Foundation Books in Order: How to read Isaac Asimov’s series?

Last Updated 4 months ago.I should probably have used the title ‘How to read Isaac Asimov’s Robot, Empire and Foundation series?’ but I didn’t want to make a title that was just too long. I know, I will start to work on a design more in accordance with the demand of the site soon. For now, let’s talk about the great Isaac Asimov and some of his most famous works.

What is the Foundation Series?

The original Foundation Trilogy is one of the most celebrated works of science-fiction. Originally, it was a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine in the 1940s. Everything starts in a future where the mathematician Hari Seldon has developed the concept of psychohistory that he used to predict the future, but only on a large scale.

He foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire and, to ensure a favorable future for humanity, he gathers talented minds to basically become the foundation for a new society. Soon, they found themselves facing hard choices that will determine the future or the end of Mankind. Asimov says that when he wrote ‘Foundation’, he had no idea that he had begun a series of stories. After the original Trilogy, he wrote new books and extended the universe with connections to the Robot Series and the Empire Series.

Foundation Books in Order :

There is not a single and simple answer to that question. So, I’ll propose you two alternatives and you’ll do as you want.

Let’s start with my proposition, then with the one Isaac Asimov wrote in the ‘Author’s Note’ of the Prelude to Foundation.

I. The original Foundation Trilogy

Let’s be honest, it’s better to start with the best and the heart of the story. These three books compose the original trilogy.

Foundation Books in Order Foundation and Empire - Foundation Books in Order Second Foundation - Foundation Books in Order

  1. Foundation – The Galactic Empire has ruled supreme, but now it is dying. Only Hari Seldon, creator of the revolutionary science of psychohistory, can see into the future. To preserve knowledge and save mankind, Seldon gathers the best minds in the Empire – both scientists and scholars – and brings them to a bleak planet at the edge of the Galaxy to serve as a beacon of hope for a future generation. He calls his sanctuary the Foundation. But soon the fledgling Foundation finds itself at the mercy of corrupt warlords rising in the wake of the receding Empire.
  2. Foundation and Empire – The Foundation has survived the greed and barbarism of its neighboring warrior-planets. Yet now it must face the Empire. When an ambitious general determined to restore the Empire’s glory turns the vast Imperial fleet toward the Foundation, the only hope for the small planet of scholars and scientists lies in the prophecies of Hari Seldon.
  3. Second Foundation – The story starts after years of struggle, the Foundation lies in ruins, but it is rumored that there is a Second Foundation hidden somewhere at the end of the Galaxy, established to preserve the knowledge of mankind through the long centuries of barbarism. The fate of the Foundation rests on young Arcadia Darell, only fourteen years old and burdened with a terrible secret.

II. The prequels and sequels

It’s a bit like Dune. First you continue with the sequels and then you’ll go back to the start. Why? Because the two prequel books kind of change your perspective, but you’ll have a better appreciation for the beginning you know where everything is going. And Asimov wrote them knowing exactly where the story was going, so it’s better imho to have the same knowledge, in a way. That’s my take, and that’s why I’ll recommend you to follow Asimov’s chronology if you don’t agree.

Foundation’s Edge - Foundation Books in Order Foundation and Earth - Foundation Books in Order Prelude to Foundation - Foundation Books in Order Forward the Foundation - Foundation Books in Order

  1. Foundation’s Edge – The first sequel to the original trilogy. At last, the costly and bitter war between the two Foundations had come to an end. The victors retum to Hari Seldon’s long-established plan to build a new Empire. Now the two exiled citizens of the Foundation set out in search of the mythical planet Earth and proof that the Second Foundation still exists. Soon representatives of both the First and Second Foundations will find themselves racing toward a mysterious world called Gaia and a final shocking destiny at the very end of the universe.
  2. Foundation and Earth – Councilman Golan Trevize is wondering if he was right to choose a collective mind as the best possible future for humanity over the anarchy of contentious individuals, nations and planets. To test his conclusion, he decides he must know the past and goes in search of legendary Earth, all references to which have been erased from galactic libraries. The societies encountered along the way become arguing points in a book-long colloquy about man’s fate, conducted by Trevize and traveling companion Bliss, who is part of the first world/mind, Gaia.
  3. Prelude to Foundation – The first Prequel. It is the year 12,020 G.E. and Emperor Cleon I sits uneasily on the Imperial throne of Trantor. Hari Seldon has come to Trantor to deliver his paper on psychohistory, his remarkable theory of prediction. Little does he know that he has already sealed his fate and the fate of humanity.
  4. Forward the Foundation – As Hari Seldon struggles to perfect his revolutionary theory of psychohistory to ensure the survival of humanity, the great Galactic Empire totters on the brink of apocalyptic collapse.

III. The Robot Series

As you may know, the Robot Series can be read separately from the Foundation Series and the Empire Series. As Asimov didn’t plan his series from the start, connexions came later. In that spirit, the Robot Series integrated the Foundation continuity after the first trilogy. As the Robot novels are really good, it’s a good follow up if you didn’t already read them.

I, Robot - Foundation Books in Order The Caves of Steel - Foundation Books in Order The Naked Sun - Foundation Books in Order The Robots of Dawn - Foundation Books in Order Robots and Empire - Foundation Books in Order

  1. I, Robot – Collection of Short Stories exploring the famous three laws of Robotics.
  2. The Caves of Steel – The first Robot novel. A millennium into the future two advancements have altered the course of human history: the colonization of the galaxy and the creation of the positronic brain. This is the story of an unlikely partnership between a New York City detective named Elijah Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw, a humanoid robot, who must learn to work together when a prominent Spacer is murdered under mysterious circumstances.
  3. The Naked Sun – On the beautiful Outer World planet of Solaria, a handful of human colonists lead a hermit-like existence, their every need attended to by their faithful robot servants. Detective Elijah Baley and the robot R. Daneel Olivaw are sent from the streets of New York to solve an incredible murder that has rocked Solaria to its foundations.
  4. The Robots of Dawn – Detective Elijah Baiey is called to the Spacer world Aurora to solve a bizarre case of roboticide. The prime suspect is a gifted roboticist who had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to commit the crime, but Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw must prove the man innocent.
  5. Robots and Empire – Solaria has been abandoned by its human population. Countless robots remain there. And when traders from Settler worlds attempt to salvage them, the robots of Solaria turn to killing, in spite of the Three Laws of Robotics. With Madam Gladia and D.G. Baley – the captain of the Settler traders and a descendant of the robots’ friend Elijah Baley – , the robots Daneel and Giskard travel to Solaria where they uncover a sinister Spacer plot to destroy Earth itself.

IV. The Empire Series

And now, The Empire Series. Not as good as the two others are, not as connected as the two others are and mostly optional in that regard. Those books can be read independently from one another.

To get back to the Foundation discussion, the Empire novels take place before the Foundation prequels, but after the Robots series. The connexions with the Foundation universe are less strong than between the other two series. In fact, it’s pretty optional, but if you want more and don’t mind weaker stories, those we’ll do.

The Currents of Space - Foundation Books in Order Pebble in the Sky - Foundation Books in Order The Stars, Like Dust - Foundation Books in Order

  1. The Currents of Space – High above planet Florinia, the Squires of Sark live in unimaginable wealth and comfort. Down in the eternal spring of the planet, however, the native Florinians labor ceaselessly to produce the precious kyrt that brings prosperity to their Sarkite masters. Rebellion is unthinkable and impossible. The Trantorian Empire, whose grand plan is to unite all humanity in peace, prosperity, and freedom, has allowed the oppression to continue. Living among the workers of Florinia, Rik has been abducted and brainwashed. As his memories begin to return, Rik finds himself driven by a cryptic message he is determined to deliver: Everyone on Florinia is doomed, the Currents of Space are bringing destruction.
  2. Pebble in the Sky – One moment Joseph Schwartz is a happily retired tailor in 1949 Chicago. The next he’s a helpless stranger on Earth during the heyday of the first Galactic Empire. Earth, he soon learns, is a backwater, just a pebble in the sky, despised by all the other 200 million planets of the Empire because its people dare to claim it’s the original home of man. And Earth is poor, with large areas of radioactivity ruining much of its soil – so poor that everyone is sentenced to death at the age of sixty. Joseph Schwartz is sixty-two.
  3. The Stars, Like Dust – Biron Farrell was young and naïve when a radiation bomb planted in his dorm room changed him from an innocent student at the University of Earth to a marked man. He soon discovers that, many light-years away, his father, the highly respected Rancher of Widemos, has been murdered. Stunned, grief-stricken, and outraged, Biron is determined to uncover the reasons behind his father’s death, and becomes entangled in an intricate saga of rebellion, political intrigue, and espionage.

Isaac Asimov suggested reading order:

Like I wrote before, Asimov didn’t know that the Foundation Series would become that big and that he was going to connect the series to Robot and Empire. So, in the ‘Author’s Note’ at the beginning of Prelude to Foundation, he offered his own reading order – a chronological order, to be precise.

  1. I, Robot
  2. The Caves of Steel
  3. The Naked Sun
  4. The Robots of Dawn
  5. Robots and Empire
  6. The Stars, Like Dust
  7. The Currents of Space
  8. Pebble in the Sky
  9. Prelude to Foundation
  10. Forward the Foundation – It was not in Asimov’s list as it had not been written yet, but it’s the right place.
  11. Foundation
  12. Foundation and Empire
  13. Second Foundation
  14. Foundation’s Edge
  15. Foundation and Earth

39 thoughts on “Foundation Books in Order: How to read Isaac Asimov’s series?”

  1. One mistake on this list — “The Stars, Like Dust” actually takes place before “The Currents of Space” chronologically (the Trantorian Empire hasn’t arisen yet, but does so between the two novels), and Isaac Asimov later admitted that he goofed when compiling that “Prelude to Foundation” chronology, accidentally switching the ordering of the two books, but the mistake wasn’t caught until after publication (and lots of folks let him hear about it at conventions afterwards).

      1. Hi, sorry — just noticed the list again, and the three Galactic Empire novels should actually go in this order:

        1. The Stars, Like Dust
        2. The Currents of Space
        3. Pebble in the Sky

        (According to Asimov, the planet Trantor was settled roughly around the same time period that “Dust” takes place during, but at that point it hadn’t yet arisen to absorb most of its surrounding neighbors, which it was well on its way to accomplishing by the time of “Currents,” where half of the entire galaxy is under its sway. And of course by the time of “Pebble,” the other half of the galaxy has since been absorbed, and the Galactic Empire is now an official entity.)

    1. Hello! There are other books that any Asimov’s reader should add to the beginning of the list. Chronologically, you should begin with:
      1- The end of Eternity (1955). In this Asimov’s novel, Andrew Harlan decided against Eternity, Inc. and their constant change of the timeline and, by doing so, he set in motion the necessary conditions that will eventually lead humanity to colonize space. In fact, In Foundation’s Edge (chapter 17.5), Dom tells the story (somewhat distorted by time) of the Eternals to Perolat and Trevize. And so,
      2- I, Robot (1950) should be second. In this book (a short story collection, really) robots are developed on Earth and later, they help humanity to colonize space. Then comes The Lucky Starr series books. They are:
      3- David Starr, Space Ranger (1952)
      4- Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids (1953)
      5- Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954)
      6- Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury (1956)
      7- Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter (1957)
      8- Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn (1958)
      In those novels (intended for young readers), David Starr is an Earth’s agent, fighting spies and other unscrupulous people from the Spacer Worlds, which at that time are just Earth Colonies, wanting to be free of Earth’s influence and growing stronger with each new book.
      The next book should be:
      9- The caves of steel, and so on with the original list.

    2. @Juan Jeannot

      To clarify then, you would suggest reading the Robot series before the Foundation Series? Or would you suggest a different order?

      (I’m considering reading at least some of the books before the series is launched on Apple TV+, so I only have about 6-8 months, I suspect; when I have the time, I tend to read quickly, but time has been a bit of an issue lately…)

    3. Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation has huge spoilers.dont read them first.first time seeing someone advising that order.

    4. Is it okay to substitute I, Robot with The Complete Robot? And according to wikipedia, there are a few short stories not included in that (which are found in Gold, Robot Dreams and Robot Visions); none of which I see in this list. Are they related or are the short stories separate and can be read in any order?

    5. I just read the Robot Series and realized that it comes after the Foundation Series. There are many statements in the Robot Series that refer to Dr. Susan Calvin from the Foundation Series as if occurrences happened many years before the Robot Series.
      I would say order is Foundation Series, Lucky Star series, Robot series, Galactic Empire series. The Lucky Star series also makes mention of issues from the Foundation series. Not really sure if Lucky Star series should go after Foundation or Robot series. Maybe I’m trying too hard for order.
      There is no mention of the last three books of the Foundation written by his friends in order to end that series. Foundations Fear, Foundation and Chaos, and Foundations Triumph. Granted, Asimov did not write these books but his best friends wrote them with the permission of the publisher and his family as Asimov refused to finish the series.

      1. The chronological order given in the article is correct. Susan Calvin isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Foundation series and Foundation and Earth clearly sets Foundation many millennia after the robot novels as it explores the long-dead Spacer worlds and R. Daneel Olivaw ties everything together at the end. We know the Empire novels take place between the Robot series and Foundation series because Earth is already radioactive but Trantor hasn’t yet established the Galactic Empire.

        Google “Asimov galaxy timeline” for multiple websites that break down the events in the over-arching Robot/Empire/Foundation series to the approximate or even exact years they occurred.

      2. The Robot Series does NOT come after the Foundation Series, the Robot series is set almost 50,000 years before the Foundation Series.

        1. 50,000 years is a gross exaggeration. As Foundation begins the empire is ~12,000 years old and the time period from now to empire is ~10,000 years.

      3. I grew up with Foundation and pretty much read all his novels in the chronological order of publication. To me that meant two things. First I followed Asimov’s own journey. Second, I believe it was a more emotive journey as you started to see all the pieces fall into place. Therefore, any discussion about the order to read the books must include the option to read them in chronological order of publication.

        1. ALL of the Robot series “fit in”, but only those listed above are integral to The Foundation Series. Basically anything with R. Daneel Olivaw in it, and anything preceding him. If you do not read the Robot Novels listed, the sequels ( and climax ) of the Foundation Series will make no sense to you.

      4. Not mentioned here is the “End of Eternity”; the Eternals are mentioned in Foundation and Earth (possibly the weakest of the lot) and the Galactic Empire is mentioned in the End of Eternity

        1. Yeah, Disney flat out stole that concept in LOKI, so much so I am surprised Disney did not get sued.
          The Umbrella Academy stole it too.

          1. Funny you mention that as I am reading end of eternity and that’s all i can think about. It is basically the exact same concept.

        2. In regards to these novels: Foundations Fear, Foundation and Chaos, and Foundations Triumph. They were written by 3 different authors, and to be honest, their styles were nothing like Asimov’s and I don’t think I could get through them. At least I remember nothing about them except they were awful.

          1. Thanks Laura for writing this. I was considering to find such three books to read, but you are the second one who disincouraged me to do so. Thank you. It might be really difficult to do such thing as Asimov did. He is the master.

            1. Look, they are inferior to Asimov’s books by their style, but Brin is a brilliant writer, and it is definitly the best of the three books. Not equal to Asimov, but close. But you kinda have to read the other two to place the characters in place before you reach foundations triumph!

          2. You have forgotten Nemesis. It is about the development of the “Jump” and belongs after I, Robot and before The Caves of Steel. Do not be mislead by Asimov’s cryptic comments in the forward. If he had said outright that it was part of the Big Story, it would have ruined the ending.

          3. What about the books authorized by Asimov’s estate, how do they fit in?
            Foundation and Fear by Gregory Benford
            Foundation and Chaos by Greg Bear
            Foundation’s Triumph by David Brin

            1. The three books relate the life of Hari Seldon between the moment he became first minister and the day of his death… So, since foundation starts with Hari Seldon, Foundation starts before Foundation’s triumph ends…

          4. As someone mentioned the new Apple.TV Foundation series, it might be worth pointing out that it’s not a serialisation of the books as such, but a look at the stories of various characters from the books within the background of the Foundation story itself, names such as Raych, Gaal Dornick, the emperors Cleon, etc. The gender of a few characters is changed, with the blessing of Asimov’s son, to make the women in the stories have a much more equal role with the men within the storyline. I think it works pretty well, as the books were nearly always about the life of men to a large extent. New episodes come out each Friday.

            1. That Asimov’s daughter, Robyn, approved gender swapping characters in the TV series does not mean she would approve your gender swapping of her.

          5. I would say read the Foundation books by the other authors.
            Yes the styles are somewhat different, but they are 3 good reads.
            Asimov might not have taken the story in the same direction but as you say he was the best.
            However, I will not say the same for the Apple TV series which storywise begins roughly as Asimov’s story but then degrades very, very quickly into crap with so many major changes that it might as well be in a completely different Universe and dimension.
            I will watch the last episode of season one in 2 days time just so my brother can as well and then cancel my Apple TV subscription because I only took it out being so excited to at last be able to see the Foundation series on film, but it just seems all wrong.

            1. Having never been a “true” science fiction reader, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t like the Apple TV “version” of Foundation; as watching the show actually made me reach out to learn what to read of Isaac Asimov first. So they must have done something right, as I was actually enthralled by the story.

            2. I understand a lot of people like discussing and arguing this sort of stuff, but for people like me that are reading this for the very first time, this article was absolutely INFURIATING. You should warn in the introduction that there are MAJOR SPOILERS. You seriously ruined a major aspect of the series for me. Utterly disappointed that I know Foundation 1 is going to be destroyed before I read book 2. Thanks! X(

              1. The plot descriptions give a false impression of what happens. You should be able to get full enjoyment from the books. That said, the synopses could have better.

              2. I think you’ve just done the same thing you’ve protested about. I missed the bit you mentioned in the original article, but I caught it in your comment. Why on earth would you mention it like that?! 🙄

            3. Like some others have mentioned, I read the series pretty much as they were published. (Except the prequels not written by Asimov). Now I am trying to reread in more or less timeline order (spoilers don’t really matter much since I’ve read most of the books anyway). These lists are very helpful. But timeline is impossible to follow accurately with so many cross-references in the books.

            4. Such a great list! And thoughts! Thank you I will follow your suggested reading order. I was reading all things Asimov, even his biography, and I had already read a few books and they happened to be in this order so I am happy.

              1. Hi, in which order are you reading the book? There is a lot of mess in the comment section so i didn’t understand. Should i follow this order?

                I, Robot
                The Caves of Steel
                The Naked Sun
                The Robots of Dawn
                Robots and Empire

                The Stars, Like Dust
                The Currents of Space
                Pebble in the Sky

                Prelude to Foundation
                Forward the Foundation
                Foundation and Empire
                Second Foundation
                Foundation’s Edge
                Foundation and Earth

                the end of the Robot Series
                End of Eternity
                Empire Series

                1. I’ve heard that it should start with the end of infinity, I’m just starting this series too and I don’t know if I should start with the end of infinity, help

                2. Hey Peldi and Yener, I am half through reading in the order you suggested here. I can highly recommend to read this way. Except: “End of Eternity” is nice to read in between, not at the beginning and not at the end, because it is a bit different and, without spoiling I could say, some sort of meta story, not so closely related – as far as I know now. I read it in between the robot books but you can also put it between the robot and the foundation series.

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