by Michael White
Carroll & Graf
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Michael White's Isaac Asimov was first published in 1994, although this fact is only noted on the copyright page and alluded to in the Afterword. Of course, since Asimov wrote three autobiographical volumes during his life and his wife published a follow-up biography, a reader might question the need for White's book. However, for all of Asimov's ability to write well and clearly, if there was one topic he was too close to to be completely objective, it would be himself.
In In Memory Yet Green, In Joy Still Felt, I. Asimov, and It's Been a Good Life, Asimov's autobiographies, certainly provide enough information about Asimov's life to satisfy any Isaac Asimov fan, but what those volumes lack is a sense of proportion about Asimov's life. Asimov, for all his ability as a science popularizer and fiction author, was just too close to his own life to accurately report on his own failings. However, White's Isaac Asimov is not a hatchet job on the popular author. Instead, he uses Asimov's works as a starting point for his own book.
In addition to given a balanced look at Asimov's life, for which White clearly had access to Asimov's personal letters and papers as well as his published papers, White provides critical looks at Asimov's more popular works, both novels, short fiction, and non-fiction. The book is not, therefore, a straight biography, but a combination biography and literary examination of Asimov. The portions of the book which deal with Asimov's writing are less critical, however, than those which deal with his personal life. Especially when discussing the reasons for the break up of Asimov's first marriage, White is much more detailed than Asimov was, although his writing is still circumspect, giving the information without going into the salacious details.
Asimov had an amazing ability for clarity in his writing. White, while easy to read, does not share that transparent style. This is notable simply because White is tackling a topic about which Asimov wrote three books during his lifetime. Even if White doesn't share Asimov's clarity, the book is well organized, not just presenting Asimov's life as a chronological march, but looking at topics which were important to Asimov and his writing.
Readers looking for insight into Asimov the man or Asimov the writer will gain from reading Isaac Asimov. White has the distance to look at Asimov and present him to the reader in a way which reveals both the image of the man Asimov wished to present and the more private man he did not allow to intrude on his public persona. Because of this, Isaac Asimov is a good addition to the works mentioned above by Isaac Asimov.
Purchase this book in hardcover from .