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George's Secret Key to the Universe Paperback – May 19, 2009
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Stephen Hawking, author of the multi-million copy bestselling A Brief History of Time, and his daughter Lucy explain the universe to readers of all ages. George's parents, who have always been wary of technology, warn him about their new neighbors: Eric is a scientist and his daughter, Annie, seems to be following in his footsteps. But when George befriends them and Cosmos, their super-computer, he finds himself on a wildly fun adventure, while learning about physics, time, and the universe. With Cosmos's help, he can travel to other planets and a black hole. But what would happen if the wrong people got their hands on Cosmos? George, Annie, and Eric aren't about to find out, and what ensues is a funny adventure that clearly explains the mysteries of science. Garry Parsons' energetic illustrations add humor and interest, and his scientific drawings add clarity; there are also eight 4-page full-color inserts of scientific photos.
- Format: Hardcover
- Publication Date: 10/23/2007
- Pages: 304
- Reading Level: Age 8 and Up
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The question for me here, notwithstanding the attraction of Stephen and Lucy Hawking's involvement in the project, was whether this book would work as both a substantial introduction to science topics and as a good fictional adventure. I'm happy to report that, at least for me, this book actually works on both levels.
Our hero George has a bit of an edgy relationship to his parents' back-to-nature anti-tech lifestyle, which is an interesting element of the book. George is thrilled when his new neighbors turn out to be an equally edgy girl and her talky scientist Dr.Wizard dad. The book starts like a visit to the lab, but very soon adventure plot elements enter the picture, and before you know it we're involved with a super computer, space travel, black holes and an amazing range of issues related to physics and cosmology.
This is complemented by a portfolio of color photo plates, sidebars, drawings and illustrations. Not too many to get in the way, but enough to add detail, color and interest. There's an acknowledgment at the end of the book of Christophe Galfard, a Hawking associate who vetted the science and made sure it was all current and intelligible, and that just shows the care that went in to making this, if not authoritative, at least correct from the science point of view.
While some of the narrative can be a bit clunky, and some of the story choices are a bit idiosyncratic, (odd villain, some monologuing dialogue, a kind of "Dr. Who" random improv vibe), and parts of the plot require a fantasy instead of scientific tweak to work, the upshot is that this book works as a kid space adventure, it works as a kid buddy adventure, and it works as a tasty science and physics sampler. That's a great and entertaining accomplishment.
The premise is that an elementary school aged boy, George, has a scientist and his family move in next door. The scientist, Eric, has a daughter, Annie, who is a little younger than George, and a wife, Susan who is a music teacher. George has parents that are Ecoactivists and have taught George to distrust Science and Technology. They use candles rather than electric lights, grow their own vegetables, are vegetarians who cook all their food from scratch (like broccoli and spinach muffins), don't use computers at all, and go on protest marches. At the beginning of the story George is embarrassed somewhat by his parents because he is made different from the other children at school because of them. Then George meets Annie and her father next door. Eric shows George that Science is amazing and not something to fear. He also teaches George that Scientists are concerned about the state of the planet (and working to help the situation) and that he admires George's parents for taking a stand. George's parents eventually learn to accept Science and it's possible benefit to the planet and humanity for their part.
In order to accomplish all this realization on the part of all the characters in the story, the authors weave an amusing sci-fi plot complete with the world's most powerful computer (a quantum one) named Cosmos able to create doorways into just about anywhere in the Universe. The children ride a comet around the solar system and Eric gets in trouble coming across the universe's most powerful object. George's teacher is actually an evil scientist out to get Eric and steal Cosmos and George also faces school bullies.
The book is interspersed with science essays that could be a bit over the head of younger elementary students and even sometimes older ones. They will be interesting for more advanced students however. It also includes many full color glossy photos from the Hubble. Science facts about the solar system and other cosmic objects are woven into the plot. Also incorporated into the plot is an understanding of how real science actually works and how scientists work together to accomplish it.
My 5th grade students loved this series as a read-aloud. My own children, 5 and 8, love this series as well. I highly recommend the series to parents and teachers. Every elementary school library should have a copy of these. Also, the audiobook versions of these are very well done, although they take out all the science essays. They are dramatized with fun sound effects and voice acting.
The book "George's Secret Key To The Universe" is factually and beautifully written and is the first of the 3 books. My sincere thanks to
Dr. Hawking and Lucy Hawking.