A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking: A review

 

Stephen Hawking's most famous book was published in 1988 and became a surprising best-seller. Of course, there is no way of knowing how many of those books that were bought were ever actually read. I acquired a copy of it during that time with all good intentions of reading it and it has languished on our bookshelves ever since. I was otherwise engaged in 1988, raising children, and should surely have known better. Anyway, to make a long story a bit shorter, I decided that 2022 would finally be the year that I made good on my intention. And since, these days, I read books exclusively on my Kindle, I even got the ebook. That paper volume is still gathering dust. 

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
 


Comments

  1. This one left me completely mystified in 1988 and I suspect it would do the same today. Kudos for making such a strong effort to finally get it read. What you say about the man's sense of humor is one of the things I've always been most impressed by...hard to imagine anyone maintaining a sense of humor in his circumstances.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He was a thoroughly admirable human being. I am honored to have shared the planet with him for a while.

      Delete
  2. I have not read it and I should, Dorothy. I am still a devotee of the printed book so I will start to scour thrift stores and second hand book shops. Thanks for the review and giving me a needed shove.

    ReplyDelete
  3. congratulations! i think i read it when it first came out and liked it very much although it wanders into the byroads of obscurity occasionally. Hawking radiation was a surprise when he first suggested the idea, but it's still generally accepted as a legitimate phenomenon...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The quality of his intellect simply boggles my (highly inferior) intellect. You obviously understood it all a lot better than I did.

      Delete
  4. I admire your stick-to-it-ness Dorothy. I've never tried this one but so admire what this genius accomplished.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm very glad that I'm finally able to cross this one off my list!

      Delete
  5. Another book I always meant to read! I do like reading about science and astronomy and black holes and the like, so I'd probably like this one....even if it makes me feel a bit dumb along the way. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think most anyone will feel a little dumb next to Stephen Hawking if they are honest.

      Delete
  6. Thank you for the honest review. It would make me probably feel all at sea if I get to read it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like to challenge myself with difficult reads from time to time. This one definitely qualified.

      Delete
  7. I loved Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman, but he kept physics in the background. The Intention Experiment, also had some stuff I could understand, and a lot that I couldn't, and I learned some things from Physics in the Buffyverse--but my capacity for understanding appreciating physics is limited. I admire Hawking and might give this one a try, but I'll be expecting to learn more about the man than about physics.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is the only one of his books that I've read, but I might try Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman at some point.

      Delete
  8. Ha. This is surely a blast from the past book. I tried it back in the '80s or '90s and was lost pretty much from the beginning. I was also in that black hole I think. Though I got a good grade in Calculus in college I barely passed Physics. So I guess I'll leave it to the real scientists. You made an impressive effort with this one!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was determined to finish it and I do feel it was a worthwhile read, even though much of it was WAY over my head.

      Delete
  9. This is one of those books I would love to read but I know I would just come away from it feeling so stupid because I wouldn't be able to understand anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You might understand more than you think you would. It made me feel pretty stupid, too, but I did learn things from it and it opened my mind to ideas.

      Delete
  10. If you had trouble with a bit of it, I better not even pick it up. I'm sure it would be way over my head.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, it was way over my head, but still I consider it a successful read.

      Delete
  11. I'm always scared to read this book because I'm afraid I will not understand anything...
    Maybe one day I'll try it! I do think it will be in Dutch IF I read it :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't be intimidated. You would understand as much or more than I did. I'm sure the book has been translated to Dutch.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Poetry Sunday: Hymn for the Hurting by Amanda Gorman

Open Season (Joe Pickett #1) by C.J. Box - A review

Poetry Sunday: Don't Hesitate by Mary Oliver