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Isaac Asimov KBE (c. January 2, 1920 – April 6, 2006), pronounced /ˈaɪzək ˈæzɪmʌv/, (Russian: originally Исаак Озимов, Isaak Ozimov; now Айзек Азимов; Ayzyek Azimov), was a Russian-born American author and professor of biochemistry, 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).
Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Sir 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, an accolade that many still find persuasive. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as a great amount of nonfiction. Most of his 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", but also said that the only two people he had ever met who he would admit were more intelligent than he was were Marvin Minsky and Carl Sagan. 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.
In his last autobiography, Asimov wrote, "If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God, and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul." The same memoir states his belief that Hell is "the drooling dream of a sadist" crudely affixed to an all-merciful God; if even human governments were willing to curtail cruel and unusual punishments, wondered Asimov, why would punishment in the afterlife not be restricted to a limited term? Asimov rejected the idea that a human belief or action could merit infinite punishment. If an afterlife of just deserts existed, he claimed, the longest and most severe punishment would be reserved for those who "slandered God by inventing Hell". As his Treasury of Humor and Asimov Laughs Again record, he was willing to tell jokes involving the Judeo-Christian God, Satan, the Garden of Eden, and other religious topics, expressing the viewpoint that a good joke can do more to provoke thought than hours of philosophical discussion.
Asimov became a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party during the New Deal, and thereafter remained a political liberal. He was a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War in the 1960s and, in a television interview during the early 1970s, he publicly endorsed George McGovern. He was unhappy about what he considered an "irrationalist" viewpoint taken by many liberal political activists from the late 1960s and onwards. In his autobiography In Joy Still Felt, he recalls meeting the counterculture figure Abbie Hoffman; Asimov's impression was that the 1960s' counterculture heroes had ridden an emotional wave which, in the end, left them stranded in a "no-man's land of the spirit" from which he wondered if they would ever return. (This attitude is echoed by The Wave Speech in Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.)
His defense of civil applications of nuclear power even after the Three Mile Island incident damaged his relations with some of his fellow liberals. In a letter reprinted in Yours, Isaac Asimov, he states that although he would prefer living in "no danger whatsoever" than near a nuclear reactor, he would still prefer a home near a nuclear power plant than in a slum on Love Canal or near "a Union Carbide plant producing methyl isocyanate" (referring to the Bhopal disaster).
He issued many appeals for population control, reflecting a perspective articulated by people from Thomas Malthus through Paul R. Ehrlich. Asimov considered himself a feminist even before Women's Liberation became a widespread movement; he joked that he wished women to be free "because I hate it when they charge". More seriously, he argued that the issue of women's rights was closely connected to that of population control. Furthermore, he believed that homosexuality must be considered a "moral right" on population grounds, as must all consenting adult sexual activity that does not lead to reproduction (Yours, Isaac Asimov).
In the closing years of his life, Asimov blamed the deterioration of the quality of life that he perceived in New York City on the shrinking tax base caused by middle class flight to the suburbs. His last non-fiction book, Our Angry Earth (1991, co-written with his long-time friend science fiction author Frederik Pohl), deals with elements of the environmental crisis such as global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer.
He was awarded an honorary knighthood in the Queens birthday list of 2005. When he received the honour he said it was one of the proudest days he had ever had.
Issac Asimov died in 2006 due to a heart attack at the age of 86.