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The Universe in a Nutshell Hardcover – November 6, 2001

4.0 out of 5 stars 278 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; 1st edition (November 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 055380202X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553802023
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.9 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (278 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME on November 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The Universe in a Nutshell is the best popular science book I have ever read. Professor Stephen Hawking deserves many more than five stars for this book!
If you have any interest in understanding the latest attempts to create a unified scientific Theory of Everything in the universe, this is the book for you. Professor Hawking has combined many perspectives to show how Einstein's special and general theories of relativity have been updated to explain the big bang, black holes, and an expanding universe; superstring theory; p-branes; how many dimensions the universe has; whether the future can be predicted in a deterministic way; whether time travel is possible; how science will transform our biological and thinking futures in the context of Star Trek technology; and M-theory to consider whether "we live on a brane or are we just holograms?" Although any of these subjects can be found in popular science books, few such books discuss all of them simply and intelligently in terms of each other from the theoretical perspective and experimental evidence.
Those who wonder what science has to say about religious ideas will find this book valuable, for Professor Hawking is unafraid to address questions about whether there can be a beginning to the universe in a scientific sense. What could or could not have preceded the big bang?
Fans of A Brief History of Time (1988) will find that Professor Hawking has made two changes to make this book more accessible to the nonphysicist. First, he as written the book so that you can follow the argument solely through the many beautiful and helpful illustrations and their captions. The method parallels the one he used successfully in the 1996 book, The Illustrated Brief History of Time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A number of years ago Stephen Hawking wrote a book that became, it is said, one of the bestselling, unread books of all time--A Brief History of Time. Now, I, being a physicist and teacher myself, actually read the book when it came out and enjoyed it immensely, though I admit it has its flaws. His new book has many of the same strengths and flaws.
There is no doubt that Hawking loves his work and it is always fun to read someone who gets that love across in their writing. He covers a number of inherently fascinating topics--the birth of the universe, black holes, time travel, etc.--and offers reasonable explanations of these phenomena. This book also has the advantage of being beautifully made and offering much more in the way of illustrations than A Brief History of Time does to help visualize the difficult concepts he is describing. It is in some ways a coffee table book of cutting edge physics.
On the other hand, the concepts described are difficult and no number of illustrations is going to change that. Hawking himself says he tried to write a simpler book this time but he only partially succeeds. Most of the world has a difficult time grasping Einstein's four dimensional spacetime let alone higher dimensional spaces, flexible time and branes.
Additionally, though Hawking always gives credit where credit is due, he's not above tooting his own horn and a current of arrogance runs through his text. The explanations he offers are his own and he often seems close-minded to other ideas. Not that I'm against this, per se. As I tell my students, confidence in the fact that you can get the right answer is a main ingredient of genius. It keeps someone like Hawking working through his unique ideas to their conclusion.
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Format: Hardcover
People who try to write books about physics or other (to the layman, anyway) arcane topics have a problem: How do you make complex topics best described mathematically accessible to the math adverse layman?
Hawking tackles that challenge in The Universe in a Nutshell. Through simplified text, lots of nifty illustrations, and a prose style that focuses on a short, quick hitting, modular sort of presentation style, Hawking attempts to render the complex and often obscure notions of cosmology and physics simply enough for the interested but uninitiated reader to comprehend.
On the whole, he succeeds rather well. There are the inevitable sections where the translation from math to verbiage fails to make the transition well, but for the most part the accompanying illustrations will get the reader through to an understanding of the primary point, if not the fine points, of the discussion.
A lot has been written in prior reviews comparing this to A Brief History of Time. The comparison is fatuous. These books are aimed at different markets-the prior at the more sophisticated and initiated reader, this at the less sophisticated, less initiated reader. They aren't comparable works-one is intended to be simpler, more basic, than the other. That it is does not render it a "inferior" work. Personally, I think Hawking deserves credit for genuinely trying to provide all level of interested reader an access point to these ideas and concepts.
If you are a more enlightened sort about these topics, skip this book-you probably won't learn anything new. If you think "string theory" explains why those tin-can-with-string "phones" we played with as kids work, then this is probably the book for you!
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