Isaac Asimov’s Favorite Story “The Last Question” Read by Leonard Nimoy

Isaac Asi­mov, one of the most pro­lif­ic cre­ators in sci­ence-fic­tion his­to­ry, wrote or edit­ed more than 500 books in his life­time, includ­ing the high-pro­file ones we all rec­og­nize like I, Robot and the Foun­da­tion series (hear a ver­sion dra­ma­tized here). But which piece of this mas­sive body of work did Asi­mov him­self con­sid­er his favorite? Always a fan of clar­i­ty, the man did­n’t leave that issue shroud­ed in mys­tery: the hon­or belongs to “The Last Ques­tion,” which first appeared in the Novem­ber 1956 issue of Sci­ence Fic­tion Quar­ter­ly. It’s now avail­able in Isaac Asi­mov: The Com­plete Sto­ries, Vol. 1.

“Why is it my favorite?” Asi­mov lat­er wrote. “For one thing I got the idea all at once and did­n’t have to fid­dle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarce­ly had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any sto­ry to any writer.” But it also had, and con­tin­ues to have, “the strangest effect on my read­ers. Fre­quent­ly some­one writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a sto­ry, which they ‘think’ I may have writ­ten, and tell them where to find it. They don’t remem­ber the title but when they describe the sto­ry it is invari­ably ‘The Last Ques­tion.’ ”

You cer­tain­ly won’t for­get who wrote the sto­ry if you can hear it read by Leonard Nimoy, sure­ly the most dis­tinc­tive sci-fi nar­ra­tor of our time, in the video just above. Nimoy first read “The Last Ques­tion” aloud for an adap­ta­tion staged at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty’s Abrams Plan­e­tar­i­um in 1966, a pro­duc­tion that first moved Asi­mov him­self to con­sid­er rank­ing its source mate­r­i­al among his best works. Of course, the sto­ry would have received none of this ret­ro­spec­tive atten­tion, from its author or oth­ers, if not for its intel­lec­tu­al con­tent, which comes through vivid­ly no mat­ter how you take it in.

Look past the more enter­tain­ing­ly dat­ed ele­ments — expres­sions like “for Pete’s sake,” enor­mous cen­tral com­put­ers that print all their out­put on paper slips, an ear­ly ref­er­ence to “high­balls” — and you find plen­ty of ele­ments that qual­i­fy as eter­nal: the ever more rapid expan­sion of human­i­ty, the ever more rapid progress of tech­nol­o­gy, and the seem­ing­ly ever-fal­ter­ing abil­i­ty of the for­mer to main­tain dom­i­nance over the lat­ter. With­in the sto­ry’s nine pages, Asi­mov even digs into sci­en­tif­ic con­cepts like entropy and the heat death of the uni­verse as well as philo­soph­i­cal con­cepts like the true nature of “for­ev­er” and the ori­gin of life, the uni­verse, and every­thing. If you read only one of Asi­mov’s sto­ries, he’d sure­ly approve if you made it “The Last Ques­tion.” (And if you read two, why not “The Last Answer”?). Find these read­ings added to our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Look­ing for free, pro­fes­sion­al­ly-read audio books from, includ­ing ones writ­ten by Isaac Asi­mov? Here’s a great, no-strings-attached deal. If you start a 30 day free tri­al with, you can down­load two free audio books of your choice. Get more details on the offer here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Isaac Asi­mov Pre­dicts in 1964 What the World Will Look Like Today — in 2014

Free: Isaac Asimov’s Epic Foun­da­tion Tril­o­gy Dra­ma­tized in Clas­sic Audio

Isaac Asi­mov Explains the Ori­gins of Good Ideas & Cre­ativ­i­ty in Nev­er-Before-Pub­lished Essay

Isaac Asi­mov Explains His Three Laws of Robots

Leonard Nimoy Reads Ray Brad­bury Sto­ries From The Mar­t­ian Chron­i­cles & The Illus­trat­ed Man (1975–76)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • alan moore says:

    like an old worn over­coat. Frayed by time but still giv­ing the com­fort­able heat.

  • Flight-ER-Doc says:

    Thanks…that was great. One of the first Sci­fi sto­ries I remem­ber read­ing, and it has stayed with me for all my years…

  • Tamara Owens says:

    Thank you for shar­ing this with us.

    I’ll always con­sid­er Asi­mov the best of the best and hav­ing free access to his gift is price­less. Nimoy too was one of a kind and will be missed.

    #Open for the win!

  • Ricardo bezerra dos santos says:

    I like of writer Asi­mov.

  • Jojobo says:

    Asi­mov is one of the choosen for some goal…His books and quest were writ­ten not just for entertanment..In everey fairy­tale is a part of true.…So the quest remaine Opened and must be asked again…Now we all know that Entropy is run­ning down to its end and rever­sal to new Uni­verse — So the new and first ques­tion is- how to move through rever­sal Zero point Alive … And then it is curi­ouse — what process behind rever­sal staing and what a pow­er rul­ing it.…

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