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It's Been a Good Life [Hardcover]

Isaac Asimov , Janet Jeppson Asimov
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 1 2002
New one-volume autobiography spans Asimov's life for the first time!
As one of the most gifted and prolific writers of the twentieth century, Isaac Asimov became legendary for his inexhaustible creativity, wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, and talent for explaining complex subjects in clear, concise prose. While regaling his readers with an incredible opus of almost five hundred entertaining and illuminating science fiction and nonfiction books, he also found time to write a three-volume autobiography. Now these volumes have been condensed into one by Asimov's wife, Janet, who also shares excerpts from letters he wrote to her. Together these writings provide an intimate portrait of a creative genius whose love of learning and playing with ideas is evident on every page.
Reading this autobiography is like sitting down with Isaac Asimov and experiencing his witty, engaging, and brilliant personality firsthand. We are treated to many marvelous stories about his upbringing in Depression-era Brooklyn, his early fascination with the new science fiction pulp magazines, the thrill of his first published story, the creation of his well-known story "Nightfall," the genesis of the Foundation series, and the evolution of his creative life as a writer.
He also reveals his inner thoughts about and experiences with various luminaries in science and science fiction. Above all, Asimov's autobiography conveys unbounded enthusiasm for his craft, the infectious joy of learning and creating, complete intellectual honesty, his strong humanist convictions, and his infinite fund of good humor and optimism even at the end of his life - all told in the lively clear writing style that was his trademark.
Although Janet Jeppson Asimov concludes this work with a shocking revelation about her husband's death, the volume is clearly intended as a celebration - as the title suggests - of a wonderful, creative life. As a poignant coda to this work, Janet has appended one short story that was Isaac's favorite, and his 400th essay on this thoughts about science.

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From Publishers Weekly

Condensed by Asimov's widow from the remarkably prolific author's three-volume autobiography, this fascinating but somewhat disjointed collection of excerpts conveys the exuberant spirit of one of the most celebrated founding fathers and eighth Grand Master of American science fiction, who died in 1992. As a child of Russian Jewish immigrants, Asimov gazed longingly at encyclopedias in more affluent friends' homes, and grew up to be a walking encyclopedia himself: a self-educated polymath and humanist, he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and later received over a dozen honorary doctorates. Asimov's widow presents chronologically his thoughts on his writing in the context of his life and his lifelong secular humanism; she connects them with a minimum of editorial comment and occasionally adds illuminating passages from their previously unpublished private correspondence. Also included are a brief chronology of Asimov's life; his posthumous 400th essay "A Way of Thinking," which his wife assembled from their discussions and letters defending "Reason against Chaos"; Asimov's favorite among his multitudinous short stories, "The Last Question," which is quintessential Asimov in its spare, conversational style simmering with optimistic cosmic humor; and the surprising revelation that Asimov's 1992 death was caused by complications from AIDS, which he had contracted through blood transfusions during his 1983 bypass surgery. Generously exposing both Asimov's immense talents as a science fiction author and his ruefully amusing self-deprecating punctures of his own early inflated self-image, this readable and idiosyncratic self-portrait should attract a whole new generation of readers to Asimov's fine creative works. Photos.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Isaac Asimov the author of hundreds of books, both fiction and nonfiction, including the "Foundation" series was a rationalist, convinced that the act of writing was Heaven for him. That rationalism is evident in his three-volume autobiography, which has been condensed into this single-volume work, accompanied by some personal letters compiled by his second wife, Janet Jeppison Asimov. Asimov's know-how, opinions, joys, and successes as a writer, educator, soldier, husband, father, and general intellectual show-off are detailed to varying degrees, but so are his booby prizes. He readily admits to being very self-involved, a necessity for a writer of his output, but such self-centeredness did not work well for his first marriage. It is, however, impossible not to like Asimov and his enthusiasm, even glee, for life as it comes. Asimov was often ill later in life, but his optimism and love of learning remained. Janet Asimov presents a "revelation" in the epilog of this book, but the impression that will last is of Isaac Asimov, the humanist. Recommended for all libraries. Robert L. Kelly, Ft. Wayne Community Schs., IN
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Abbreviated autobiography yields mixed results Jan. 22 2003
Format:Hardcover
This compression of Isaac Asimov's earlier autobiographical works will principally be remembered as the book that announced to the world that Asimov died of AIDS. But as a one-volume summary of his life, it enjoys only mixed success.
This book both benefits and suffers from its source material: the best chapters are those on Asimov's early life and career, and were extracted from his first volume of autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, which was strongly narrative and, as a result, stronger; the second volume, In Joy Still Felt, was more anecdotal and quotidian, as Asimov settled into the routine of a workaholic full-time writer, and as a result yielded less insightful material to excerpt.
Like Asimov's third autobiography, I. Asimov: A Memoir, and his collection of letters, Yours, Isaac Asimov, the chapters are topical. While some chapters are solid, others are quite thin: the chapters that simply collect funny anecdotes could have been dispensed with. For example, Chapter 26, "The Bible", includes a couple of not-very-illuminating anecdotes related to Asimov's Guide to the Bible, and could have been folded, along with the chapter on humanism, into a longer chapter on religion and unbelief. I would have preferred fewer, longer chapters that went into more depth. Substantial introductory and connective material to piece Asimov's own work together would have strengthened the book; instead, we're given passages that sometimes look like they were excerpted, word by word, with a razor blade.
On a more mundane level, the proofreading is sometimes surprisingly bad, with several misspelled authors' names and even one book title ("I, Robert"?!?) -- just the sort of thing that Isaac would have found bothersome.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A warm and revealing literary biography June 6 2002
Format:Hardcover
Isaac Asimov can justifably lay claim to having been one of the most prolific writers of modern times, producing science fiction, fantasy, essays and other works. His wife Janet Asimov here edits her husband's personal thoughts about his life and works, including excerpts from his letters and insights into his life experiences throughout the process. Fans of Asimov will find It's Been A Good Life to be a warm and revealing literary biography.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent! March 19 2003
By Andrew
Format:Hardcover
It's been a good life is a good way to describe Asimov's life as he describes it in his own words. An autobiographical account of his life, with inserts by his wife, this book details Asimov's life in a funny and interesting volume.
He starts with his birth and childhood, which is an interesting feat. Not many people can remember their young lives. From there, he describes how he became interested in reading, then writing and finally how he first became published. From there, he describes his academic and writing lives in a clear, paced fasion. Everything blends in perfectly, from birth to death.
I was paticularly fasinated by his writing life, as a fan of his. For most of the book, he describes how he became a novelist, then how he stopped in favor of scientific resources and then how he returned to fiction. Because he wrote this in the first person view, it is entirly too easy to fall right into his head, and see things the way he did. This is expecially true towards the end of the book and his life. I really got the sense that he had too much to do, that he wanted to do and didn't have nearly enough time to accomplish it all.
I have read many of his science fiction novels, and from this book, learned a lot about what drove him to writing the stories I enjoy, but also about his life in general. There was much that I had no idea about. For example, he was in the Army, died of AIDs, due to a blood transfusion, and went through writing cycles.
Paticularly helpful was the editing that his wife did. On almost every section, she inserted references to his life that explained what he was talking about a little better. This book would have been very difficult and/or confusing if they had not been put in.
In addition, this book is an extremely fast read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Stirs memories May 11 2002
Format:Hardcover
This book is definitely worth reading, even if you have read previous autobiographies. The chapter of most interest and emotional impact is the one that describes how he died, while giving very wise (almost mystical) advice on how to cope with loss and death. A wonderful book.
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