Readersforum's Blog

December 11, 2012

Paul Krugman: Asimov’s Foundation novels grounded my economics

Detail from one of Alex Wells's illustrations to the Folio Society edition of The Foundation novels

Detail from one of Alex Wells’s illustrations to the Folio Society edition of The Foundation novels

The fantastical tale offers a still-inspiring dream of a social science that could save civilisation.

There are certain novels that can shape a teenage boy’s life. For some, it’s Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged; for others it’s Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. As a widely quoted internet meme says, the unrealistic fantasy world portrayed in one of those books can warp a young man’s character forever; the other book is about orcs. But for me, of course, it was neither. My Book – the one that has stayed with me for four-and-a-half decades – is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, written when Asimov was barely out of his teens himself. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a square-jawed individualist or join a heroic quest; I grew up wanting to be Hari Seldon, using my understanding of the mathematics of human behaviour to save civilisation.

OK, economics is a pretty poor substitute; I don’t expect to be making recorded appearances in the Time Vault a century or two from now. But I tried.

So how do the Foundation novels look to me now that I have, as my immigrant grandmother used to say, grown to mature adultery? Better than ever. The trilogy really is a unique masterpiece; there has never been anything quite like it. By the way, spoilers follow, so stop reading if you want to encounter the whole thing fresh.

Click here to read the rest of this story

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