A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: A review
The first thing to be said about the book is that Hawking intended it for the general public, people with no particular background in or knowledge of physics. In other words, dummies like me. He made every effort to keep it simple. In fact, at times I can almost feel him straining to do so. But ultimately it seems to be a losing battle. His explanations progress from obvious descriptions into more arcane territory where I frequently lost my way. Still, I found that reading the book was a worthwhile exercise and I was able to pick up a bit of knowledge along the way. In the end, the book left me feeling both smarter and dumber.
My Kindle edition was the latest iteration of the book because there had been a lot of discoveries and changes of interpretation since the original was published lo those many years ago. It included a new foreword by Hawking and various corrections and updating that he had done. He delves into how the universe began and whether or not there are boundaries to it. Does it simply go on forever? And what exactly is forever? Will it all finally end and if so, how and why? I understood perhaps a tenth of his discussion.
Hawking's discussion and explanations of black holes and quarks were quite fascinating and, again, even though I didn't get it all, what I did get astounded me. He does make clear that much of this is simply speculation based on known facts and we don't really understand much about black holes, even to whether or not they actually exist. At some points, my poor brain felt as though it were being sucked into a black hole.
Much of this relatively short book is devoted to the history of science and famous scientists and those parts at least I could understand. I did, for example, learn more about Newton and why we owe him so much. And I did get a better understanding of the Big Bang theory (the actual theory, not the tv show) and why it could have happened just like that and is accepted by most of the scientists of the world today. Hawking, somewhat surprisingly, did not believe that the theory excluded the idea of a god or some original intelligence behind it all.
Amazingly, considering all the challenges he faced in his life, Stephen Hawking had an intact sense of humor which shines through frequently in the book. That's not really a surprise to those of us who witnessed his appearance on The Big Bang Theory (the tv show, not the actual theory).
Finally, I should explain that my rating of this book has more to do with my understanding of it than with the quality of the writing which is actually quite good. It was a slog for me, but I would still recommend it to anyone who is willing to make the effort.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars