Book Review: Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery

Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery by Isaac Asimov

Covering the range of time between 4 million BCE and 1993 (at least in the newer edition that I have. There was an earlier edition that went up until 1988. Isaac Asimov died in 1992), Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery is a timeline of the advances in human knowledge and technology, from bipedalism to Fermat’s Last Theorem (a technically erroneous entry since Wiles’ 1993 proof was in error and would be corrected in 1995) punctuated with “In Addition” sections that profile what was happening historically.

I really enjoyed this book. To describe it makes it sound a bit dry, where years are listed with entries on scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs of that year, but its chronological ordering, vast sweep, and Asimov’s no bullshit way of writing makes it surprisingly enjoyable. Two things that struck me while reading it were how often discoveries were made by independent parties and very nearly the same time, showing that human civilization was “prepped” for the discovery, and how there are really no surprises; everything built on what came before in (at least in retrospect) logical order.

I’ve been jokingly referring to this book as Civilization: The Tech Tree: The Book, but it serves as a great way to see human achievement both in wide focus and in particular context, and will be useful as a reference going forward. I will assuredly read it again more than once.

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