Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia
The Lives and Achievements of
1964; 1972; Second Revised Edition 1982
A most readable reference work
Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology is a fascinating reference. It is readable, or browsable, or reference-able. Isaac Asimov's presentation in chronological order shows the glorious sweep and progression of careful work and inspired thought.
Asimov's scope is the vast range of human science and technology. He seems equally at home in discussing theory and experiment and invention, medicine and chemistry and rocketry. He is a wonderful popularizer of any technical subject at any length. To acquire a quick grasp of what one of these people means to our scientific history, you can hardly get it more quickly. Yet Asimov does not write down to non-specialists: he writes clearly in reasonably non-specialist language.
If 1510 names seems a long list, making a thick book, it is. But it also is sobering and humbling to be reminded of how much is owed by the human billions to a relative handful of geniuses: inspired, lucky, persistent.
From a longer entry, on the foundational Aristotle:
I'll list a various few of my own personal favorites who find a place here. I give their sequential numbers (assigned by birthdate) as a reminder of the populous thoroughness of the book.
Many of the names herein have become household words and scientific concepts, and it's nice to learn or refresh our memory of the brilliant and persistent individuals, and their (often multiple) accomplishments. Again, only a few:
Just to be a tad contrary, I'll toss out some interesting names that Asimov does not include, with a reason for exclusion Asimov might have given if queried:
On the other hand, we have some folks whose presence might be challenged. Throughout, Asimov seems to be able to render a personal judgment well considered, to call them as he sees them when he thinks an opinion is helpful or important. In addition to sincere admiration or calm praise, he is quite capable of applying the descriptor worthless to more than one body of work, in whole or in part. Regardless, Asimov always is fair and clear.
The incomparable Isaac Newton receives a very long entry, the longest I think, a miniature scientific biography in itself. Asimov ends it with unique and deserved praise:
And then Asimov wraps this with a couple of lines each on Newton from Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth.
It is important to understand that Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology is a personal selection and an individual's work:
What a grand spectrum of the human potential.
© 2009 Robert Wilfred Franson