Now, this is the edition of Asimov’s Biographical Encyclopedia to use. Don’t read it, of course—never, never read it. It’s a real pain to try to slog through. Because the biographies are arranged by the individual birth dates of the scientists involved, and because they had different accomplishments at different ages, there’s nothing like a coherent story, as there is with, say, Asimov’s Chronology of Science and Discovery, so it’s a very, very difficult book to read.

It is, however, a useful reference work. The number of entries here is now over 1500, about 50% more than in the original edition, there are pictures of some (but not all), the text is clear and provides good general information, including considerable explanation of the work involved.

There are still some weaknesses with the book. One is that it is Eurocentric—the people mentioned are the ones who are important to our Western scientific tradition. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, of course, unless you‘re more interested in knowing how other cultures developed their scientific traditions.

Asimov is still rather dependent on his sources, too, who aren’t always reliable. For example, he depends rather heavily on E.T. Bell for some of the mathematicians, and Bell is notorious for being more interested in the fun story than the true one. Asimov was, however, more than willing to correct himself as better information was provided him (I even did that on one occasion), but not being a professional historian of science one can understand how some things might slip through.

And the book doesn’t aim really high. I'd really recommend this for school students through high school or for someone just to have in their house as a quick-and-dirty look-up. The Dictionary of Scientific Biography is a better, more thorough, and more reliable source (not to mention infinitely larger) for other purposes.

This isn’t to knock theBiographical Encyclopedia, of course. It is a tremendously useful reference work; I use mine fairly constantly. One just has to realize that owing to no fault of Asimov’s own there are holes and an occasional inaccuracy in the story he tells. Even Homer nods.

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