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?

18 Answers 18

up vote 37 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.

  • 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
  • 4
    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.

  • Excellent list - can you provide a internet link to source if one exists? – The Fallen Oct 11 '12 at 0:17
  • 1
    I've added a link to one I found. – WilliamKF Oct 11 '12 at 11:08
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    I know that list is the Word Of God, but I have to disagree about Prelude and Forward. They should be last. The original trilogy puts Hari Seldon and Psychohistory on a pedestal, like a mysterious and ancient prophet whose wisdom and motives are slowly revealed. Reading the prequels where Hari Seldon is the protagonist developing Psychohistory messes with this. Also the transition from Azimov's 50's writing to his late 80's writing and back is jarring. – Schwern Feb 10 '15 at 5:56
  • I'd nominate Mother Earth and maybe The Psychohistorians short stories for the list since they are in the same setting. Admittedly they don't add much to the plot but are good insight how the author created his universe. – Emperor Orionii Jun 5 '15 at 6:12
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    I believe an amended version of this appeared in a later novel (or perhaps a later edition?) - I remember him quoting himself and adding items, including I, Robot (for its linking text, not reproduced in The Complete Robot) and the collections Robot Visions and Robot Dreams, which contain robot stories not in The Complete Robot, as well as Forward the Foundation, which as you note post-dated the previous list. – IMSoP Jan 11 '16 at 23:09

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.

  • 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. This book was originally 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.

  • 6
    -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.

  • 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

Just read:

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

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

  • 2
    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

Hey fellow french learners / readers. Here's the list I established before I attacked this series. Titles are in french. I added the English title between parentheses for reference. Format used was Year - French title (English title).

Enjoy!

The Robots series

  1. 1950 - Les robots (I, Robot)
  2. 1964 - Un défilé de Robots (The Rest of the Robots)
  3. 1986 - Le roboot qui rêvait (Robot Dreams)

The Elijah Baley series

  1. 1953 - Les cavernes d’acier (The Caves of Steel)
  2. 1956 - Face aux feux du Soleil (The Naked Sun)
  3. 1983 - Les robots de l’Aube (Robots of Dawn)
  4. 1985 - Les robots et l’Empire (Robots and Empire)

The Empire series

  1. 1952 - Les courants de l’Espace (The Currents of Space)
  2. 1951 - Tyrann (The Stars Like Dust)
  3. 1950 - Cailloux dans le Ciel (Pebbel in the Sky)

The Foundation Series

  1. 1951 - Fondation (Foundation)
  2. 1952 - Foundation et empire (Foundation and Empire)
  3. 1953 - Seconde Fondation (Second Foundation)
  4. 1982 - Fondation foudroyée (Foundation’s Edge)
  5. 1986 - Terre et Fondation (Earth and Foundation)

The Prelude to Foundation

  1. 1988 - Prélude à Fondation (Prelude to Foundation)
  2. 1993 - L’aube de Fondation (Forward the Foundation)

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.

  • Huh, after reading a few Wiki pages, I may not have ever read the Empire books, just the Robot and Foundation books. – user1027 Mar 10 '11 at 1:58

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 :)

  • 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.

  • 1
    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 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 Prelude to Foundation, and then read the rest in publication order. He insists that it was a great way to read them.

Prelude 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.

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

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.

I read them in nothing but publication order and never felt lost. But no matter what you do please read Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation first and in that order.

Also know that the Empire novels and the Robots series play a significant role in the Foundation saga. Robots and Empire and Foundation and Earth in particular are strongly connected.

  • 1
    Why are those three most importantly read first? Is there a particular reason? – Edlothiad Jan 18 at 20:54
  • @Edlothiad - I'd agree this makes sense wrt the 7 actual Foundation books. Those three books lay the, well, foundation for the books written later, even ones that happen chronologically earlier. And it's possible (I haven't read them in a while) that the later books would spoil some of the surprises in Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation. – RDFozz Jan 18 at 21:14
  • @Edlothiad, as RDFozz says, those books set the "foundation" for Foundation, no pun intended. I couldn't imagine reading any of the others first as they were written with the first three in mind, even though they may be prequels as it were. Foreshadowing creeps in. Everything foundation stems from those first three. – Len Jan 18 at 21:21
  • @Len I was just trying to see if you could flesh out the answer a little, as most people will come along not knowing much about the Foundation series, how it's laid out, or what "the mind it was written with" is. So making that clear cut in your answer is beneficial. – Edlothiad Jan 18 at 22:15
  • Foundation's first chapter starts with a/the main character in the series, Hari Seldon, making his argument about/for Foundation. This lays out everything you will ever need to know about the entire series. Though there are interesting twists and turns throughout, everything else is a logical conclusion from that first chapter. I honestly believe you will enjoy it best if you read those first three first. And don't be confused about the title of Second Foundation - that one's actually the third story. – Len Jan 19 at 14:47
  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!

  • 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

1st bunch - read the Foundation trilogy - Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation - and iRobot, it doesn't matter if you read iRobot or the trilogy first, either order.

2nd bunch - Elijah Bailey trilogy - Caves of Steal, Naked Sun, Robots of Dawn).

3rd - Galactic Empire Trilogy - adds to the series, but really optional, and a little jarring given that it is back to Foundation/iRobot quality writing. If you're going to read any of them, Pebble in the Sky is the most important by far, but less important than all the Foundation and Robot books.

4th - Foundation Sequels (Foundation's Edge, and Foundation and Earth)

5th - Robots and Empire

6th - Foundation Prequels (Prelude and Forward) and I really disagree with an above poster, these books were excellent, and a great cap off of the entire Asimov universe. Don't read these before the others, as they will spoil things big time. They are prequels, in that they take place before the principal - but continue and end the story rather than add back story.

This list is based on Isaac Asimov's own list of the fictional order of his works, with one correction and one addition:

The Complete Robot (1982) Collection of 31 Short Stories about robots.

The Caves of Steel (1954) His first Robot novel.

The Naked Sun (1957) The second Robot novel.

The Robots of Dawn (1983) The third Robot novel.

Robots and Empire (1985) The fourth (final) Robot novel.

The Stars, Like Dust-- (1951) The first Empire novel.

The Currents of Space (1952) The second Empire novel.

Pebble in the Sky (1950) The third and final Empire novel.

"Blind Alley" http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?41602[1]

Prelude to Foundation (1988) The first Foundation novel.

Forward the Foundation (1992) The second Foundation novel. (Not in Asimov's list as it had not been written yet.)

Foundation (1951) The third Foundation novel, comprised of 5 stories originally published between 1942-1949.

Foundation and Empire (1952) The fourth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1945.

Second Foundation (1953) The fifth Foundation novel, comprised of 2 stories originally published in 1948 and 1949.

Foundation's Edge (1982) The sixth Foundation novel.

Foundation and Earth (1983) The seventh Foundation novel.

The list is based on Asimov's list of fictional chronological order in the forward to Prelude to Foundation With one correction. Asimov apparently put The Currents of Space before The Stars Like Dust by mistake.

In The Stars Like Dust everybody knows that the radioactive Earth was the original home world of humans. Only a part of the galaxy has been explored and colonized yet.

In The Currents of Space every region and every planet in the galaxy has been explored and most habitable planets have been settled for centuries or millennia. The planet Trantor, near the center of the galaxy, that probably was not even discovered in the era of The Stars Like Dust, has been settled for so long and advanced in population and industry so much that it has conquered half the galaxy. Nobody knows which planet Humans originated on - Earth is merely one candidate.

And in Pebble in the Sky The Republic of Trantor has conquered and united all the galaxy and become the Galactic Empire. If I remember correctly the year is seven hundred and something of the Galactic Empire. Earthmen are the only people who claim that Earth is the original home of humans. At whe end of the story a project begins to remove earth's radioactivity.

I'm not sure if the Galactic Empire in "Blind Alley" is the same one as in the Foundation series. But I guess it wouldn't hurt to read it. And it might have been referenced in one of the Foundation novels written after Asimov's death like Foundation's Fear (1997) by Gregory Benford, Foundation and Chaos (1998) by Greg Bear, or Foundation's Triumph (1999) by David Brin.

If i remember correctly "Blind Alley" is in year eight hundred and something of the Galactic Empire.

Some people recommend reading Foundation (1951), Foundation and Empire (1952), and Second Foundation (1953) before Prelude to foundation and forward the foundation novels to avoid spoilers of surprises in those novels.

This list includes other works more or less in the Robots/Empire/Foundation series:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foundation_series#Other_authors[1]

One more novel needs to be appended to these lists. Donald M. Kingsbury wrote, with the permission of the Asimov estate, a novel wich takes place in the new/Second Foundation Empire. The book is called Psychohistorical Crisis. It was published in 2001 and is a fantastic addition to the canon of Asimov's Foundation books.

Here is information I got from the www.FantasticFiction.com site: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/k/donald-m-kingsbury/psychohistorical-crisis.htm

Discrepancies are explained as a result of an information overload. The further forward or the further back one goes using psychohistory, one gets more of a general overview with precise details being forgotten. There logically has to be a founder of psychohistory but more and more details are subsumed over time.

Take medicine as an example. The Hippocratic oath is almost all we know of Hippocrates of Kos. Quoting Wikipedia: Historians agree that Hippocrates was born around the year 460 BC on the Greek island of Kos; other biographical information, however, is likely to be untrue. That's the history of one world with a time lapse of about 2600 years. Multiply that by the histories of hundreds of thousands of worlds and the advancements of hundreds of arts and sciences.

Hippocrates has an Oath. Pythagoras has a Theorem. Euclid has a type of geometry named after him. Can you tell me much more about these learned people without searching for information? That information has been subsumed into a larger picture.

protected by Edlothiad Jan 23 at 6:57

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