Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy might be one of the ultimate geekish works, complete with its talk of mathematical sociology.

Beware. More buttoned-down technocrats and lawyers might fall for this one, too, and even use the theories to argue for obnoxious copyright changes.

An HBO adaptation is in the works, and to revisit Foundation or learn what the fuss is all about, you can not only read the Hugo-winning series but also enjoy a 1973 BBC adaptation.

The availability of the adaptation for free is an old story. We reported on it back in 2012. But iO9 just jogged us, and a little repetition for those new to TeleRead won’t hurt.

To catch up with the BBC adaptation, you can go to Spotify (software here) or the Internet Archive, from which I’ll reproduce part of the description, with additional paragraphing added:

“The premise of the series is that mathematician Hari Seldon spent his life developing a branch of mathematics known as psychohistory, a concept devised by Asimov and his editor John W. Campbell.

“Using the law of mass action, it can predict the future, but only on a large scale; it is error-prone for anything smaller than a planet or an empire. It works on the principle that the behavior of a mass of people is predictable if the quantity of this mass is very large (equal to the population of the galaxy). The larger the mass, the more predictable is the future.

“Using these techniques, Seldon foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire, which encompasses the entire Milky Way, and a dark age lasting thirty thousand years before a second great empire arises. To shorten the period of barbarism, he creates two Foundations, small, secluded havens of art, science, and other advanced knowledge, on opposite ends of the galaxy. The focus of the trilogy is on the Foundation of the planet Terminus.

“The people living there are working on an all-encompassing Encyclopedia, and are unaware of Seldon’s real intentions (for if they were, the variables would become too uncontrolled). The Encyclopedia serves to preserve knowledge of the physical sciences after the collapse. The Foundation’s location is chosen so that it acts as the focal point for the next empire in another thousand years (rather than the projected thirty thousand).”


  1. The series is well worth reading too. I read it about twelve and it’s from that point that I can date that I had a political philosophy and it most emphatically was not that of Asimov.

    I utterly loathed his basic premise, that a country/world/galaxy was best run by a select scientific elite working in the shadows. Even at that tender age I realized that “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The very fact that a group wants to run a country/world/galaxy is evidence enough that they’re disqualified from doing so. Those who seek that much power should never be given it.

    Besides, by Asimov’s day, the idea, generally presented as the need for a One World State to prevent war, was hoary with age. All H. G. Wells’ good stories date from before the turn of the century, when he took up that cause. All his long-forgotten ones start with his 1899 When the Sleeper Awakes and his 1901 Anticipations. Ever read them? Probably not. And you’ve not missed much.

    Wells and many of those who followed him believed that the establishment of a World State would end war. It would do no such thing. It would convert all wars into the nasties of all wars, civil wars. Other wars can be prevented or ended by compromise. A war of rebellion against a single world government can only end in the destruction of that government to the extermination of all rebels.

    I’ve never been able to understand people who believe otherwise. The great novelist, Joseph Conrad, believed much as I do and it resulted in a break between he and Wells that I describe in The Pivot of Civilization in Historical Perspective. Here is a quote:


    H. G. Wells and Joseph Conrad

    Perhaps the most telling criticism of Wells came from the pen of another of the twentieth century’s great writ- ers, Joseph Conrad. Their friendship began accidentally. In May of 1896, Conrad wrote to the unsigned reviewer of one of his books only to discover that the reviewer was the already famous Wells. An unequal friendship developed between the two men, one famous and one not yet famous. At first, even making allowances for that inequality and the necessity to please someone who could make or break him as a writer, Conrad seemed quite taken with Wells’ books, claiming in one early letter that he was “held by the charm of their expression and their meaning. I surrender to their suggestion . . . and I am convinced by the logic of your imagination so unbounded and so brilliant.”

    By 1902, however, doubts began to intrude. Responding to a lecture that Wells had given on “The Discovery of the Future,” Conrad stressed his “rooted idea” that “The future is of our own making.” Wells, he suggested, should have stressed that more, if indeed that was his view.

    Between 1902 and 1904 Wells revealed more clearly how he believed the future was to be made, first in a series of articles on “Mankind in the Making” serialized in Fortnightly Review (Britain) and Cosmopolitan (United States) and later in a book with that same name. In the fall of 1903, having seen a copy of what Wells had written, Conrad wrote a letter in which he tried to convince himself that, “Our differences are fundamental but the divergence is not that great.” He illustrated his point by drawing two sets of lines. In the first pair, the W (for Wells) line wiggles up and down, sometimes crossing the C (for Conrad) line, but never diverging far from it. That, Conrad said, was what their “convictions are like.” In the other, which he said did not illustrate their convictions, the two lines diverge rapidly apart never to return together. A few days later, Conrad wrote again. Trying to be helpful, he warned Wells that he had begun to address a “select circle . . . leaving the rest of the world outside the pale.” He also warned that he will be accused of wanting to create an elite “who look at the world as a breeding place.” Of course that was exactly what Wells wanted to do and by the end of 1903, Conrad seems to have realized that, at one point telling Wells, “There is a cold jocular ferocity” about how he handled mankind “that gives me the shudders sometimes.”

    Throughout his life, Conrad retained many of the beliefs of his childhood in Catholic Poland. By 1906, he was no longer trying to reconcile his beliefs with those of Wells. Like others, Wells linked his desire to set up a scientific elite who would determine who could have children with his desire to abolish all codes of sexual behavior. In a novel entitled In the Days of the Comet, Wells used the passing of the earth through the tail of a comet to ‘sexually liberate’ society. After reading it, Conrad wrote Wells: “The day of liberation may come or may never come. Very likely I shall be dead first. But if it does come that’ll be the day on which I shall marshall my futile objections as to the matters treated in this book.”

    Perhaps in a last bid to sustain their friendship, Conrad dedicated his 1907 The Secret Agent to Wells, but no correspondence between them after it was published has survived. In early 1918, Conrad would explain to Hugh Walpole, another writer, that his final quarrel with Wells had centered on their differing views about humanity, and that he had told Wells: “The difference between us, Wells, is fundamental. You don’t care for humanity but think they are to be improved. I love humanity but know they are not!”
    Those three sentence sum up, perhaps better than anyone else has, what was fundamentally wrong with how Wells, [Planned Parenthood’s Margaret] Sanger and many others viewed the world. In the next chapter, “Man and Superman,” we examine the deceptions and manipulative schemes that Wells’ and his allies used in their schemes to ‘improve’ humanity.


    Just recently I’ve realized that all the efforts to ram Obamacare down the throats of unwilling Americans, particularly by the courts, illustrate that. Their attitude is that everyone in our traditional, free-enterprise healthcare system from physicians to patients isn’t up to the task, that our country needs a healthcare system managed by a select, scientific few, as best illustrated by MIT’s odious Jonathan Gruber.

    Revealingly the very way Obamacare is being introduced, rushed through a Congress that didn’t know what it was doing and rabidly defended with no interest in examining how that clumsily dictated scheme might be wrong, illustrates precisely why these top-down dictates fail. The very fact that some people (from Obama, Jonathan Gruber, and Supreme Court Justice John Roberts) think they know how to dictate medical care demonstrates their incompetence. We’re now seeing that incompetence.

    Life from the running of a galaxy to the management of healthcare can’t be done successfully that way. It can only work when the great mass of people interact with one another, seeking the best solution in particular situations. No elite, particularly no self-selecting elite, can do that.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail