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I believe that Asimov himself recommended reading them in chronological order, however I read them in the order that they were published and think that this is the best way to do it.

What is the correct order?

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Related: Asimov - Start with Foundation or Robots. –  Mark Rogers Mar 10 '11 at 1:44
    
+1 Finally a good list question! –  Secko Aug 4 '12 at 0:55
    
What exactly was the chronological order? –  Dynamic Aug 5 '12 at 4:38
    
@Dynamic chronological order is the order the events happen in the fictional timeline. –  aceinthehole Nov 2 '12 at 13:19

13 Answers 13

up vote 16 down vote accepted

I too read them initially in their order of publication, but now whenever I re-read them I prefer the chronological order, which actually makes more sense.

My favourite full-immersion approach to Asimov is Robots - Empire - Foundation in strict chronological order, and sometimes I also like to add End of Eternity at the beginning.

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Since the Foundation series doesn't really have a proper ending, I'd suggest reading The End OF Eternity as an epilogue to the series. –  neilfein Mar 31 '11 at 2:43
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I prefer The End of Eternity at the beginning. It makes more sense there. The whole Robots - Empire - Foundation is arguably the result of the actions taken in The End Of Eternity. –  Brian Knoblauch Apr 13 '11 at 14:59

The author himself, Isaac Asimov, wrote in the Author's Note of the Prelude to Foundation that he is providing a guide for those readers that might appreciate it since the books "were not written in the order in which (perhaps) they should be read." Therein, he offers the following chronological order:

  1. The Complete Robot (1982) Collection of 31 Short Stories about robots.
  2. The Caves of Steel (1954) His first Robot novel.
  3. The Naked Sun (1957) The second Robot novel.
  4. The Robots of Dawn (1983) The third Robot novel.
  5. Robots and Empire (1985) The fourth (final) Robot novel.
  6. The Currents of Space (1952) The first Empire novel.
  7. The Stars, Like Dust-- (1951) The second Empire novel.
  8. Pebble in the Sky (1950) The third and final Empire novel.
  9. Prelude to Foundation (1988) The first Foundation novel.
  10. Forward the Foundation (1992) The second Foundation novel. (Not in Asimov's list as it had not been written yet.)
  11. Foundation (1951) The third Foundation novel, comprised of 5 stories originally published between 1942-1949.
  12. Foundation and Empire (1952) The fourth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1945.
  13. Second Foundation (1953) The fifth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1948 and 1949.
  14. Foundation's Edge (1982) The sixth Foundation novel.
  15. Foundation and Earth (1983) The seventh Foundation novel.

This list from Prelude to Foundation (1988) is also reproduced online here.

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Excellent list - can you provide a internet link to source if one exists? –  SSumner Oct 11 '12 at 0:17
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I've added a link to one I found. –  WilliamKF Oct 11 '12 at 11:08
    
Thanks, great answer! –  SSumner Oct 11 '12 at 14:19
  • 1954 The Caves of Steel This is the first of the robot novels.
  • 1957 The Naked Sun The second robot novel.
  • 1983 The Robots of Dawn The third robot novel.
  • 1985 Robots and Empire The fourth robot novel.
  • 1951 The Stars, Like Dust This is the first of the Empire novels.
  • 1952 The Currents of Space The second Empire novel.
  • 1950 Pebble in the Sky The third Empire novel, however, it was Asimov's first full novel to be published.
  • 1988 Prelude to Foundation This is the first Foundation novel.
  • 1997 Foundation's Fear Second Foundation trilogy by Gregory Benford.
  • 1993 Forward the Foundation The second Foundation novel (although it was the last written by Asimov himself).
  • 1998 Foundation and Chaos Second Foundation trilogy by Greg Bear.
  • 1999 Foundation's Triumph Second Foundation trilogy by David Brin.
  • 1951 Foundation The third Foundation novel. Actually, it is a collection of four stories, originally published between 1942 and 1944, plus an introductory section written for the book in 1949. Published, slightly abridged, as part of an Ace Double paperback, D-110, with the title "The 1000-Year Plan", in 1955.
  • 1952 Foundation and Empire The fourth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1945.
  • Published with the title 'The Man Who Upset the Universe' as a 35c Ace paperback, D-125, in about 1952.
  • 1953 Second Foundation The fifth Foundation novel, made up of two stories, originally published in 1948 and 1949.
  • 1982 Foundation's Edge The sixth Foundation novel.
  • 1986 Foundation and Earth The seventh Foundation novel.

The first from this list is not from the Foundation series but I suggest you read these books first. I read Asimov in this order.

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-1 the Foundation prequels contain major spoilers for the proper Foundation novels; just because they are chronologically earlier doesn't mean they should be read that way. –  evilsoup May 2 '13 at 23:02
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Two things about this - (1) there's the I, Robot or Complete Robot series with short stories which could come before The Caves of Steel. (2) call me a snob, but I've never read the books that aren't by Asimov; I therefore wouldn't include them in the list. –  Stephen Holt Nov 7 '13 at 17:30

I am on Book 5 (Foundation and Earth) and so far I have read them in what I think is Chronological order.

That is :

  1. Foundation
  2. Foundation and Empire
  3. Second Foundation
  4. Foundations Edge
  5. Foundation and Earth

So far it's been a brilliant read.

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I'm reading Foundation and Empire and I'm on chapter 10. Should I stop reading it and go back to "foundation"? I messed the order. –  dassouki Aug 12 '13 at 1:06
    
This sounds like publication order, not chronological. "Prelude to Foundation" and "Forward the Foundation" precede Foundation chronologically. –  Stephen Holt Nov 7 '13 at 17:32

I think neither the published order nor the chronological order do the series justice.

I always have recommended the series in the following order:

  1. I, Robot (some lists omit this, but this is really the "origin" story of this universe - The Complete Robot can be substituted here, since it contains the same stories as I, Robot)
  2. The Elijah Baley series (which obliquely tells the story of Earth's first robotic forays into space)
  3. The Galactic Empire trilogy (since these 3 books are unconnected to each other, besides taking place in the same general universe, this series can really be read in any order)
  4. The original Foundation Trilogy
  5. Foundation's Edge
  6. Foundation and Earth (To me, that is really marks the end of the best of the work, and you can stop there. Or, you can proceed to the later additions to the series, which I find do not hold up as well as the others.)
  7. Prelude to Foundation
  8. Forward the Foundation

The reason I like this order is that it preserves the chronology of the reader's discovery of the story. Neither the publication order nor the pure chronological order do this - Prelude and Forward are far weaker entries, and remove some of the mystery the first-time reader would have going into the first Foundation book. Part of the enjoyment of the Foundation novel is that you don't know who Seldon is, in those opening scenes on Trantor, or what role he's going to play in the story. If you read Prelude and Forward first, you'll already have an earful about Trantor and Seldon before you get to Seldon's introduction through Gaal Dornick's eyes in Foundation. I'm also completely ignoring the non-Asimov entries, which in my opinion don't add much to the series.

If you've already read the original Foundation trilogy, I'd recommend going back to the other series before finishing with Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth.

For those who have already read the books, I could see some merit in reading them chronologically, but for those who are new to the series, I highly recommend ignoring both the publication order and Asimov's own suggestion on reading order.

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Just read:

1.Foundation 2.Foundation and Empire 3.Second Foundation

and ignore the rest. The others don't compare.

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and here i didn't think the series really came into its own until then the end –  Xantec Mar 16 '11 at 21:58
    
I'll go even further ans suggest that you stop reading halfway through Foundation and Empire before you get to The Mule. That way you'll get the high points. –  Sean McMillan Sep 29 '11 at 12:38

I roughly read them in the order they were published, and found it worked well. I read the Robots stories first, then the original Foundation books, and lastly read the books that linked the two. I largely read them in this order because it was the order I was exposed to them. I started the Robots books, then a friend recommended the Foundation books, and then they mentioned that he'd linked the two. I liked reading in that order because I was aware of the rough edges around integrating the two universes, so any awkward bits felt normal to me and not like poor writing.

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Huh, after reading a few Wiki pages, I may not have ever read the Empire books, just the Robot and Foundation books. –  Keen Mar 10 '11 at 1:58

I too read the Foundation books in the order that they were published and enjoyed them that way. I did however lend my collection to a friend who decided to start with Prequel to Foundation, and then read the rest in publication order. He insists that it was a great way to read them.

Prequel is a very different book from the original Foundations, so anyone reading that first should be warned about the change. Given that though, it may help make the original Foundation trilogy more exciting to go into it knowing more about Seldon.

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I've read them in both publication order and chronological order (inevitable, as I read more than a few of them before the master died, thus before all were published), and they're a good read either way.

Figuring out the chronological order before the definite list was published by Asimov himself was fun, getting it mostly right quite satisfying :)

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Could you provide a link to this list by the author? –  LudoMC Apr 16 '11 at 11:45
    
a quick look in my personal library found it in the epilogue of the 1984 Grafton paperback edition of Foundation's Edge, but it might exist in other books as well. –  jwenting Apr 17 '11 at 14:54

I don't think you need to read the series in any particular order relative to each other. For instance, I read I, Robot and other Susan Calvin books before jumping straight into the Foundation series, grabbing The Robots of Dawn somewhere in between. So it was a bit of a shock when:

I found out that Earth had been abandoned thanks to the machinations of that sweet little mind-reading robot and his humanoid robot friend when I finally read Robots and Empire. And that everything in the Foundation books had been a massive Xanatos Gambit engineered by said humanoid robot friend when I got to Foundation and Earth.

But I think each individual series ought to be read in sequence: you're going to get major spoilers if you read Second Foundation before you read Foundation and Empire, for instance.

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To be honest, I was never entirely sure that the Foundation series referred to humans at all. They were 'human like' but I don't think it was underlined that they were of human origin specifically. I figured lacking robots it was either 'not humans' or a different canon (there is no law saying an author must stick to only one series with its own type of universe). When the books came that tied together the two universes, it was a surprise to me! –  Andrew Thompson Oct 11 '12 at 18:20

I like to look at the series as the story of R. Daneel Olivaw, which results in me having a different order than most. For the sake of simplicity and focus, the robot short stories, the Empire novels, and the Caliban trilogy are left out as interesting, but non-essential.

First, the four Robot novels should be read before the Foundation novels, in chronological/publication order:
A) The Caves of Steel
B) The Naked Sun
C) The Robots of Dawn
D) Robots and Empire

After the Robot novels come the Foundation novels: seven by Asimov, plus the Second Trilogy by Benford, Bear and Brin. Some include the Second Trilogy, others don't. I prefer to include two of them, as I find they improve the overall story of Daneel. Foundation's Fear by Benford can be skipped entirely; it's disrespectful to the source material, adds almost nothing to the overall story, and is just not an enjoyable read.

As you said, the two common recommendations are to read these either publication order or chronological order. I have a third recommendation: start with the original trilogy, then read the prequels, and end with Edge and Earth.

A) Foundation
B) Foundation and Empire
C) Second Foundation
D) Prelude to Foundation
E) Foundation's Fear (if you really must)
F) Forward the Foundation
G) Foundation and Chaos
H) Foundation's Triumph
I) Foundation's Edge
J) Foundation and Earth

This gives a good arrangement stylistically, with the earlier novels followed by the later ones. Asimov's writing style changes distinctly over time. It also gives a good arrangement chronologically, with the prequels foreshadowing the final two books, instead of explaining things you've already read about. (This can be compared to the Machete Order of viewing the Star Wars movies. But I digress.) And best of all, you end with the cliffhanger, instead of reading it and then reading 2-5 more books that don't resolve it.

And if the cliffhanger bothers you, I wrote a conclusion which seems to be well-liked.

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I'm going to recommend my own personal hybrid, partly based on the order the stories were written, and partly the internal chronological order. In my opinion, it gives a better sense of the development of the story and Asimov's direction than simply following the chronology or the writing order. Also, I think it's compulsory to read 'Forward the Foundation' last. Asimov "ended" the series by taking it back to its beginning - I think it's a nice touch. Also, the final scene in this book is a nice way to finish.

So...

  1. I, Robot

  2. The Caves of Steel

  3. The Naked Sun

  4. The Robots of Dawn

  5. Robots and Empire

  6. The Currents of Space

  7. The Stars, Like Dust--

  8. Pebble in the Sky

  9. Foundation

  10. Foundation and Empire

  11. Second Foundation

  12. Foundation's Edge

  13. Foundation and Earth

  14. Prelude to Foundation

  15. Forward the Foundation

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  1. The Caves of Steel
  2. The Naked Sun
  3. The Robots of Dawn
  4. Robots and Empire
  5. Prelude to Foundation
  6. Forward the Foundation
  7. Foundation
  8. Foundation and Empire
  9. Second Foundation
  10. Foundation's Edge
  11. Foundation and Earth

I truly believe if Asimov wanted a reader to read it in order, this would be it!

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Can you offer any reasoning for suggesting this particular order ? Regarding 'if Asimov wanted ...', did you check out the answer by WilliamKF ? –  Stan Nov 20 '13 at 4:12

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