the American Humanist Association (AHA) named him the Humanist of the Year. From 1985 until his death in 1992, he served as president of the AHA, an honorary appointment; his successor was his friend and fellow writer Kurt Vonnegut. He was also a close friend of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and earned a screen credit on Star Trek: The Motion Picture for advice he gave during production (generally, confirming to Paramount Pictures that Roddenberry's ideas were legitimate science-fictional extrapolation).
Illness and death
Asimov suffered a heart attack in 1977, and had triple bypass surgery in December 1983. When he died in New York City on April 6, 1992, his brother Stanley reported heart and kidney failure as the cause of death. He was survived by his second wife, Janet, and his children from his first marriage. Ten years after his death, Janet Asimov's edition of Asimov's autobiography, It's Been a Good Life, revealed that the myocardial and renal complications were the result of an infection by HIV, which he had contracted from a blood transfusion received during his bypass operation. Janet Asimov wrote in the epilogue of It's Been a Good Life that Asimov had wanted to "go public," but his doctors convinced him to remain silent, warning that the anti-AIDS prejudice would likely extend to his family members. Asimov's family considered disclosing his condition after his death, but the controversy that erupted when Arthur Ashe announced his own AIDS infection (also contracted from a blood transfusion during heart surgery) convinced them otherwise. Ten years later, after most of Asimov's doctors had died, Janet and Robyn Asimov agreed that the AIDS story should be made public.