Monday, May 12, 2008

A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A couple of years ago, I started reading A Brief History of Time. I didn't get very far before I realized that I was totally not going to be able to comprehend the book. I was happy to hear that Hawking was working on an updated version with illustrations, a version that was supposed to be more accessible.

While Briefer is more accessible, parts of it are still quite complex. I had a good high school science teacher, so I had a working knowledge of some of the early theories of quantum mechanics. However, when Hawking started putting two or three of these theories together, trying to show how a unified theory of the universe might work, I felt out of my element. Needless to say, I re-read a lot of paragraphs. But for the most part, Hawking did a excellent job of explaining unbelievably complex theories. Also, his ruminations about the universe's need (or lack thereof) for a creator was really interesting.

Toward the end of the book, Hawking made me feel a little better about my apparent lack of knowledge about our universe, saying, "In Newton's time, it was possible for an educated person to have a grasp of the whole of human knowledge, at least in broad strokes. But since then, the pace of the development of science has made this impossible." Thanks for that, Mr Hawking.

With help from Leonard Mlodinow, a scientist who has written for Star Trek: The Next Generation, Hawking reworks his classic for the better, with plenty of nerd humor sprinkled throughout. The glossary at the end was extremely helpful, and the brief biographies about Galileo, Newton, and Einstein taught me something new about each man, such as Isaac Newton was a royal dick.

I would have been interested in knowing how much of the content of this book was original to Hawking, or is he merely explaining complex theories in his own cogent way. Also, I am interested in the process by which Hawking wrote the book, and to what extent Mlodinow was involved.


Nihil Novum said...

I have an older edition of this. I started it but didn't get very far. If the illustrations are good (and, preferably, endorsed by Stan Lee) maybe I'll pick this up.

Christopher said...

Why would Stan Lee endorse illustrations?

Nihil Novum said...

I didn't think anyone would know who Jack Kirby was.

Christopher said...

I mean, how does one endorse an illustration? Is there a form you sign? Is there money involved?