on June 21, 2002
Stephen Hawking is an established scientific genius, but this book establishes him as a brilliant writer - an extremely rare, yet valuable combination. A point he brings to attention is that it had been possible for the philosophers of ancient times to master practically all the knowledge of academia. Today, however, only a handful of extremely specialized scientists understand the latest ideas in their fields. While men of ancient times could easily understand the latest scientific ideas, people today are lost. Enter "A Brief History of Time." This book helps fill in that gap between an average person's understanding and the highly specialized scientists' knowledge.
This book covers ideas that are profound and affect everyone. It explains theories that concern the creation of the universe, time travel, light-speed travel, and many more topics. Imagine actually having some grasp of Einstein's general relativity. Ever heard of string theory? How might time travel actually be possible? What are these black holes of which I've heard? This book packs an incredible amount of information into its 248 pages, yet somehow is still easily read - this is the true marvel of this book.
The illustrated version is worth the extra money. It contains many updates and additions throughout the book by Hawking (including the time travel chapter!). Every (and I mean every) concept throughout the book is accompanied by at least one illustration - think about it: 240 color illustrations with only 248 pages!
Towards the middle of the book, some of the concepts get more complex (when he really gets into the details of sub-atomic particles). However, as a recent high school graduate, I can say with some level of certainty that the average person can understand 90% of this book - and those parts are the most interesting! It will change the way you look at the universe.
on February 3, 2000
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.
on May 13, 2002
I read the original version of 'A Brief History of Time' back in 1988. At the time, Hawking was into ground-breaking territory. The fact that his theories have gained such universal acceptance and that many of them have since been proved is evidence of the brilliance of the mind that thought through the logic.
In this updated version, Hawking moves from time travel to black holes to general relativity, quantum mechanics and even string theory, he never fails to captivate and entrance, even though some of the theories are difficult to grasp.
The sections devoted to black holes and time travel are, in my view, the most interesting... putting a human slant of a highly theorical subject. With the addition of hundreds of amazing illustrations and photos, Hawking has made his revised book extremely readable and colorful, both comprehensive and comprehendable, as one reviewer put it.
An excellent introduction to relativity, big bang, and anything else you might have scratched your head about!
on September 25, 2006
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.
on July 4, 2006
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.
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.
on March 25, 1998
Stephen Hawking is perhaps the pre-eminent physicist of the last half of the 20th century. No, strike the "perhaps"; there should be no doubt. His contributions to cosmology and stellar evolution alone are enough to guarantee him an honored space in the scientific pantheon.
There aren't many who could have written this book, and that Hawking has done it in the grips of a stable but still cruel malady, Lou Gehrig's disease, is a testament to his will and mounting intellect. He almost manages to carry it off.
Probably this is no fault of his own. The subject matter is, in the hands of ordinary physicists, incredibly abstruse stuff. Scientific prose is fragile; one has to handle it carefully and reread it numerous times even to begin to understand it--and that only if one is an expert in the field. To try to translate that into ordinary English, so that we mortals might understand--that is when scientific writing becomes the calling of saints.
Add onto this task the incredible popularity of this book (it, or Cosmos, I forget which, is the best-selling non-religious book of all time) the first time it was published, and you can get a feeling for what Hawking was up against. He isn't just writing for the Scientific American crowd, but for the Parade crowd and the People crowd. This is populist science.
The *Illustrated History* improves on its predecessor in a number of respects. It expands on a number of explanations that were incomplete in the first edition. It adds a new section on developments that have occurred in the meantime. And of course there are those full-color pictures, where there was previously only black and white.
(Don't pooh-pooh the pictures. Never underestimate the lasting impression of a picture that the reader *understands*.)
But there are flaws. Small flaws, but flaws nonetheless. Hawking is an engaging writer (and even, despite the voice synthesizer he uses after an operation on his larynx, a passable speaker), but he does not quite have the flair for explanation of a Sagan or a Feynman. The analogies he uses are hardly original, but long-standing ones that have withstood the test of time, and they serve him well.
When he has to stand on his own, though, as he must when he explains his own concept of imaginary time, he seems less sure of his footing. It all seems quite simple upon first inspection, and yet, when you examine it closer, it doesn't totally make sense.
But this is a minor quibble. The book is an excellent introduction to cutting edge research in cosmology, and if Hawking is not a Carl Sagan or a Richard Feynman, that is hardly a knock on him. His work, in the end, will speak for itself.
on July 7, 2005
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.
on May 22, 2007
Stephen Hawking is one of the greatest minds on Earth right now, and it's a rare treat to find such a mind that is also such an eloquent communicator. This book brings fantastically complex physics down to an easily digestable (and very yummy) level with practical examples, analogies, and pictures. I had to read it for my physics class, but had so much fun reading it that I asked my teacher to recommend a similar book that I could read for fun. The book blends the historical development of the subject with the scientific reality as we know it today, and Hawking is not afraid to admit errors (even his own!) in past theories. I respect a person who can admit their wrongs and turn it into a learning experience. This is easily the best treatment of the subject I've found yet (quantum physics is something of a hobby for me... proud to be a geek!) and I recommend it to anyone who's curious about the nature of the Universe or the amazing things being discovered right now.
on October 20, 2001
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.