Atkinson on Asimov Nonfiction

When you mention Isaac Asimov to most people either they have no idea who you are talking about, or they identify him as a science fiction writer. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Asimov wrote mostly nonfiction. History has not caught up with him yet, but I would think that in years to come Asimov will be regaled as one of America’s greatest essayists.

He had a lot of practice at it. He wrote an essay in the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction from the late1950’s until the early 1990’s. His editorials in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine were normally informative and hilarious. He even wrote a continuing non-fiction column in American Ways, the American Airlines in-flight magazine. Most of these essays have been captured in book format.

I really like his short non-fiction, however, it is with his longer non-fiction that he really finds his voice. People have dubbed him “the Great Explainer”. I don’t think that hits the mark. His work does not just explain, it does not lecture. Asimov had a way of entering a topic and getting the reader, at least this reader, to become a participant in the book, not just a reader. He wrote books on just about every subject. The large portion of them had very simple titles like, Asimov on Astronomy, Asimov on Physics, Asimov on Science Fiction and so on. He wrote science books at the juvenile level and college texts on biochemistry. He wrote about the Christian bible and penned collections of dirty limericks and jokes. He covered Shakespeare and the complete time line of the universe as we know it. He wrote about the origins of words, and the biographical histories of scientists. He wrote on just about every topic and brought with each one a common man sensibility. He even wrote books that are hard to classify. I just picked up the tome, The Edge of Tomorrow and was pleased to discover that it contains both non-fiction essays and fiction that he’d published in Fantasy & Science Fiction. I find myself excited to read Asimov fiction that I have never read before.

If you get a chance, read some of Asimov’s nonfiction. As a life goal, I am trying to collect one example of each of Asimov’s 400+ published works which are mostly nonfiction. I plan on reading them all.

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