Tuesday, October 30, 2012

December 1928

In December 1928, when Isaac Asimov was 8 years old, his father decided to sell his old candy store and move to a new neighborhood - albeit still a Jewish one - and acquire a larger store.

They had lived on Miller Avenue for three years (1925-1928) and now moved to the corner of Essex Street and New Lots Avenue. (651 Essex Street).  The store was larger and the clientele better off. The store had a slot machine, too.

When the slot machine went wrong, a repairman would come and fix it. Asimov was fascinated with the process. "I would watch and marvel at the many parts and would be overcome by an earnest desire to take apart, carefully and delicately, the entire machine. It was then my notion to line the parts up in order of decreasing size. I knew, however, that I had no desire to put them together again.

My attraction to mechanical objects was purely destructive, never constructive., and I realized it. In my whole life, therefore, I never fooled myself into thinking I wanted to be an engineer or an auto mechanic or anything of that sort."

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Day and the Forward

In 1928 there were at least two Hebrew newspapers in New York. Asimov's father read The DAy. The biggest newspaper wqas The Forward, but Asimov's father disapproved of its politics and wouldn't touch it.

The Day (I'm going to assume it's the Jewish Morning Journal)
 The Jewish Morning Journal (Der Morgen Zshurnal) was a Yiddish language publication in New York, 1901-1971.

Early Years

A politically conservative, orthodox Jewish publisher, Jacob Saphirstein, founded the Jewish Morning Journal in 1901.The paper took on a more liberal slant in 1916, when Jacob Fishman became editor, replacing Peter (Peretz) Wiernik. After resigning as editor in 1938, Fishman continued his daily column, "From Day to Day." Zionist in outlook, the Jewish Morning Journal advocated an Orthodox lifestyle, and was not published on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. It was a staunch advocate of the Americanization of the Eastern European immigrants who formed the bulk of its readership. Along with other Yiddish publications, its circulation declined steadily after World War I.

Later Years

In 1928 the Jewish Morning Journal merged with the Yidishes Tagblat. Morris Cohen, a Canadian philanthropist, bought the Jewish Morning Journal in 1949.In 1953 the combined entity merged with the Jewish Day. In 1970 the circulation of The Day-Morning Journal was 50,000. The paper ceased publication in 1971.

The Forward
  The Forward (Yiddish: פֿאָרווערטס; Forverts), commonly known as The Jewish Daily Forward, is a Jewish-American newspaper published in New York City. The publication began in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily issued by dissidents from the Socialist Labor Party of Daniel DeLeon. As a privately owned publication loosely affiliated with the Socialist Party of America, Forverts achieved massive circulation and considerable political influence during the first three decades of the 20th Century. The publication still exists as a weekly news magazine in parallel Yiddish (Yiddish Forward) and English editions (The Jewish Daily Forward).



The first issue of Forverts, appeared on April 22, 1897 in New York City. The paper was founded by a group of about 50 Yiddish-speaking socialists who organized themselves approximately three months earlier as the Forward Publishing Association.The paper's name, as well as its political orientation, was borrowed from the
German Social Democratic Party and its organ Vorwärts.

Forverts was a successor to New York's first Yiddish-language socialist newspaper, Di Arbeter Tsaytung (The Workman's Paper), a weekly established in 1890 by the fledgling Jewish trade union movement centered in the United Hebrew Trades as a vehicle for bringing socialist and trade unionist ideas to non-English speaking immigrants. This paper had been merged into a new Yiddish daily called Dos Abend Blatt (The Evening Paper) as its weekend supplement when that publication was launched in 1894 under the auspices of the Socialist Labor Party (SLP). As this publication established itself, it came under increased political pressure from the de facto head of the SLP, Daniel DeLeon, who attempted to maintain a rigid ideological line with respect to its content. It was this centralizing political pressure which had been the motivating factor for a new publication.

Abraham Cahan, patriarch of The Forward until 1946

Newsboys for the Forward wait for their copies in the early morning hours during March 1913
Chief among the dissident socialists of the Forward Publishing Association were Louis Miller and Abraham Cahan. These two founding fathers of The Forward were quick to enlist in the ranks of a new rival socialist political party founded in 1897, the Social Democratic Party of America, founded by the nationally famous leader of the 1894 American Railroad Union strike, Eugene V. Debs, and Victor L. Berger, a German-speaking teacher and newspaper publisher from Milwaukee. Both joined the SDP in July 1897.

Despite this political similarity, Miller and Cahan differed as to the political orientation of the paper and Cahan left after just 4 months to join the staff of The Commercial Advertiser, a well-established Republican newspaper also based in New York City.

For the next four years Cahan remained outside of The Forward office, learning the newspaper trade in a financially successful setting. He only returned, he later recalled in his memoirs, upon the promise of "absolute full power" over the editorial desk

The circulation of the paper grew quickly, paralleling the rapid growth of the Yiddish speaking population of the United States. By 1912 its circulation was 120,000, and by the late 1920s/early 1930s, The Forward was a leading U.S. metropolitan daily with considerable influence and a nationwide circulation of more than 275,000[ though this had dropped to 170,000 by 1939 as a result of changes in U.S. immigration policy that restricted the immigration of Jews to a trickle.

Early on, The Forward defended trade unionism and moderate, democratic socialism. The paper was a significant participant in the activities of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union; Benjamin Schlesinger, a former president of the ILGWU, became the General Manager of the paper in 1923, then returned to the Presidency of the union in 1928. The paper was also an early supporter of David Dubinsky, Schlesinger's eventual successor.

This November 1, 1936, magazine section of The Forward, illustrates its evolution from a Socialist publication to a Social Democratic supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal"
The most well-known writer in the Yiddish Forward was Isaac Bashevis Singer, who received the Nobel Prize in literature although other well known Socialist literary and political figures, such as Leon Trotsky and Morris Winchevsky have also written for it.

Major political developments in the early 1930s, chief among them Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election in 1932, gave rise to internal tensions with the Socialist Party, and a group of Socialist labor leaders on the East Coast left the Socialist Party to form the Social Democratic Federation (U.S.). Through organizations like New York State's American Labor Party, they helped move the mass vote held by the Socialist Party in places like New York City, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Reading, Pennsylvania into the Democratic Party.

Modern times

By 1962 circulation was down to 56,126 daily and 59,636 Sunday, and by 1983 the newspaper was published only once a week, with an English supplement. In 1990 the English supplement became an independent weekly which by 2000 had a circulation of 26,183, while the Yiddish weekly had a circulation of 7,000 and falling.

As the influence of the Socialist Party in both American politics and in the Jewish community waned, the paper joined the American liberal mainstream though it maintained a social democratic orientation. The English version has some standing in the Jewish community as an outlet of liberal policy analysis.
The Yiddish edition has recently enjoyed a modest increase in circulation as courses in the language have become more popular among university students; circulation has leveled out at about 5,500. The current editor of the Yiddish Forward is Boris Sandler, who is also one of the most significant contemporary secular writers in Yiddish.
For a period in the 1990s, conservatives came to the fore of the English edition of the paper, but the break from tradition didn't last. A number of conservatives dismissed from The Forward later helped to found the modern New York Sun.

As of 2008, The Forward is published as a weekly news magazine in separate Yiddish and English editions. Each is effectively an independent publication with its own contents. Jane Eisner became Editor in June, 2008.The Senior Columnist is J.J. Goldberg, who has served in that role since 2008. The paper maintains a left of center editorial stance.

For a few years, there was also a Russian edition. The website of the Forward describes its formation: "In the fall of 1995 a Russian-language edition of the Forward was launched, under the editorship of Vladimir "Velvl" Yedidowich. The decision to launch a Russian Forward in the crowded market of Russian-language journalism in New York followed approaches to the Forward Association by a number of intellectual leaders in the fast-growing émigré community who expressed an interest in adding a voice that was strongly Jewish, yet with a secular, social-democratic orientation and an appreciation for the cultural dimension of Jewish life."
The Russian edition was sold to RAJI (Russian American Jews for Israel) in 2004, although initially it kept the name.[In contrast to its English counterpart, the Russian edition and its readership were more sympathetic to right-wing voices. In March 2007, it was renamed the Forum.

Around the same time in 2004, the Forward Association also sold off its interest in WEVD to The Walt Disney Company's sports division, ESPN.

Jewish Daily Forward Building

Forward Building, New York City
At the peak of its popularity, the Forward erected a ten-story office building at 175 East Broadway on the Lower East Side, designed by architect George Boehm and completed in 1912. It was a prime location, across the street from Seward Park. The building was embellished with marble columns and panels and stained glass windows. The facade features carved bas relief portraits of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, (who co-authored, with Marx, The Communist Manifesto) and Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the first mass German labor party. A fourth relief portrays a person whose identity has not been clearly established, and has been identified as Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Liebknecht, or August Bebel. In the real estate boom of the 1990s, the building was converted to condominiums.

Forward 50

The Forward 50 is a list of fifty Jewish-Americans "who have made a significant impact on the Jewish story in the past year," published annually as an editorial opinion of The Forward newspaper since 1994 The list was the initiative of Seth Lipsky, founding editor of the English Forward.
According to the newspaper's website, this is not a scientific study, but rather the opinion of staff members, assisted by nominations from readers. The Forward does not endorse, or support any of the individuals mentioned in the listing. The rankings are divided into different categories (which may vary from year to year): Top Picks, Politics, Activism, Religion, Community, Culture, Philanthropy, Scandals, Sports and, new in 2010, Food.[20]
The list also includes those Jews whose impact in the past year has been dramatic and damaging

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Podcast: 2012 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate–Faster Than the Speed of Light

You need to visit the website via a computer to hear this podcast.

Podcast: 2012 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate–Faster Than the Speed of Light
Asimov Debate-Hadron Collider Image
Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity has been tested with ever-increasing precision since its publication in 1905. One of its key predictions is that only light itself can travel at the speed of light. While the theory does not forbid particles from moving faster, such particles must be traveling backward in time.
In this podcast from the spring, join Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson and six of the world's leading voices in this scientific debate for the 2012 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate, “Faster Than the Speed of Light.” This year’s debate pitted some of the experimentalists who claimed to have discovered faster-than-light neutrinos against their strongest critics, and explored the ways that modern physicists are testing the fundamental laws of nature.
The Panelists included:
  • Dr. David Cline, Department of Physics and Astronomy, UCLA
Dr. Gian Giudice, Theoretical Physics Division, CERN
Dr. Sheldon Glashow, Department of Physics, Boston University
Dr. Chris Hegarty, MITRE’s Center for Advanced Aviation System Development

  • Dr. Laura Patrizii, Department of Physics, University of Bologna

  • Dr. Gabriela González, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Louisiana State University
The debate was recorded at the Museum on March 20, 2012. Watch a video of the full program on AMNH.tv.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Asimov and digital clocks

First off, here's a very brief history of the digital clock, from Wikipedia:
Perhaps the earliest digital timepieces were Plato clocks. These spring-wound pieces consisted of a glass cylinder with a column inside, affixed to which were small digital cards with numbers printed on them, which flipped as time passed. The Plato clocks were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904, produced by Ansonia Clock Company. Eugene Fitch of New York patented the clock design in 1903.

Josef Pallweber, a Swiss timepiece maker born in Salzburg, Austria, created and produced a mechanic-digital clock model in 1956. The earliest patent for a digital clock was held in the United States by D.E Protzmann and others. Dated October 23, 1956, this patent describes a digital alarm clock. D.E Protzmann and his associates also patented another digital clock in 1970, which was said to use a minimal amount of moving parts. Two side-plates held digital numerals between them, while an electric motor and cam gear outside controlled movement.

In 1970, the first digital wristwatch with an LED display was mass-produced. Called the Pulsar, and produced by the Hamilton Watch Company, this watch was hinted at two years prior when the same company created a prototype digital watch for Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Throughout the 1970s, despite the initial hefty cost of digital watches, the popularity of said devices steadily rose.
 So from the 1970s, digital watches and clocks have been in common use.

This is doubtless what prompted Asimov to write an essay on digital clocks for American Airways Magazine. (At one point he wrote a monthly article for their magazine, and when it went bi-weekly, he wrote two articles a month for them.) It was published in the 29 October 1985 issue of the magazine, over 25 years ago.

The article, Dial vs Digital, is available online as a PDF at:

Contrary to Asimov's prediction, however, digital watches have not taken over. While we have digital clocks on our computers, I just did a search on "Watches" at Amazon, and 2/3rds of the results were analog watches - watches with hands and the "clockwise" typeface.

(That was Asimov's main concern - how could we use clockwise and counterclockwise as directional terms, if kids never learned about the clockface. As well as folks who say, "Look over there at 2 o'clock" to find an object.)

A few folks have written about this article of Asimov's:

  1. Dial Versus Digital

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    Dial Versus Digital. Isaac Asimov. There seems no question but that the clock dial, which has existed in its present form since the seventeenth century ...
  2. [PDF] 

    Dial Versus Digital by Asimov.pdf

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    kind of clocle to the other. Read why he is concerned about the use of digital clocks. Then answer the questions that follow. Dial Versus Digital. Isaac Asimov ...
  3. this.title() - Dial versus Digital | Wix.com

    In this essay, Isaac Asimov explains that advances in technology are not always helpful. He believes that the change from clock is not an improvement, and it ...
  4. What do you believe is Isaac Asimov purpose in Dial versus digital

    wiki.answers.com › Wiki AnswersCategoriesTechnology
    his main purpose is to make people aware of the consequences that might result if we turn to using digital clocks rather than dial clocks. He wants to inform us of ...
  5. [PDF] 

    Dial Versus Digital

    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    In "Dial Versus Digital,” for example,. Asimov uses the cause-and-effect structure. He begins by discussing a cause—the loss of the dial clock—and proceeds by ...
  6. Isaac asimov dial versus digital

    Web is rapidly destroying asimov of a twenty or so. are and what you can students to earn.
  7. [PDF] 


    File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat - Quick View
    6. “There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury. “The Pedestrian” by Ray. Bradbury. “Dial Versus Digital” by Isaac. Asimov. “Montgomery Boycott” by Coretta ...
  8. Asimov Essays about physics

    Essays by Isaac Asimov about physics. Copyright © 1995 ... First Published In: Oct-90, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine ... Dial Versus Digital. Subject: ...
  9. WRII P6: Dial Versus Digital Questions

    Jul 14, 2011 – Did you find Asimov's examples convincing? ... Notice how Asimov organizes information about the effects, ... Dial Versus Digital Questions ...
  10. [DOC] 


    File Format: Microsoft Word - Quick View
    9. How would you express the theme? 10.How is Asimov's essay accessible to everyone? EVALUATING “DIAL VERSUS DIGITAL”. 1. What is the author's tone?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Foundation: A review from a reader new to Asimov

I was rather taken aback by this review of Foundation, the first in the three Foundation and Empire novels - which are, of course, collections of short stories.

The author is clearly a young man who knows nothing about the history of Isaac Asimov or his books, and didn't bother to look them up. (Understandable pre-Wikipedia, but these days, it's so easy to do a bit of research on the background of these books...

From SciFiX: The New Voice in Science Fiction
Foundation from Isaac Asimov is a very interesting story. It would appear that this story is broken up into several short stories, or several not so short stories. At times the separations of stories will catch you off guard. There are huge time gaps between the stories that make it one of those stories that you have to pay close attention to all the details as things go on. There’s more continuity to the politics and history of the Foundation than there is to the people in the story, and not in a bad way.
Foundation is based approximately 12,000 years in the future, and the galaxy is maintained by a single power referred to as the Galactic Empire. The story takes you through the next few hundred years as the beginning of 1,000 years of decay of the Galactic Empire begins to take place, even though the future would’ve held 30,000 years of death and destruction had the Foundation not been formed to create the Encyclopedia Galactica — an encyclopedia of all technology for future generations to learn from — keeping it from being lost in the destruction of the Galactic Empire.
Now this is very much my style of reading, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. As a matter of fact I’ll probably go back and re-read the last two short stories in this book of four stories several times before I move onto another book. Many aspects of the story I now can see how they impacted current day sci-fi. For example, the main galactic homeworld apparently influenced greatly the Star Wars homeworld of Coruscant.
But above all in this story you will find tons, and tons, and tons of political manipulation and trickery, all in a good way. That’s not to speak of the science psychohistory that equates all large societies actions to basic mathematics allowing the prediction of future events. It provides for one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read in quite a while.
I look forward to the remainder of Isaac Asimov’s writing especially including his Robot series. I would rate this book and an 8 1/2 out of 10.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Isaac Asimov, the immobile Futurist

From NixGuy: Breaking News:  Isaac Asimov, the immobile Futurist

For its 3rd edition, the Quebec festival spelled launches its activities – shows, animations, seminars, readings, youth activities – under the auspices of Isaac Asimov. The author of the cycles Foundation and robots has been with Robert Heinlein and Arthur c. Clarke, of those who started at the end of the 1940s, with the dazzling quality of the rockets, the age of Crystal of science fiction. Zoom, 50 years after his death, on an inventor’s future.
He has known start, take-off of a rocket man that will eventually leave a longer path than a comet. Isaac Asimov, went from the Russia to the United States at the age of three years, feeds from boyhood to the breasts of the pulp fiction and science fiction fanzines. Very young, he begins to write: he published at age 19, and began to be recognized at the outset of the twenty. Obsessive, it will stop most, therefore, of scribouiller, almost at the speed of light.
“I think this is the most prolific writer of the story, indicates GB literary Adviser to this edition of Québec in all letters, Jean-François Chassay. In his biography, Asimov has 468 books. It is almost a book a month. Some of his biographers appoint more than 500. Asimov said already that it was a club of the book alone! »
Most prolific, much more than the hypergraphics and logorrheens Georges Simenon and San Antonio? Yes. More than the kitschiko-harlequinienne Barbara Cartland, who boasted in 1983 only to have signed 23 novels? Maybe not. One thing is certain, “what is striking in Asimov is the wide variety of his publications.”. These writers that have written in one or two types. Asimov, known for his work in science fiction, but it laid books of history, great works of popular science, critical of the works of Shakespeare editions, Jonathan Swift and the Bible – it was totally atheist but is interested as a literary text-, and even the books of jokes. »
When arrive to Asimov Fiction, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, h. g. Wells and Jules Verne already scratched the genre for a long time. Some date back genealogy sci – fi up to the true history of Lucian, travel in space written in the 2nd century, which would have later inspired a certain Cyrano de Bergerac. But institutional and literary phenomenon, as in the 1940s, and the United States, that takes off the science fiction more strongly. Isaac Asimov greatly contributed, by the amount of his writings, by promoting it was science fiction and younger authors, not hesitating to highlight them in anthologies. We Are The Robots
“The quality that can be given to the best books by Asimov, continues Jean-François Chassay, and there are many despite its very uneven production and some texts written very quickly, it’s a kind of transparency.” A narrative which reads, as they say, like a novel. He forged a very popular literature, in the best sense of the term. It will be known almost everywhere in Western countries and it will be a huge success in the Japan. »
Two elements emerge from his work, according to the Professor of literary studies at UQAM. First, the imagination of the robot. It is Asimov who will invent the word “Robotics”, now screwed into the vocabulary of. «He notes that the border between the robot and the human is not always easy to detect, and announcement thus a reflection very present in the imaginary and contemporary fiction, around cyborgs, genetic limitations, posthumans, transhumans, definitions of nature and culture.»
A reflection on history then characterizes Asimov thought, particularly around the cycle Foundation. ‘Asimov sign lots of books on the great civilizations, Rome, Greece, Napoleon’. Foundation proposes a reflection on the history of the future. How can we objectify the story and escape the relativism? ask for these books, and how to locate the personal subjectivity within historical currents? In the spirit, I dare say he joined and Announces authors such as Salman Rushdie or Carlos Fuentes, who will put in crisis and deconstruct history by a subjective point of view. In this sense, Asimov does not at all that of space-opera or of pulp fiction with extraterrestrials who land… “Stationary traveller
Asimov character seems itself catapulted off-space: claustrophile, obsessed with writing, it is “a be pathological.” He read his autobiography, says Chassay, to see his egocentricity and his sense of humor, which makes it able to laugh at himself. He is almost never out of his Manhattan apartment, he who wrote sagas which took place throughout the universe. To my knowledge, he never took the aircraft. “Asimov will cease completely science fiction, from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Offset spaciotemporel? Pride? This time, said the Professor, corresponds roughly to the New Wave of science fiction in England, represented by authors such as James Brunner. A movement that seeks the complexification of the invented universe, among others through the language, “very different from what Asimov does. One small step for the sci fi
Grab the artwork, as impressive as an alien monolith come to an another brain of the sci – fi, Jean-François Chassay suggests cycles Foundation and robots, but also the caves of steel, “which combines the Sci-Fi and the detective novel, as an investigation in the future. For thought, “harvest of intelligence, especially in English, because the translation contains only a portion of the text of the original version.” There are tests that account for Asimov, his sense of critical scholarship, of humor and controversy. There are tackles pseudoscience, to creationism, anti-intellectualism. »


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

This Missourian had his head in the clouds

From the Marshfield Mail:  This Missourian had his head in the clouds

He is probably the only Missourian with both a crater on Mars and an asteroid named after him. He was not an astronomer, nor an astronaut. But he was known as the “Dean of Science Fiction Writers.”



Robert Heinlein as a baby, top left in baby carriage, at Butler. Heinlein with his parents at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., circa 1929. Robert in his Navy uniform, bottom left. Three future sci-fi greats work together at the Philadelphia Naval Ship yard in 1944: Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp and Isaac Asimov.

(Note -   I can't access the complete article because a digital subscription is needed...still you get the idea!)


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Forgotten Books: Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25 (1963) -- Martin H. Greenberg and Isaac Asimov, Editors

From Bill Crider's Blog:  Forgotten Books: Isaac Asimov presents The Great SF Stories 25 (1963) -- Martin H. Greenberg and Isaac Asimov, Editors 

Okay, to tell the truth, I'm not just recommending one book today.  I'm recommending 25 of them, the 25 in the DAW series under the general heading of Isaac Asimov Presents the Great SF Stories.  Marty Greenberg and Asimov worked on the series together, and in most of the volumes both provide introductions to the stories that are included.  Greenberg gives a brief overview of the main events of the year the stories were published.  Those are great, but it's the stories that count.  The first volume contains stories from 1939, and we move right along until the concluding volume that's pictured here.  I can't think of a better series of books for anybody who's interested in learning something about the history of SF and its best writers than this one.

In my dark moments I sometimes think that a lot of younger SF readers don't care much about the history of the field and that they don't want to read anything that wasn't published within the last five years.   In my even darker moments, I think it doesn't matter.  When I read the stories from any book in this series, I think what a great past SF has and what fine storytellers the field produced, and I'd like to require everybody to read every story in every volume.  Fat chance.  At any rate, I'm glad I have them all and can open one up and read a great story anytime I feel like it.  

Some of the books in the series can be found on the 'Net for very little (the higher-numbered volumes are usually a bit more).  Check 'em out.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Immortal Bard, by Isaac Asimov

From Shakespeare Geek Blog: The Immortal Bard, by Isaac Asimov

I saw a reference to this Isaac Asimov short story and thought, "Ooo, it sounds like I would like that!" Then I googled for it, found it available for reading online, and the link was already purple - meaning that I'd been there before. Go figure! :)

The Immortal Bard, by Isaac Asimov

It's a short and easy read, and the plot is familiar enough - Shakespeare + time travel. What does Mr. Shakespeare think of how we've elevated him in the past few centuries? Of course, much like Mr. Shakespeare, Mr. Asimov had the same talent of taking a story that's been told countless times and putting his own personal spin on it.

Isaac Asimov is famous among Shakespeare geeks for other reasons as well, most notably his own guide to Shakespeare, with which I've had something of a love/hate relationship.

Once upon a time I picked up Asimov's guide to Shakespeare, decided it was far too heavy reading to just flip through on the shelf at the bookstore, and put it down. I mean, for pete's sake, the man gives a history lesson of the state of the world before ever getting into any of the plays.

But, knowing its place among the highly recommended guides to Shakespeare, a friend got it for me for Christmas. Nice edition, too - both volumes, hardcover. So I started reading that this weekend while I was on vacation. And you know what? It's still an encyclopedia.

I try opening randomly to a play. I have to admit, I do like the books that treat the plays individually, I feel that I can break the book up better if I can pick and choose which subjects suit me depending on mood. I end up on Merchant of Venice. Sure enough we get a quick history of Venice, but then it's on to the play after just one page (plus a map), so I suppose that's a good thing.

But then, here's a good example, Asimov gets to a quote about "let my liver rather heat with wine" and ponders whether Shakespeare was making an early connection to alcoholism? "Nothing of the sort," says Asimov. "The liver is the largest gland in the body, weighing three or four pounds in a man...."

...wait, what?

I'm reading about Merchant of Venice, and now I know that the human liver weighs about 4 pounds. Great. Super. Awesome. Asimov was legendary for this sort of encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything, but did he have to shove it in everywhere he could? Do I really need to know this? He then gives two paragraphs on the importance of the liver to soothsayers, since being the biggest organ it was the easiest to spot and watch for odd conditions. But he never actually says anything about what Shakespeare's quote means.

I guess my point, simply put, is "How does this knowledge bring me any closer to understanding/appreciating Merchant of Venice?"

Here's the book I want. At least, here's the criteria I've been using in my quest for "the" Shakespeare book. I want a book that I would recommend to a friend who doesn't know much about Shakespeare, but is open to learning about it (and by it I mean the body of work, not necessarily the man). Almost every book I've found thus far falls into one of two categories - either an academic tome written specifically for people who have already professed their undying love for the subject and now wants to debate every last detail.....or else it is a variation on "for dummies" that starts with the premise that you really want to learn as little as possible, either so you can just pass the test or so you can appear to know the subject, and breaks it down a word at a time like a vocabulary quiz, losing the appreciation of the whole along the way.

I want something in the middle. To date the closest I've found is actually Bryson's biography - it's light and conversational enough that someone with a passing interest in the subject could pick it up, understand it, and actually enjoy it. Now I want somebody to do that for the plays. I want an in depth examination of Romeo and Juliet, for example, that gives you a taste of everything that's in there, while never losing your attention and still keeping from and center the fact that it's a damned good story. No, it's more than that, it's a far better story than you know, and here's why. The kind of book that after you're done reading it you say "Wow, I had no idea. Now I want to go learn more."

I want a book that makes me want to buy copies for my friends, and send them with a little note saying "Read this and you'll have some idea of why I love this stuff so much." (To be truthful, Bryson comes up short on this bit, as there's not much passion in his writing. The first chapters of Shakespeare Wars (Rosenbaum) are probably the closest I've gotten so far. ) Remember, I'm neither history buff nor literary academic nor theater nerd. In truth there's no good reason why I should be a Shakespeare geek....except the words. There's enough magic in the words alone to hook me, so I've got to believe that it can do the same for others.