Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Arthur C. Clarke | Biography


Early Life

Arthur Charles Clarke was born on December 16, 1917, in Minehead, England. His father was a farmer, and it was during Clarke's childhood on the farm that he developed an early interest in stargazing and astronomy. He enjoyed reading science fiction and was a member of the Junior Astronomical Association.

Education and World War II

Not long before Clarke was set to finish middle school, his father died unexpectedly. In 1936, when he was 19 years old, Clarke had to leave school and move to London in pursuit of work. There, he joined the British Interplanetary Society, where he was able to pursue his interest in writing nonfiction and science fiction related to space exploration. After a time, he was also able to secure a job working for the government as a pensions auditor.

In 1941, Clarke joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) to fight in World War II. Clarke worked as a radar specialist for the RAF, contributing to the technology that gave the British earlier warnings of enemy air strikes. Following the war, Clarke studied math and physics at King's College, London. He also renewed his membership in the British Interplanetary Society, serving as the organization's president from 1946 to 1947 and from 1951 to 1953.


The 1950s were prolific for Clarke. He established himself as one of the country's preeminent science fiction writers with such novels as Prelude to Space (1951), The Sands of Mars (1951), Islands in the Sky (1952), Childhood's End (1953), Earthlight (1955), and The City and the Stars (1956). He also published several nonfiction books during this time, including his first full-length book Interplanetary Flight (1950), which was a technical introduction to space travel. His other nonfiction books of the decade included The Exploration of Space (1951), The Exploration of the Moon (1954), The Coast of Coral (1955), and Boy Beneath the Sea (1958). These last two reflect a broadening of Clarke's interests; in 1956, Clarke moved to Sri Lanka, where he lived for the rest of his life, making diving explorations of the coast.

Clarke was a productive author throughout his life, publishing 21 novels and 15 works of nonfiction between 1950 and 1999. In addition, he wrote short pieces and branched into television and film. In 1964, he was asked by Stanley Kubrick to help write 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released as a film in 1968 and as a novel shortly after. The film, for which Clarke and Kubrick were nominated for Academy Awards, is considered one of the best films of all time. Clarke also wrote follow-up novels, including 2010: Odyssey Two (1982) and an accompanying film of the same name released in 1984. In the 1980s and 1990s, Clarke also began working in television as the host of three shows broadcast in the United Kingdom: Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World, Arthur C. Clarke's World of Strange Powers, and Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious Universe.Awards and Honors

Clarke was highly distinguished as a writer, receiving multiple Hugo Awards (awards from the World Science Fiction Society for excellence in science fiction and fantasy), Nebula Awards (awards from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to honor the best works of science fiction and fantasy published in the United States), and other accolades over the course of his career. He was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1989, knighted in 2000, and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. In addition to serving as a commentator on the Apollo missions, in 2001, the Mars Odyssey orbiter was named for his works. In 2005, the Sri Lankan government awarded him the country's highest civilian honor, the Sri Lankabhimanya.


Clarke passed away in Sri Lanka on March 29, 2008, from respiratory failure. Prior to his death, he established the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies in Sri Lanka and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom. Today, numerous other organizations and awards celebrating science fiction and exploration bear his name. He is remembered as one of the formative voices of science fiction and futurism in literature, and his work continues to be adapted for television and film.

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