Isaac Asimov’s Reading List

Of late, I’ve become somewhat fascinated with the reading lists of folks I find interesting. We have Roosevelt’s reading list, and Hemingway‘s, and sites like Art of Manliness have even begun to make this a feature (only two so far, but I’m sure they’ll post more). We’ve always had lists like the Harvard bookshelf and the ten foot bookshelf, purportedly collecting all of the books a person should read. Even over at TED they’ve compiled a list of recommendations from their guests.

Library (Photo credit: Stewart)

So I was curious – was there such a list from Asimov? It’s no secret I venerate the man as an author. Prolific and knowledgeable, there is a succinctness to much of his writing that I appreciate. Of all the grand masters of Science Fiction, he is probably one of two that I hold in the highest regard, the other being the recently passed Ray Bradbury.

To be fair, as I recall (and I could be mistaken!) Asimov eschewed the reading list concept. As memory serves, he didn’t care for the idea of a single shelf of books being able to encapsulate everything you should read, preferring instead to explore and expand his horizons organically. And yet, there is the curiosity. What books did he read that helped influence the way he wrote? We know from his own autobiographies that he didn’t enjoy modern fiction (except for the mystery) and read primarily from pre-20th century writing.

To answer this question, I’ve looked in the following resources:

A Place That Makes Me Happy: My Library
A Place That Makes Me Happy: My Library (Photo credit: lyzadanger)

I realize that two sources do not a definitive list make, but oddly enough no one else has put together a list that I can find. The world abounds in reading lists of his work, reading order for his fiction, publication order, but seems to come short when it comes to the books that positively influenced him. I’ve put together the following list based on the books he mentions specifically in the above two sources, and from what we can infer because he in turn would write his own tomes on the subject. There were a few books that he specifically listed as having a negative impact, and I almost included them – after all, to know what someone didn’t like is as telling as what they did like – but in the end left them off because it goes against the nature of these lists. And so, the briefly put together list of recommended books from Isaac Asimov.

  • Greek mythology
  • The Illiad, by Homer – read as many times as he could check it out as a youth
  • The Odyssey, Homer
  • The Tempest, Shakespeare
  • Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare
  • Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare
  • Henry IV, Shakespeare
  • Hamlet, Shakespeare
  • King Lear, Shakespeare
  • The Three Musketeers, Dumas
  • The Jealous Gods, Gertrude Atherton
  • The Glory of the Purple, William Stearns Davis
  •  Hendrik van Loon’s book on history (no title given)
  • Victor Duruy‘s history of the world (no title given)
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Pickwick Papers, Dickens
  • Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens
  • The Bible

From his own publications, we can surmise  he also enjoyed:

  • Shakespeare in general
  • Don Juan, Byron
  • Gilbert and Sullivan
  • Paradise Lost, Milton
  • Sherlock Holmes

It is important to remember at this juncture that these are just the random titles he mentioned, mostly in chapter 8 of I, Asimov, and is not a comprehensive list. Still, it’s an interesting insight into the influences of a unarguably prolific writer.

Thanks to Jamie Rubin, who acted as expert in residence for me when I couldn’t think of where to look for one of the Asimov references in this post. Thanks, Jamie!

P.S. Yes, there’s a little extra bookshelf porn in this post. I wrote a post about books – I’m allowed a little dalliance every now and then 😉

Man of Steel – a quick review

Superman making his debut in Action Comics No....
Superman making his debut in Action Comics No.1 (June 1938). Cover art by Joe Shuster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yesterday afternoon, Eldest Daughter and I went to see Man of Steel, the latest incarnation of the Superman franchise in film. We’re working on making this a tradition – last year, the two of us went to see the Avengers movie together to usher in the summer, and Man of Steel made sense as this year’s entry.

Was it worth it? Yes. While there’s a part of your brain that may wonder why a cape flaps still outside the atmosphere, you have to remind yourself that you’re watching it flap on a man that’s flying, so maybe your priorities on what to criticize are a little askew. I won’t give away any spoilers here; it’s an action film, a summer blockbuster release that lives up to that standard. There’s a lot of action, a lot of flashback, and very few moments for deep, meaningful character development. But then, we’re watching Superman, not Shakespeare, and I don’t really think it’s fair to expect depth about a man that flies in tights with x-ray vision and bulletproof skin. The origin story wasn’t one I was completely familiar with (historically more of a Marvel reader than a DC reader), but it still worked for me.

The best gauge of a good movie: the two and a half hours pass by unnoticed. You know the movie’s drawing to an end, the action is winding down, but you never felt your attention wander or that time had actually passed. To that honor I leave the recommendation that you shouldn’t sit under the A/C vents like we did 😉

And of course, no review would be complete without that final word –


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Book Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Prince of Thorns is the tale of a boy, scarred witness to the brutal murder of his mother and brother, who choses to turn his back on all things good in order to obtain vengence. This is a tale of revenge, as rich in its single mindedness as any classic by Dumas. Young Jorg forsakes every shred of his humanity to feed this desire, something initial reviewers were less than pleased with. Many lambasted this novel as dark and misogynistic, but I have to admit that I didn’t see any of that when I read it. Maybe my perspective was tempered by interviews with the author and other commentators, but when I read Prince of Thorns what I saw in Jorg was a dark, disturbed boy, a sociopath created rather than born.

The first chapter sets the tone for the kind of book you have started. The razing of a village, the flippant use of violence to send a message, and all from the perspective of the instigator. The message to the reader is simple: this isn’t going to be a light or cheery story. We are led through a world that’s almost familiar – a map that looks striking like Europe, references to Jesus and Plutarch, Shakespeare and Rome. Confusing, at first, are the references to Nietzsche and other modern writers. Rest assured it will all make sense, begging more questions than are answered in this volume. This is a world familiar to us from our own history, familiar to readers of fantasy for its near medievalness, and yet somehow ajar to what we expect.

There is something else in this story, though, something lying beneath the layer of vengeance and hatred, beneath the blood and violence. This is a story you have to finish to realize just how sad it is. Its compelling, dark tale is written in the first person, drawing the reader into Jorg’s warped, sick mind from the start. It is only through flashbacks peppered throughout the narrative that we begin to understand Jorg better. We understand the instigating moment with the briars, when he turned from ten year old boy to vengeful demon. We understand how in the course of only four years (because yes, the Jorg of book one is a young teen) Jorg could gather a band of cut throat, vile scum as his entourage. And only in the final pages of this book do we see what lies beneath the surface and what strings are really being pulled. As a reader, you have this perspective of watching Jorg take bite after painful bite from his heart, because it is bitter, and it is his.

This was a well written, easy to read debut novel. The best part? I’ve taken so long to read this book that the sequel is already out, so if you enjoy it, you can keep reading!

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