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Foundation

A book by Isaac Asimov

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Psychohistory and the statistical prediction of mob behaviour

  • Feb 4, 2010
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Rating:
+4
By the end of the thirteenth millennium, mankind had populated millions of planets scattered throughout the galaxy. The centre of the imperial government was located on the planet Trantor, in effect a single planetary city some 75,000,000 square miles in extent. Every conceivable square foot of habitable space was occupied with a teeming population well in excess of 40 billion souls. Its internal problems were so vast that it was all but inevitable that its grip on the outer reaches of its dominion should weaken. The empire, like every other empire that had preceded it, was in the throes of decline.

Hari Seldon, a brilliant mathematician and psychologist developed the science of psychohistory - the use of mathematics and symbolic logic to evaluate and predict the future behaviour of statistically large segments of human population. When he applied his analysis to the Empire, the conclusions were bleak and inescapable. The stagnating Empire would imminently fall and collapse into a galactic dark age - a period of anarchy and chaos and a loss of art, culture, knowledge, technology and science that would last for thirty thousand years.

When he knew that imperial collapse was inevitable, he created the "Foundation" and implemented what was later to become known as the Seldon Plan. He couldn't stop the dark age but he could shorten its duration to a mere thousand years and give civilization the ability to start over again.

Asimov, known to his millions of fans merely as the "good doctor", certainly didn't stint when it came to the scope of his ideas and the size of the canvas on which he chose to paint. "Foundation" is a classic sci-fi novel that leans far towards the left side of the sci-fi spectrum. Hard sci-fi, technology and advanced science are touched upon only to the extent that they are necessary to make sense of an Empire that spans an entire galaxy. Quaintly, much of the science is seriously dated - data storage is on microfilm, atomic power is the norm even in spaceships that are expected to travel galactic distances - and could hardly be considered brilliantly prescient.

So it is clearly the ideas that Asimov deals with that have elevated "Foundation" to its status as one of the most loved and most read science fiction novels of all time - science as religion, the authoritarian nature of religious dogma, the insidious Machiavellian nature of political diplomacy, the inevitability of the decline and collapse of a major empire and a powerful discussion as to whether violence is a necessary tool to resolve differences or whether it is merely "the last refuge of the incompetent".

While I will happily acknowledge that "Foundation" was interesting and thoroughly enjoyable, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that it did not have the same thrill or excitement that I experienced when I first read it thirty years ago. The level of science in the book seems almost lack-lustre and in my mind did not live up to the grandiose scope of the novel. Like so many of his peers in the 1950s, women were stoutly ignored and played no part in "Foundation" at all.

Dickens wrote at the turn of the century so one expects his prose to be different. Asimov wrote "Foundation" in 1951 so one certainly expects it to be a product of that time. But, unlike Dickens (and I'm not really quite able to put my finger on the reason why), the prose simply didn't age quite as well. So, in the full knowledge that many will disagree with me, I'm unwilling to accord "Foundation" the 5-star rating that many will expect. Four stars only from this reader and a high recommendation that this book must be read if you claim to be a fan of the classic sci-fi genre.

Paul Weiss

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February 04, 2010
Nice job
February 04, 2010
Thanks.
February 05, 2010
Thanks. All feedback much appreciated.
 
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More Foundation reviews
review by . August 04, 2008
The first-written but second in fictional order to Prelude to Foundation (Foundation Novels). OK, not great. Attempts too great a sweep of time to allow for any character development, or perhaps Asimov just isn't that good a writer to manage it.    Interestingly, Asimov really attempts no explanation of Seldon's Psychohistory, as is done in Prelude written 25 years later. Without Prelude, Foundation's plot-driving motive would be fuzzy at best.
review by . June 27, 2010
This first book in the foundation series sets the stage for a sweeping vision of the future. Hal, a nobody from a small planet, is a mathematical genius. He is able to "see" the future by calculation endless possibilities. He and the Foundation are then able to "guide" the world around them by eliminating some possibilities, and encouraging others. As they manipulate the world around them, worlds grow, empires fall, and the foundation becomes the enemy itself. Foundation dabbles …
Quick Tip by . October 05, 2010
The original "Foundation" trilogy was a sci-fi masterpiece. Some of the later books? Maybe not so much.
Quick Tip by . August 08, 2010
Highly intellectual. I read most of this. Some very heady parts, but then some very satisfying action scenes with requisite stand-up and cheer moments.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
One of the seminal books of science fiction, written in 1950 and still remarkably relevant. A fascinating tale of a new science, psychohistory, and what it means to a dying empire and a growing, rational political force to replace it. Russian-born Asimov offered a fascinating perspective and alternative to all the various socio-political experiments of his day. Follow up with the next two books of the trilogy!
Quick Tip by . June 27, 2010
Awesome!!!!
Quick Tip by . June 20, 2010
great book.
Quick Tip by . June 16, 2010
Asimov introduces a world where psycho-history is able to predict the future of civilization by studying its past mistakes and triumphs.
review by . July 15, 2006
I personally enjoyed ever word of this particular work. Many other reviewers have gone into the plot, etc. so I will not do so here to any depth. This is one of those works of SiFi that will appeal to certain taste, while others may find it not to their liking. There is a great deal of politics (almost Pre WWI European) involved in the story line. As the story covers (all books included) over one thousand years, there are many, many characters to track and keep track of. This is indeed a series …
review by . August 04, 2004
I can understand why this book is considered one of the best science fiction books ever written, especially considering the time period it was written in. It has a very interesting concept of destination and cause and effect (although it is weak in execution and very weak in explanation). For these reasons and other I should only give this book a one star, but instead I gave it two and I will explain why later.      There is almost zero character development in this book. The …
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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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Wiki

One of the great masterworks of science fiction, the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov are unsurpassed for their unique blend of nonstop action, daring ideas, and extensive world-building. The story of our future begins with the history of Foundation and its greatest psychohistorian: Hari Seldon.

For twelve thousand years the Galactic Empire has ruled supreme. Now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future—a dark age of ignorance, barbarism, and warfare that will last thirty thousand years. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire—both scientists and scholars—and brings them to
a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for future generations. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation.

But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire. And mankind’s last best hope is faced with an agonizing choice: submit to the barbarians and live as slaves—or take a stand for freedom and risk total destruction.
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Details

ISBN-10: 0553803719
ISBN-13: 978-0553803716
Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre: Science Fiction & Fantasy
Publisher: Spectra
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