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on January 22, 2003
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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on June 6, 2002
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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on March 19, 2003
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. I finished it in nearly five to six hours and enjoyed every minute of it.
The only complaint that I have with it is that it's too short, almost abridged in sections, that could have had more to it. Other than that, it's a wonderful and entertaining read.
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on April 6, 2002
Isaac Asimov's three volumes of autobiography published in the seventies, eighties and nineties totaled over 2100 pages and 870,000 words. To condense such an enormous amount of detail down to a manageable 300 or so pages, with the addition of enough new material to make the book fresh and interesting, while keeping the story of Isaac's magnificent life lively and entertaining must have been a daunting task, but Janet Jeppson Asimov has done it well. Make no mistake, IT'S BEEN A GOOD LIFE is an autobiography, told in Isaac Asimov's own words, yet it is also the story of his life as Janet Asimov has chosen to tell it.
The initial chapters of the book are ordered chronologically, beginning with Asimov's birth in Russia and his arrival in the United States in 1923, and continue onward from his youth in Brooklyn, his beginnings as a writer, marriage, fatherhood, divorce, remarriage, and his last years of declining health. Janet Asimov has interwoven accounts from all three of the earlier volumes, supplementing his earliest autobiographical recollections with the additional reflections of their significance that came a bit later in his life. She fills the abridgements and adds her own brief commentary with parenthetical remarks, aiming to tread lightly so as not to interfere with the story at hand. Throughout the book she also sprinkles excerpts from the many letters he had written to her over the years, giving the reader a first look at the personal insights shared during their correspondence. Those letters were also used by Janet to compose "A Way of Thinking", Asimov's 400th essay for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, which appears as an appendix to the book.
The selections chosen paint a portrait of who Isaac Asimov was. The pinnacle of quiet, peaceful happiness in his youth was to spend a summer afternoon sitting in a chair tipped back against the wall of his parents' candy store, with a book in his lap, lost in the world of the slowly turning pages. As an adult, his favorite day was one with cold and unpleasant weather, spent in comfort and security in front of his typewriter. Growing up, he learned to love science fiction, and in turn science, and found his calling as a writer and explainer. He became a fearless defender of rationality and reason, denouncing folly and superstition at every turn, and embraced the label of humanist, one who believes that both the triumphs and ills of society are the product of humanity alone, not a supernatural power.
A revised version of the epilogue that appeared in the 1994 volume I. Asimov, has drawn a great deal of interest, for it reveals that Asimov's death was a consequence of AIDS contracted from a transfusion of tainted blood received from a 1983 triple bypass operation. Janet explains the circumstances that led to the discovery that he had the disease, and why his doctors convinced him to keep it a secret from the public. The epilogue includes a description of Asimov's final days, together with some poignant passages that describe his views of life and death.
Even for those who have read the previously published autobiographical works, IT'S BEEN A GOOD LIFE is a very worthwhile read, and for those that haven't, the new book provides a fine means to gain an insight into the life of the most prolific author of twentieth century America. Ten years have now passed since his death, and this book affords a new opportunity to reflect upon the life he lived. It WAS a good life, and appropriately enough, the story of his life is a good one indeed.
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on April 14, 2002
Largely an unfortunate rehashing of material from Asimov's previous autobiographical works, with short excerpts from some of his letters thrown in. I'm a pretty big Asimov fan (I think I've read at least a hundred of his books), but I was disappointed with my purchase.
Folks interested in Asimov's life would do much better to try the 1994 autobiography "I. Asimov," which was released posthumously. The book is still in print, in paperback form. It's a comprehensive and reasonably interesting look at his life, broken into short thematic segments.
Hard core fans looking for something beyond "I. Asimov" may want to try Asimov's first two volumes of autobiography -- "In Memory Yet Green" covers the years 1920-1954, and "In Joy Still Felt" covers 1954-1978. Both titles are out of print, but are easily available from online sources like
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on April 12, 2002
This book is a must read for anyone who is a "fan" of the late, great Isaac Asimov, who was perhaps the most prolific writer who ever lived and who was truly a "Man for All Seasons." But even those who have never read Asimov or have never heard of him would benefit from being exposed to the thoughts of this icon of reason. It is humorous, moving, inspirational and informative, and is a fitting tribute to a person who was truly one of the great intellects of all time. It was not for nothing that he was dubbed "A Natural Resource."
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on May 11, 2002
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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