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Isaac Asimov Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115121).

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Asimov, Isaac (02 January 1920–06 April 1992), writer, was born in Petrovichi, USSR, the son of Judah Asimov, a merchant, and Anna Rachel Berman. Asimov’s Russian-Jewish father and mother emigrated to New York City in 1923. After a number of years working odd jobs, they bought a candy store in Brooklyn in 1926, the first of many in that borough that Asimov would help run until he was twenty-two years old. Working long hours in the candy store left Asimov’s parents with little time to raise their children. His mother was especially hard on him, frequently hitting him when she lost her temper and reminding him that he was responsible for their hand-to-mouth existence. Asimov was a precocious child who taught himself to read before he was five, and he read omnivorously thereafter. At seven he taught his younger sister to read, “somewhat against her will,” he confesses in his memoir, ...

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Chamberlin, Rollin Thomas (20 October 1881–06 March 1948), teacher, editor, and structural and glacial geologist, was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, the son of Alma Isabel Wilson and Thomas Chrowder Chamberlin, a geologist and educator. He was married in 1922 to Dorothy Ingalls Smith; they had three children....

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William Darlington. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (B05853).

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Darlington, William (28 April 1782–23 April 1863), physician, botanist, and author, was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of Edward Darlington, a farmer who also found time to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature, and Hannah Townsend. Wanting to escape the drudgery of farm work that had restricted his schooling to a few winter months each year, at age eighteen Darlington persuaded his father to pay the necessary fees for his apprenticeship to study medicine with John Vaughan in Wilmington, Delaware. In return, his father required that he give up his inheritance of a share of the family farm....

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Davis, Watson (29 April 1896–27 June 1967), science writer and editor, was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Charles Allan Davis, a high-school principal, and Maud Watson, a teacher. Davis attended George Washington University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1918 and a civil engineering degree in 1920. In 1919 he married Helen Augusta Miles, a fellow student and a chemist; they had two children....

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Deutsch, Albert (23 October 1905–21 June 1961), historian and journalist, was born in New York City, the son of Barnett Deutsch and Kate Knopke. Raised on the Lower East Side, Deutsch was the fourth of nine children in a poor Jewish family that had recently emigrated from Latvia. At the age of five, following an accident, his right eye had to be enucleated. He was largely self-educated. Before finishing high school, he left home and traveled around the United States, working as a longshoreman, a field hand, and a shipyard worker. While on the road, he continued his education in public libraries around the country....

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Dubos, René Jules (20 February 1901–20 February 1982), microbiologist and author, was born in Saint Brice, France, a farming community north of Paris, the son of Georges Andre Dubos, a butcher, and Adeline De Bloedt. Dubos’s parents soon moved farther into the countryside to the tiny village of Henonville, where René attended a one-room school until the family moved to Paris in 1914. The family’s economic uncertainties worsened when his father died after serving in World War I. During his childhood Dubos suffered from episodes of rheumatic fever, which led to the cardiac damage common before antibiotics. These severe illnesses, together with extremely poor eyesight, restricted his youthful activities and had a permanent impact on his life....

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Eiseley, Loren Corey (03 September 1907–09 July 1977), anthropologist, writer, and philosopher of science, was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, the only son of Clyde Edwin Eiseley, an amateur actor turned hardware salesman, and Daisey Corey, a self-educated artist. The family’s financial instability and his mother’s handicap (she was deaf and, as he later wrote, “always on the brink of mental collapse”) made his formative years in Nebraska a time of profound isolation. For solace, he turned to the Nebraska prairie and its fauna. He enrolled in the University of Nebraska in 1925, but physical and psychological crises kept him from graduating until eight years later. Near the end of his life, he recalled dropping out of college at least three times—to work in a poultry hatchery, to recuperate from tuberculosis in Colorado and the Mojave Desert (1928–1929), and to drift, riding the rails in the West (1930–1931). His father’s death in 1928 brought Eiseley to the brink of mental collapse. During this period, however, he worked on his first archaeological dig, published his first poetry, and cultivated a deep affinity for animals and landscape. In the same year he finished college (1933) Eiseley went to the University of Pennsylvania for graduate work in anthropology. He earned his Ph.D. in 1937, completing a dissertation titled “Three Indices of Quaternary Time and Their Bearing upon Pre-History: A Critique.” With this work an intensely private man began an unexpected career as a prominent public intellectual and literary naturalist....

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Krutch, Joseph Wood (25 November 1893–22 May 1970), writer, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the son of Edward Waldemore Krutch, a businessman, and Adelaine Wood. From 1911 to 1915 he attended the University of Tennessee, where his initial interests were science and mathematics. However, after becoming a habitual theatergoer and the editor of the university’s student magazine, he decided to major in English. He continued his studies at Columbia University, where he received his master’s degree in 1916 and his Ph.D. in 1924. The Van Dorens were important influences on Krutch’s scholarly life. ...

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Ley, Willy (02 October 1906–24 June 1969), science journalist and spaceflight publicist, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Julius Otto Ley, a wine merchant, and Frida May. Educated in primary and secondary schools in Berlin, he studied paleontology, physics, and astronomy at the Universities of Berlin and Königsburg. While he did not obtain a degree, Ley developed a broad command of the sciences and became fluent in a variety of languages....

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McMahon, Thomas A. (21 April 1943–14 February 1999), writer and educator, was born in Dayton, Ohio, the son of Howard Oldford McMahon, a physical chemist, and Lucille Nelson McMahon, a scientist. He grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts, in a house his parents designed and built. After earning a B.S. from Cornell University in 1965, he entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned an M.S. in 1967 and completed his Ph.D. (with a focus on fluid mechanics) in 1970. He married Carol Ehlers on 20 June 1965; the couple had two children....

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Ord, George (04 March 1781–24 January 1866), naturalist, writer, and lexicographer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of George Ord, a retired sea captain who in 1798 became a ship chandler and rope maker, and Rebecca Lindemeyer. Educated in Philadelphia, Ord devoted himself from an early age to the study of science and literature. He entered his father’s rope-making business in 1800 and continued the business after his father’s death in 1806; he retired from the business in 1829 to devote more time to his avocational interests. In 1804 Ord married Margarette Biays, with whom he had three children, only one of whom survived infancy....

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Webber, Charles Wilkins (29 May 1819–11 April 1856), author and adventurer, was born in Russellville, Kentucky, the son of Augustine Webber, physician, and Agnes Maria Tannehill. Educated at home, Webber left Kentucky in 1838 after his mother’s death. Traveling south and west, he spent time with John Coffee Hays and the Texas Rangers and met ...

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Youmans, Edward Livingston (03 June 1821–18 January 1887), scientific popularizer and editor, was born in Coeymans, New York, the son of Vincent Youmans, a farmer and mechanic, and Catherine Scofield, a teacher. A voracious reader raised in a home where books and ideas were valued, Youmans early developed an interest in science and largely educated himself after completing common-school studies. An attack of ophthalmia in 1835 damaged his eyesight and prompted his move to New York City for treatment in 1839. There he met ...