- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Bantam; 1st edition (November 6, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 055380202X
- ISBN-13: 978-0553802023
- Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.8 x 10.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2,207 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Universe in a Nutshell Hardcover – November 6, 2001
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Stephen Hawking, science's first real rock star, may be the least-read bestselling author in history--it's no secret that many people who own A Brief History of Time have never finished it. Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell aims to remedy the situation, with a plethora of friendly illustrations to help readers grok some of the most brain-bending ideas ever conceived.
Does it succeed? Yes and no. While Hawking offers genuinely accessible context for such complexities as string theory and the nature of time, it's when he must translate equations to sentences that the limits of language get in the way. But Hawking has simplified the origin of the universe, the nature of space and time, and what holds it all together to an unprecedented degree, inviting nonscientists to share his obvious awe and love of the unseen forces that shape it all.
Yes, it's difficult reading, but it's worth it. Hawking is one of the great geniuses of our time, a man whose life has been devoted to thinking in the abstract about the universe. With his help, and pictures--lots of pictures--we can seek to understand a bit more of the cosmos. --Therese Littleton
From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Writing in a lighthearted, personal, often humorous style and with colorful and entertaining graphics on every page, Hawking succeeds in communicating his love and enthusiasm for science. Without seeming to condescend, he makes a valiant attempt to clarify many fascinating and elusive topics such as relativity and time; multiple universes and dimensions; black holes and dark matter; prediction of the future; and the possibility of time travel. Those usually daunted by scientific texts might enjoy puzzling over the graphics; many of them, together with excellent captions, fully restate the content of the text in an alternative (and, for some, more understandable) manner. Also, Hawking enriches readers' vocabularies with many of the sometimes-playful words, phrases, and acronyms essential to an acquaintance with modern physics-supergravity and supersymmetry, "p-branes" and proto-galaxies, MACHOS and WIMPS. Among teens, Universe might well prove to have appeal beyond its obvious audience of science students and readers of popular science and science fiction.
Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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I have read the first edition when I was a high school student around 1990, and this book is the revised version (revised in 1998). Compared to the first version, there are little changes. But there is one noticeable change in his point of view on the ultimate theory. According to him, recent findings on "dualities" seem to indicate that it would not be able to express an ultimate theory in a single fundamental formation. Instead, we may have to apply different theories to different situations, but in the areas which they overlap, they must coincide.
The book has a lot of merits. Firstly, non-native English users including myself would feel comfortable and find it easy to read. He doesn't use difficult words and his writing style is clear. In the sense, he is better than other English scientific authors like R. Penrose, J. Gleick and I. Stewart. Secondly, the level of the book is well-chosen for general readers and the total page number is just less than 200 pages. If they read the book, at least, they would be able to learn more about how the universe began, how the stars have been formed, and how we have come here as the result of the evolution of the universe. More than that, the book contains interesting stories of some Nobel Prize winners in physics with their results related to the mentioned fundamental questions. This will help readers understand the 20th century's progress in physics.
Thirdly, among the physicists who have contributed in searching an ultimate theory, the author himself is distinguished. He showed that a black hole radiates light, so we can say that a black hole is not completely black. Up to the time he presented this theory, everyone believed that a black hole can only absorb everything around it, but radiates nothing. To find the ultimate theory, we have to consolidate general relativity and quantum mechanics, but the two theories are inconsistent in many cases. But Hawking skillfully applied both of them to black holes, and obtained the result. The physicist, L. Smolin regards his finding as a starting point toward the ultimate theory. That we can read a book where Hawking himself explains about his theory for general readers is thrilling.
As I mentioned above, this is my second reading of the book. When I first read the book as a high school student, it was impressive for him to explain that at the beginning of the universe, there was a singularity where the energy density is infinite, and so the law of physics including general relativity, cannot hold. But at the second reading, I found out that what Hawking really wanted to say was not that we cannot know the beginning of the universe, but that we need another theory that can explain the beginning by considering both general relativity and quantum mechanics. Actually, in the book, he introduces his "no boundary" theory which explains it without the singularity. But this theory has been neither verified nor disproved by experiments until now.
Here is my advice for a reader. Don't think that you have to understand every word and sentence. Less than 200 pages, the book contains a lot of things and the author does his best in explaining them easily. For example, its explanation about the history from the beginning of the universe to the first living things on earth is outstanding. And about time travel, its arguments are ever clear and reasonable for me. But, in a few parts, the explanations are just sketchy, so if a reader is not already an expert, he could not fully understand them. When you meet such parts, just move forward. The most important thing is to learn some things and enjoy the reading.
This time around, my son and I read a chapter a day and discussed it, first with each other then including my husband, the resident Big Brain. Talk about rewarding! My experience with reading this book with my son has been so positive that we are looking forward to reading the Feynman Lectures together, this time with my husband, this fall. Who knows, I might become an accidental physicist. LOL
Three key takeaways from the book:
1. An expanding universe does not preclude a creator, but it does place limits on when he might have carried out his job!
2. The universe is expanding by between 5 - 10% every thousand million years.
3. The police make use of the Doppler effect to measure the speed of cars by measuring the wavelength of pulses of radio waves reflected off them.