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319 of 333 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gets somewhat caught in the switches
I do not have a science background, and I did not read a Brief History of Time when it was originally published or thereafter. So this review is written to a fairly small category of potential readers -- those like me with an interest in modern physics but without much background.

I thought the book was exceptionally well written, and it was outstanding in...
Published on November 4, 2005 by A Reader

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94 of 106 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Brief
"A Briefer History of Time" is a graceful summary of spacetime physics, written entirely for non-scientific readers; it contains no formulas, and can be understood by any bright teenager. Before you run out and buy a copy, though, you should know that - due to the book's very short length and intended readership for a general audience - it is very elementary and covers...
Published on July 31, 2006 by Michael Gunther


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319 of 333 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gets somewhat caught in the switches, November 4, 2005
By 
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
I do not have a science background, and I did not read a Brief History of Time when it was originally published or thereafter. So this review is written to a fairly small category of potential readers -- those like me with an interest in modern physics but without much background.

I thought the book was exceptionally well written, and it was outstanding in places. It was certainly a very fun read, and I think it achieves a very lofty goal -- making liberal arts grads like me understand both the desirability and potential implications of reconciling general relativity and quantum physics. But, overall, I thought it tried to walk too fine a tightrope between discussing complex subjects and at the same time attempting to be as conversational and accessible as possible. That is a lofty goal -- hard to achieve I think. The reality is that some of these concepts are very very difficult to the uninitiated, so the cursory treatment the authors sometimes give them, in their attempt to make the book accessible and to live up to the "briefER" in the title, actually at times makes the book harder to understand, not easier. It is most acute in the book's introduction to uncertainty, quantum physics, and understanding the implications of interference experiments. More detail, not less, was needed here to reach the authors' goal of accessibility. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't seeking a text heavily laden with mathematics or equations. I just think the overriding editorial doctrine with this book was to condense wherever possible, and that is just not always possible or desirable.

All that said, the book achieves it purpose: To take some of the amazing intelligence and insight of one of the world's most important thinkers, squeeze it into understandable packets, and give us ordinary folk some insight into the exciting times in which anyone interested in the Universe and its fundamental questions live. But to steal a little from Einstein, I thought the authors didn't quite follow the second half of his famous exhortation to make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.
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138 of 143 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Science Classic Now made Accessible to Everyone!!, December 9, 2005
By 
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
+++++

"In this book are lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy, cosmology [the study of the universe as a whole], and courage [Dr. Stephen Hawking has ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease or motor neuron disease contracted when he was young and now is wheelchair bound]. This is also a book about God...or perhaps about the absence of God. The word God fills these pages. Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein's famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe. Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do."

These are the words in the last paragraph of the introduction to Hawking's very first or original book "A Brief History of Time" (1988). These words were written by the late, great Dr. Carl Sagan. (In his introduction, Sagan calls Hawking a "legend.")

Nothing has changed with this new book with respect to what Sagan says above. But as a reader of Hawking's first book, I did notice welcome changes.

First, this new book is more concise. This does not mean this book is drastically shorter than the original. This new book is about twenty pages less than the original. Also this new book contains one more chapter than the original! What this book does is cut out extraneous technical detail from the original and focuses only on the most important concepts but still maintains the essence of the original. Thus, the book seems much more concise.

Next, and this is very important, this book is more accessible. The important concepts mentioned above, I found, are explained much more clearly thus increasing this book's readability in order to achieve Hawking's (and collaborator Leonard Mlodinow's) goal: "to share some of the excitement of...[scientific] discoveries, and the new picture of reality that is emerging as a result."

Third, this book is illustrated throughout with color illustrations. Actually, the original book was also illustrated but the new illustrations are, I feel, more easier to grasp. (I only have a complaint with the first illustration in this new book because it doesn't illustrate the point it's trying to make.)

Finally, this book is actually updated with respect to the latest theoretical and observational results! For example, this book describes recent progress that's been made in finding a complete unified theory of all the forces of physics and describes the progress made in string theory (technically called superstring theory). Observational material comes from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite and by the Hubble Space Telescope. Thus, even though I read the original book, I still learned much from this book.

As with the original book, this book contains a helpful glossary and an appendix briefly outlining the lives of Albert Einstein (1879 to 1955), Galileo (1564 to 1642), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642 to 1727). (Notice that Newton was born in the same year Galileo died. Hawking was born in 1942, three hundred years after the death of Galileo.)

Here are the names of the chapter titles:

(1) Thinking about the universe.

(2) Our evolving picture of the universe (Discussion of Galileo starts here.)

(3) The nature of scientific theory.

(4) Newton's universe.

(5) Relativity. (Discussion of Einstein starts here.)

(6) Curved space.

(7) The expanding universe.

(8) The Big Bang, black holes, and the evolution of the universe. (It is thought that the Big Bang is how the universe began. A black hole is a region of space or more correctly space-time, where nothing, not even light can escape, because gravity is so strong.)

(9) Quantum Gravity. (This is a theory that merges quantum mechanics that is a theory that deals with the very small with general relativity that is a theory of the very large and that incorporates gravity.)

(10) Wormholes and time travel. (A wormhole is theoretically a thin tube of space or space-time connecting distant regions of the universe.)

(11) The forces of nature and the unification of gravity. (The forces of nature are electromagnetism, the weak force of radioactivity, the strong force that binds the atomic nucleus together, and gravity. The first three forces can be combined or unified but gravity seems to stand on its own.)

(12) Conclusion. (Last words in this chapter: "then we would know the mind of God.")

Finally, this book is not referenced. However since Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post once held by Newton and Sagan witnessed his accepting this position in 1974, I think I can safely take Hawking at his word.

In conclusion, this book is a reorganized version of a science classic that is now more accessible, more concise, better illustrated, and updated with the latest research. It is not to be missed!!

(first published 2005; acknowledgements; forward; 12 chapters; main narrative 160 pages; appendix; glossary; index)

+++++
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94 of 106 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Brief, July 31, 2006
By 
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
"A Briefer History of Time" is a graceful summary of spacetime physics, written entirely for non-scientific readers; it contains no formulas, and can be understood by any bright teenager. Before you run out and buy a copy, though, you should know that - due to the book's very short length and intended readership for a general audience - it is very elementary and covers its field in only the briefest of ways. If the reader has read any other popular treatment of this subject in the last few years, there will not be anything new in the "Briefer History."

Given Hawking's stature in the field, most readers would hope to get some kind of unique perspective or approach from this book. Unfortunately, as it is, the book offers little more than an incomplete run-through of a few basic ideas.
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71 of 80 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars rather like plumbing, June 17, 2006
By 
David A. Baer (Indianapolis, IN USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
When I mentioned to my friend Carver Yu that I was reading this book, he scrunched up his face in the way that only a man who knows the field well can do and commented, `Well, of course, that book contains a fair bit of metaphysical speculation.'

Precisely.

That is what makes Hawking's attempt to simplify his original one-syllable-less A Brief History of Time such a beguiling reader for a non-specialist like me. Call it metaphysical speculation or call it a daring attempt to translate the astrophysicists' language into yours and mine without losing the power of asking us to imagine a world nearly completely different than the one we thought we lived in. Call it what you want, it's still a read well worth the effort it requires.

Don't shy away from finishing this book if you don't understand it all. Allow it the chance to paint an impressionistic portrait of what physicists--many of them justly awe-struck by the object of their inquiry--believe that they see `out there' when some of humanity's best minds ask the fundamental questions and follow the theories (theirs is a theory-rich pursuit) where they lead. Many of those theories, as Hawking describes them, will sound like nonsense. Unless sense is different than we thought.

When I was at Cambridge, I used to bicycle past the severely disabled Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, followed by his personal nurse, as he wheeled between home and office, his mind no doubt drifting far from the concrete course of his wheelchair across the Commons. One wonders whether paragraphs of Briefer History and other of his works were taking shape as our paths crossed.

Metaphysical speculation for those who dare to imagine things they may not fully understand. Things like wormholes, peabrains, and a universe curved so severely that words almost fail in the explaing of it.

If that sounds provocative enough to justify the effort, this book is for you.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Starting Point on Theoretical Physics, May 18, 2007
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
Hawking's landmark bestseller, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988, and an updated edition was released ten years later. It introduced readers around the world to the large-scale (and very small scale) questions that are central to astronomy, physics, and to our understanding of the universe at the most basic levels.

This new book (co-writtin with Leonard Mlodinow; nerds out there will be interested to know that Mlodinow wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation) serves two purposes. First, it presents much of the material from Hawking's original book into a more accessible format, with less emphasis on mathematics and fewer technical details.

The second purpose is to update the reader on new discoveries made since the updated A Brief History of Time was published in the late 1990's, with string theory getting particular attention.

Making a book on theoretical physics that can be considered a "light read" is a daunting task, but Hawking's voice comes through with a clear, conversational tone and an easy confidence that inspires the reader to wrap their mind around the paradoxes of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

There are a few places where the book seems a bit too watered down. Discussions of FTL travel and time travel seem to be reluctantly thrown in because the authors knew there would be demand for these topics. Neither is addressed with much depth or enthusiasm.

The historical aspects of the book, on the other hand, are exceptionally well written, including brief biographical appendices on the lives of Einstein, Newton, and Galileo. Science has a rich history, and the team of Hawking and Mlodinow do a nice job of telling the stories behind the discoveries and theories.

The book is illustrated with computer-generated full-color graphics, which are a bit of a mixed bag. Some do a great job of illustrating a concept, while others seem to be thrown in just to break up the text.

Interestingly, while Hawking and Mlodinow do not specifically set forth their own religious viewpoints in this book, the spend a good deal of time acknowledging the possibility of the existence of God, and discussing the interplay between theoretical physics and the concept of a creator.

As a science teacher who is not specifically teaching physics (I teach chemistry), I found that A Briefer History of Time really raised my interest and enthusiasm while summarizing some concepts that I was out of practice with. I found myself discussing ideas from this book with my students the day after I started reading it.

In general, this is a great starting point or refresher for anyone with an interest in physics. If you are already familiar with the subject matter, you may still enjoy the historical details and the narrative voice, although there is not a great deal of technical depth.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Physics is fun, well at least it used to be., January 30, 2006
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This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
I listened to the audio version which is well produced and well read.

Book vs. CD the material is the same (the audio version has text illustrations available on the last disk).

Physics used to be a science that mere mortals such as you and I, could aspire too. Certainly you needed mathematical skill, but with hard work and a creative mind you could understand and study the physical world around you. This was the case until early in the 20th century when Relativity and Quantum theories arose. At this point the mathematics involved truly become difficult and esoteric to the point were only a relative handful of people proficient in such mathematics could understand and develop further theories. Additionally, as our knowledge expanded, sub-specialization in physics created a further segregation of the material where even only a smaller few could understood the nuance and intricacies of their specific field.

In this milieu of high math and super specialization what is the curious lay person to do?

Read Stephen Hawking!

In his casual manner and efficient eloquent prose, he presents the current status of physics and cosmology such that you and I can actually understand the principles and theories. I will never understand the derivation of the theories but as Hawking explains I don't need to, through this book we do not become PhD students, simply guests at his dinner table discussing what he is thinking. What great minds like Hawking are thinking is infinitely more interesting than most other topics which come up at the average dinner table.

Somehow just understanding what these giants are working on makes me comfortable in my relative ignorance, while I can never understand how they know, I can understand what they know.

When I read the A Brief History of Time in 1988 I felt the same way and must admit at that time worried that Dr. Hawking would not live much longer due to the severity of his illness. It is very comforting that he and his mind and his desire to include and share with us his intimate yet wonderful knowledge of physics. He is among the select few that have the skill to educate the masses in science. Hawking, Sagan and Feynman benefit mankind not only with their science but with their dedication to teaching humanity.

The brief bios on Einstein, Galileo and Newton were an unexpected bonus.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book really makes you think, October 19, 2005
By 
C. Montgomery Burns (Jamaica Plain, MA, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
This book takes on a nearly impossible task: explaining some of the most challenging questions facing theoretical physics--not to mention philosophers and theologians--today in a manner that everyone can understand. I'll admit that as a "non-science" type, some of this book went over my head. But it wasn't due to a lack of effort by the authors to keep things clear. In fact, the concepts that I found most difficult to follow were the most recent, least developed theories

What I found most interesting about this book is that it leaves you thinking about how small a part of this universe we are and how improbable our existence is. This book inspires many more questions about our universe than it tries to answer. This is a great book to read and discuss with others as a result.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but not for everyone, November 15, 2005
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
When I say that this is a good book, i dont mean that it is a very exciting or easy to follow book. I mean that it is a book that serves its purpose by presenting a brief history of time to the reader. Certain chapters, however, are very interesting (at least, to me they are) but other chapters are very dry and require you to pay attention or else you will get lost and find yourself robotically skimming the lines.

I recently graduated high school, so my education in chemistry and physics is rather limited and I found myself struggling to understand a few of the concepts. Yet I did manage to learn quite a lot from this book and in a few years I will probably read it again and learn even more. So it's probably worth the investment, and worth reading, but dont expect it to be a big page turner.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Science shrugs, and here's its history, October 30, 2005
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
A great introduction to the history of modern science, focusing on the "metaphysical" aspects of quantum physics and relativity, this book is an engaging read. I like Hawking's ability to explain with simple examples the complex proofs he discusses; it's reminiscent of Douglas R. Hofstadter (Godel, Escher, Bach) if he had a vigorous editor. I like the overall narrative voice and how, through the tumult of ideas he describes, Hawking keeps focus on the most important aspects of each question. However, the book seems unfinished, in that it presents some basic ideas, then goes over recent scientific history and demonstrates why it has not found a conclusion, then trails off into biographical data. Hawking's most salient comment is that art and philosophy have abandoned science in their pursuit of truth, but perhaps it's time to re-inject some philosophy into the science, and pick a theoretical basis even if we're not sure of its mechanics. I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to any diligent reader.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally, I Almost Get It!, March 21, 2007
By 
Corybant (Metropolitan Detroit) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Briefer History of Time (Hardcover)
Amazingly Hawking and Mlodinaw discuss the concepts of energy, time, relativity, space, time travel, black holes, quantum gravity, wormholes and string theory using almost no equations, excepting Einstein's famous E=mc2. They use common sense and mundane examples to explain some of the most complex ideas ever pondered by humankind. Mlodinaw's famous humor rears its head at appropriate times, while the writing style is straightforward and easily comprehended. However, there are several sentences for which one has to go back and reread and think about before proceeding. But overall it's a fun book and leaves the layman with a rudimentary understanding of a very complex subject.
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A Briefer History of Time
A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking (Hardcover - September 27, 2005)
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