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197 of 214 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Different Angles
Most people know that Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but after reading this book, one develops a respect for his other talents as well. Most noticeable is Stephen Hawking's ability to make very complicated ideas seem quite clear through good explanations, clear comparisons to real life events, and a soft humor. The organization of chapers mostly follows a...
Published on February 3, 2000

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182 of 236 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No master of the written word
Hawking is no master of the written word. Early on, he warns us not to consult his earlier books for more detail - because they are "quite unreadable". He also admits that, during the production of this book, his editor bombarded him with comments and questions. The impact of this editorial input is plain. The book wallows from unnecessarily long complex...
Published on December 6, 1999 by David Blake


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197 of 214 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Many Different Angles, February 3, 2000
By A Customer
Most people know that Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but after reading this book, one develops a respect for his other talents as well. Most noticeable is Stephen Hawking's ability to make very complicated ideas seem quite clear through good explanations, clear comparisons to real life events, and a soft humor. The organization of chapers mostly follows a chronological order, which gives a sense of history from Aristotle to present day, yet also establishes concepts in an order that builds on itself. One also realizes that A Brief History of Time was written by a writer, not a scientist who happened to put ideas to paper. This makes a big difference in the enjoyment of a book, since good information in a dry, dull form can be difficult to read (remember trying to keep your eyes open while reading a dull textbook in a subject of interest?). On the other hand, interesting information presented in an interesting manner make A Brief History of Time as much of a 'page-turner' as physics can be.
In summary, a fountain of information from galaxies and black holes to quantum mechanics presented in such a way that is not only as easy to understand as it can be, but is an enjoyable experience to read.
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58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm impressed, September 25, 2006
By 
David P. Caldwell (Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA) - See all my reviews
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I must say my first reaction was to be surprised at how much better Hawking is at explaining modern physics than my college instructors were. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle was just an equation I learned. Hawking made it seem like common sense.

Hawking tries a little too hard to be witty at times (and punctuates all of his jokes with exclamation points! just in case you missed them!), but all-in-all, this was a quite readable account of what's presently known about cosmology. I use the term "presently" guardedly, as just recently there was some big finding about dark matter (it exists!), but from now on, when there are new findings in physics, I want Hawking to explain them to me, because I feel like then I might understand them. That's why you should read this book.

The reason you should not read this book is because you have no interest in wrestling with abstractions with which you will never interact in daily life, and would rather read about global warming or Darfur or something a bit more topical and practical. This was still a hard read, and I feel like I grasped maybe 80% of it. For you to decide, but for a former engineering student, this was something I wish I had read when I was taking physics.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updated Edition, July 4, 2006
By 
Neil Scott Mcnutt (New York, NY United States) - See all my reviews
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A Brief History of Time has had a tremendous impact on scientific thought since its initial publication in 1988. The Big Bang and Black Holes have become parts of our common vocabulary. Why review this book now? Perhaps some readers are not aware of a special Commemorative Edition of this book that was issued as an "Updated Edition" on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of its initial publication. In the "Acknowledgements" at the beginning of the book, Hawking gives great credit to his editors and friends who have helped him improve the book "considerably" in revising the text. In this Edition, Hawking states "I have taken the opportunity to update the book and include new theoretical and observational results obtained since the book was first published. I have included a new chapter on wormholes and time travel. I also describe the progress that has been made recently in finding dualities or correspondences between apparently different theories of physics." A discussion of the significance of cosmic microwave background and its fluctuations is included. These are great reasons to reread this classic work, which has to be one of the finest in the history of science.
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51 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important but accessible classic, September 11, 2002
This is probably the most readable book on those mind-boggling questions of cosmology and theoretical physics that engage many of the top minds today. Hawking explains it all in easily understandable language, almost conversationally, and even then, sometimes the concepts are tough sledding. But overall, this is a readable and enjoyable trip along some of the high roads of contemporary physical thought by one of its greatest thinkers. It had been some years since I'd had the time to read much about astronomy and cosmology, and this little book was a great place to start reading up on the subject again.
I usually try to do reviews that aren't simply a rehash of the material in the book, but I would like to mention one thing Hawking discusses since it was so ironic. I was taught, of course, about the Big Bang theory in college (and no, it's not about a hot party at Jimi Hendrix's place back in the 60's), and by that time it was pretty much accepted as an established fact. But Hawking points out that originally he had trouble convincing his fellow physicists that a singularity such as the big bang had actually occurred. His fellow physicists eventually came around to his view of things, but it took a while. However, Hawking discovered later that if certain quantum phenomena were brought into the picture, the necessity for a singularity disappeared--so he could have saved himself the trouble of the original controversy!
Overall, a great classic by a great scientist and teacher.
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182 of 236 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars No master of the written word, December 6, 1999
By 
David Blake (Basingstoke, Hampshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Hawking is no master of the written word. Early on, he warns us not to consult his earlier books for more detail - because they are "quite unreadable". He also admits that, during the production of this book, his editor bombarded him with comments and questions. The impact of this editorial input is plain. The book wallows from unnecessarily long complex sentences written in the passive sense to snappy anecdotes from Hawking's life.
I found the early chapters very useful as overviews of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. The middle chapters - on black holes and the origin of the Universe - were clearly written with enthusiasm.
However, that enthusiasm seemed to fade towards the end of the book. The chapter on the arrows of time seems to have been lifted from an old speech. Here's what I'm about to tell you: this is what I'm saying: this is what I've just told you.
Also, the explanation of the cosmological arrow of time left a lot of questions hanging. Question: What will happen when the Universe starts to contract - will people start to experience time running backwards? Answer: Intelligent life could not exist because, by then, all the stars will have burned out. Well, OK - but does that answer whether time is in reverse or not?
Chapter 10 introduces string theory. Clearly this is an incredibly complicated subject and not capable of being explained in a book entitled "Brief History". However, the way the subject is introduced and then dropped is tantalising. Apparently, string theories are only consistent if space-time has either ten or twenty-six dimensions. All these extra dimensions are curled up into space of a very small size. I, for one, would have liked more explanation of what that means.
In summary, a useful but frustrating book that varies in tone as the pages turn. I feel a better populist book would have resulted if Hawking had used a ghost writer to interpret his ideas, rather than simply submitting his own words to the scrutiny of an editor.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best introduction into theoretical physics, July 7, 2005
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First, I must say that this book changed the way I think about the universe. Unbenownst to me, I was still thinking in terms of turn-of-the-century physics. Hawking brought me up to date, and made it interesting. Some may disagree, but I think Hawking's writing style is superb (for those who complained: Come on, how high can your expectations for someone explaining theoretical physics be? Were you expecting someone of C.S. Lewis' calibur or something?), and I often found his humor quite enjoyable. I would HIGHLY reccomend this book to someone interested in knowing where the field of theoretical physics is at (or at least was at. This book is very slightly behind the times now.), and how the universe is being understood by some scientists. I don't buy all of the views Hawkings advances, but they are very interesting to read about, and I think it is good to know where science is at right now. My only complaint about this book is that he should have made it longer, and he especially should have spent some more time explaining String Theory.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading physics makes me go something something..., October 20, 2001
By 
"warmsticky" (Portland, Oregon United States) - See all my reviews
This book brings physics to the understanding of the average women and man. It's basically a survey's course on Einstein's relativity and quantum physics with a little black hole and big bang here and there. The real magic of this book is the author himself--reading from a man of his scientific stature, the enigmatic genus in the wheelchair feels more life-like rather than a caricature on a Simpson's episode. I really dug the part how we can speculate that the universe is presently expanding and not contracting. I liked how it made me muse on time and the life that we see today would differ if the universe was headed back to its origin. The book does leave me with a sense of wanting to more, which was good because I went on to read Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" afterwards. "The Elegant Universe" proved to be more elucidating in explaining Einstein's relativity and quantum physics, and goes into a bit of a breadth in black holes and big bangs (in the frame work of string theory). It is true that the book is the successor to "A Brief History of Time", but I feel Brian Greene's book lacks the charm that Hawking has put into his (or the charm that we put into it). At any rate, both very good books for the novice at mind.
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52 of 66 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's not THAT good, nor is it THAT easy to read., January 30, 2003
By A Customer
I don't care what anyone says, that book was not easy to get through. I have a degree in Math, and he does not give this stuff in layman's terms. Most of it, will eventually make sense if you can wrap your head around the hard to grasp principles, but he keeps adding more, and more to the theories and he will definitely lose you at some point.
Now don't get me wrong, it's obvious that we are dealing with complicated stuff, and he needs to discuss these things, but I just don't want you to think that this is an easy read. It's a necessary read, and I DO recommend you buy it, but don't think it will be easy.
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57 of 73 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but uneven and frustrating, April 4, 2003
By A Customer
Are the praises for this book really recognition of Hawking's accomplishments or that he achieved them despite his physical infirmities? I approached this book years ago and was swiftly and completely lost. Years passed and I found a wonderful (if dated) primer, Knowledge and Wonder by Weisskopf. My success in understanding K&W (I get quantum physics now and can easily explain it to others) convinced me to reapproach `Brief History.'
The book remains for informed insiders; perhaps not the inner circle, but definitely `you gotta know it to get it.' Hawking consistently gives very short descriptions of theories that he then refers to throughout the text, but in ways that have little to do with the aspects he defined and in fact require more complete information. For example, I was frustrated trying to use his explanation of the theory of general relativity (p 30) in re: subsequent references. Luckily, in the years between my earlier attempt and this reading, the web has burgeoned and I was able to find a more complete and yet still brief but comprehensible explanation of this theory. And oh my goodness, Hawking now made sense. Obviously the connection is clear in Hawking's mind, but it never made the transition to words on the page.
Despite all, I *did* get it. But unfortunately, rather than finishing with a desire to learn more I am just tired and glad to be done with it. I feel like I subjected myself to a badly presented lecture series.
Hawking's writing is poor. Ideas ramble, tangential information occasionally takes over so the actual subject at had gets lost, recapitulation is erratic. Some of the self-references are conspicuously self-serving. True, for a scientist it's decent, but the book's writing should not be judged by a different standard than any other writing. That's what editors are for, and apparently this book's editor was so overawed by Hawking that he forgot to do his job.
This book should not be iconized. Nor should it be touted as accessible to the layperson. The information is interesting, but you have to want it and work for it. And when you're done, what you get may not have been worth the effort you put in. It was for me, but just barely.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great theoretical physicist shows that he is also a great writer, January 11, 2007
Universally hailed as the greatest theoretical physicist since Einstein, Dr. Hawking serves as both an intellectual and physical inspiration. His disability - Lou Gehrig's disease- serves to make his every endeavor a slow and tedious affair, and yet his professional output remains very high, both in quality and quantity. This book is no exception.

Written at the level of the layperson, it is clear, concise, and through. As the title suggests, he begins with the origin of the universe and progresses through the theoretical foundation for, and the evidence in favor of, the existence of black holes. Of particular interest is his thermodynamic analysis of black holes, showing that they too, obey the second law of thermodynamics. Combining the ideas of general relatively and quantum mechanics, he was able to show that a black hole is really not totally black; it does leak radiation at a rate inversely proportional to its mass. This debunking of the supposed "final fate of matter" once again shows that the universe "is stranger than we can possibly imagine."

The only sad note occurs in the acknowledgements when Dr. Hawking explains the lack of equations by stating that every equation that appears in a book will cut its sales in half. This is an unfortunate comment on the degree of intellectual sophistication of the reading public.

Published in School Science and Mathematics, reprinted with permission.
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A Brief History of Time: And Other Essays
A Brief History of Time: And Other Essays by Stephen Hawking (Hardcover - September 1, 1998)
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