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My Brief History (Deckle Edge) Hardcover Hardcover – Deckle Edge, September 10, 2013
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About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Hawking / MY BRIEF HISTORY
My father, Frank, came from a line of tenant farmers in Yorkshire, England. His grandfather—my great-grandfather John Hawking—had been a wealthy farmer, but he had bought too many farms and had gone bankrupt in the agricultural depression at the beginning of this century. His son Robert—my grandfather—tried to help his father but went bankrupt himself. Fortunately, Robert’s wife owned a house in Boroughbridge in which she ran a school, and this brought in a small amount of income. They thus managed to send their son to Oxford, where he studied medicine.
My father won a series of scholarships and prizes, which enabled him to send money back to his parents. He then went into research in tropical medicine, and in 1937 he traveled to East Africa as part of his research. When the war began, he made an overland journey across Africa and down the Congo River to get a ship back to England, where he volunteered for military service. He was told, however, that he was more valuable in medical research.
My mother was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the third of eight children of a family doctor. The eldest was a girl with Down syndrome, who lived separately with a caregiver until she died at the age of thirteen. The family moved south to Devon when my mother was twelve. Like my father’s family, hers was not well off. Nevertheless, they too managed to send my mother to Oxford. After Oxford, she had various jobs, including that of inspector of taxes, which she did not like. She gave that up to become a secretary, which was how she met my father in the early years of the war.
I was born on January 8, 1942, exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo. I estimate, however, that about two hundred thousand other babies were also born that day. I don’t know whether any of them was later interested in astronomy.
I was born in Oxford, even though my parents were living in London. This was because during World War II, the Germans had an agreement that they would not bomb Oxford and Cambridge, in return for the British not bombing Heidelberg and Göttingen. It is a pity that this civilized sort of arrangement couldn’t have been extended to more cities.
We lived in Highgate, in north London. My sister Mary was born eighteen months after me, and I’m told I did not welcome her arrival. All through our childhood there was a certain tension between us, fed by the narrow difference in our ages. In our adult life, however, this tension has disappeared, as we have gone different ways. She became a doctor, which pleased my father.
My sister Philippa was born when I was nearly five and better able to understand what was happening. I can remember looking forward to her arrival so that there would be three of us to play games. She was a very intense and perceptive child, and I always respected her judgment and opinions. My brother, Edward, was adopted much later, when I was fourteen, so he hardly entered my childhood at all. He was very different from the other three children, being completely non-academic and non-intellectual, which was probably good for us. He was a rather difficult child, but one couldn’t help liking him. He died in 2004 from a cause that was never properly determined; the most likely explanation is that he was poisoned by fumes from the glue he was using for renovations in his flat.
My earliest memory is of standing in the nursery of Byron House School in Highgate and crying my head off. All around me, children were playing with what seemed like wonderful toys, and I wanted to join in. But I was only two and a half, this was the first time I had been left with people I didn’t know, and I was scared. I think my parents were rather surprised at my reaction, because I was their first child and they had been following child development textbooks that said that children ought to be ready to start making social relationships at two. But they took me away after that awful morning and didn’t send me back to Byron House for another year and a half.
At that time, during and just after the war, Highgate was an area in which a number of scientific and academic people lived. (In another country they would have been called intellectuals, but the English have never admitted to having any intellectuals.) All these parents sent their children to Byron House School, which was a very progressive school for those times.
I remember complaining to my parents that the school wasn’t teaching me anything. The educators at Byron House didn’t believe in what was then the accepted way of drilling things into you. Instead, you were supposed to learn to read without realizing you were being taught. In the end, I did learn to read, but not until the fairly late age of eight. My sister Philippa was taught to read by more conventional methods and could read by the age of four. But then, she was definitely brighter than me.
We lived in a tall, narrow Victorian house, which my parents had bought very cheaply during the war, when everyone thought London was going to be bombed flat. In fact, a V-2 rocket landed a few houses away from ours. I was away with my mother and sister at the time, but my father was in the house. Fortunately, he was not hurt, and the house was not badly damaged. But for years there was a large bomb site down the road, on which I used to play with my friend Howard, who lived three doors the other way. Howard was a revelation to me because his parents weren’t intellectuals like the parents of all the other children I knew. He went to the council school, not Byron House, and he knew about football and boxing, sports that my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of following.
Another early memory was getting my first train set. Toys were not manufactured during the war, at least not for the home market. But I had a passionate interest in model trains. My father tried making me a wooden train, but that didn’t satisfy me, as I wanted something that moved on its own. So he got a secondhand clockwork train, repaired it with a soldering iron, and gave it to me for Christmas when I was nearly three. That train didn’t work very well. But my father went to America just after the war, and when he came back on the Queen Mary he brought my mother some nylons, which were not obtainable in Britain at that time. He brought my sister Mary a doll that closed its eyes when you laid it down. And he brought me an American train, complete with a cowcatcher and a figure-eight track. I can still remember my excitement as I opened the box.
Clockwork trains, which you had to wind up, were all very well, but what I really wanted were electric trains. I used to spend hours watching a model railway club layout in Crouch End, near Highgate. I dreamed about electric trains. Finally, when both my parents were away somewhere, I took the opportunity to draw out of the Post Office bank all of the very modest amount of money that people had given me on special occasions such as my christening. I used the money to buy an electric train set, but frustratingly enough, it didn’t work very well either. I should have taken the set back and demanded that the shop or manufacturer replace it, but in those days the attitude was that it was a privilege to buy something, and it was just your bad luck if it turned out to be faulty. So I paid for the electric motor of the engine to be serviced, but it never worked very well, even then.
Later on, in my teens, I built model airplanes and boats. I was never very good with my hands, but I did this with my school friend John McClenahan, who was much better and whose father had a workshop in their house. My aim was always to build working models that I could control. I didn’t care what they looked like. I think it was the same drive that led me to invent a series of very complicated games with another school friend, Roger Ferneyhough. There was a manufacturing game, complete with factories in which units of different colors were made, roads and railways on which they were carried, and a stock market. There was a war game, played on a board of four thousand squares, and even a feudal game, in which each player was a whole dynasty, with a family tree. I think these games, as well as the trains, boats, and airplanes, came from an urge to know how systems worked and how to control them. Since I began my PhD, this need has been met by my research into cosmology. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it, in a way.
- Publisher : Bantam; Illustrated edition (September 10, 2013)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0345535286
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345535283
- Item Weight : 9.9 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.69 x 0.68 x 8.14 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #329,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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As the title indicates, the book is very short (144 pages) and is divided into even shorter chapters. Each chapter is more like a snippet that focuses on one particular topic. The earlier chapters deal with Hawking's upbringing in London as the son of caring and slightly eccentric parents, his education at Oxford and Cambridge and his initial struggles with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Hawking gives us a good idea of the pioneering research on black holes and the Big Bang which he did with Roger Penrose and others. There are also anecdotes about other scientists like Richard Feynman and encounters with celebrities like Popes and Presidents. Hawking talks unflinchingly about his disease without a hint of self-pity, and this is a quality that continues to make him so widely admired, sometimes to the point of reverence.
The later chapters deal with his current research on quantum gravity, his various trips to different parts of the world (including a few weeks spent every year at Caltech) and his two divorces. One revealing part of the book is Hawking's description of the several occasions on which he was on the brink of death; it was only the dedication of his wives, Jane and Elaine, that saved his life. Old and new photographs (some showcasing Hawking's bawdy sense of humor) enliven the narrative. The book ends on a characteristically optimistic note. Hawking says that his devastating illness has not held him back from fully living life and he is grateful for his gifts and for the support others have given him. There's some useful advice there for all of us.
By Stephen Hawking
Published in Great Britain by Transworld Publishers, 2013. Bantam Edition. Pages: 127
Special features: many photographs from throughout his life
Price - $10.48 or £8.99
Stephen Hawking, a brilliant man, a man with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis writes a memoir in anticipation of his death however, death did not come as soon as expected. The author, Stephen Hawking, wrote about his life as a brilliant scientist, a husband, a father, and a man living with an incurable disease. Hawking was a theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author who was director of research at the University of Cambridge at the time of his death. He received his education at both Oxford and Cambridge and is the author of numerous books and scientific articles in which he wrote through use of augmentative and alternative communication.
Hawking wrote this memoir himself with use of his AAC technology, an eye tracking system, that he was able to use on his computer to type. Basically, instead of typing with his hands he typed with his eyes. He had a little help after the initial writing from a literary agent, Al Zuckerman, and then before publishing Bantam’s editor Peter Guzzardi helped rewrite and revise his work before its final publishing. His book was an easy read in my opinion with clear chapters and thought out ideas. I am impressed by his ability to write the majority of this book himself and just through use of his eyes to type. It could not have been easy for a man using AAC to write an entire book. He must have had a lot of patience, perseverance, and practice with his technology in order to write such great literary works over his lifetime.
This book would be great for someone looking for a brief insight into Hawking’s overall life. I was not interested in the majority of the science jargon he spoke of but science and theoretical research is much of how he spent his life I found out. I was primarily interested in Hawking’s book because he had a disease, ALS, in which as a future speech-language pathology is a disease I am interested in. ALS relates to speech pathology in that individuals with ALS lose the ability to use their voice and have to rely on augmentative and alternative ways to communicate. He received a tracheotomy which took away his ability to speak “For a time, the only way I could communicate was to spell out words letter by letter by raising my eyebrows when someone pointed to the right letter on a spelling card” (Hawking, pg. 85). He had multiple increases in technology over his lifetime living with ALS and the one he spoke of most was a device called an equalizer which worked with an eye tracking system so he could continue to live his life even without a voice. He would use the eye tracking device to spell or select what he wanted to say and the device was able to say it out loud for him.
His memoir opened my eyes to how much of his life he lived being cared for by person after person. I was surprised that he spent the majority of his life traveling, moving, and having so many different care takers. At one point he was being cared for by students “I also had one of my research students live with us. He helped me with getting up and going to bed and some meals…” (Hawking, pg. 77). I cannot imagine being married, two children in the house, and now a student all under one roof. It must not have been easy on his wife and family living with his disease and having to have additional people in the house caring for your father or husband. Hawking had a great outlook on life, he spoke of his first wife’s depression on more than one occasion and how she struggled to cope with having children along with her husband’s disability. He kept a positive attitude and was motivated by the possibility of death being soon and he was determined to work hard and make a difference before death. “When you are faced with the possibility of an early death, it makes you realize that life is worth living and that there are lots of things you want to do” (Hawking, pg. 37). In his memoir he did not speak of the bad times, the struggles, or the pain, he only spoke of the positives which amazed me and says a lot about his character.
I would recommend this book for anyone interested in Stephen Hawking and who is looking for a brief look into what his life was like. The book was insightful and eye opening to what a long life with the disease ALS is like. His memoir was inspiring and uplifting to think that you can be successful even without a voice.
Top reviews from other countries
What can I say. Mr. Hawking truly is a remarkable man.
And while I'm not overly educated and got lost mid way when he went into detail of particles, black holes and the universe, I did, from page 1 right to the end, enjoy this read.
It's truly amazing how much of his life is covered in this relatively short book.
From birth, to a childhood of playing with toy trains, moving on and up through the educational system like a rocket.
University life not only as a boy genius but a party boy. Sure didn't expect THAT when I read it. And then ofcourse the unfortunate decline in health and abilities outside of his amazing mind, as his body refused to work correctly for him gradually over the years.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - Just trying to say it is hard enough, without having to live with it.
But LIVE he did and still does. Married twice. Children. And to this day still teaching at the University of Cambridge. Wow.
I simply cannot express just how much I respect this man and how much I loved reading about his life.
** 5 STARS **
Out of this World great read.
YES. And don't worry, its not a hard read if like me you don't know advanced Physics or how he universe really works.
He does talk about it for a about 30 pages and I found myself skim reading that section. That aside, all round great book.