A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking
Publisher: Bantam Books
Published: 1988 (first publication), 2016 edition read
Author: Goodreads and Website
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Synopsis via Goodreads: Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? These are just some of the questions considered in the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest thinkers. It begins by reviewing the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Einstein, before delving into the secrets which still lie at the heart of space and time – from the Big Bang to black holes, via spiral galaxies and string theory. To this day A Brief History of Time remains a staple of the scientific canon, and its succinct and clear language continues to introduce millions to the universe and its wonders.
Since its first publication in 1988, and it’s last revision in 1996, there have been some remarkable new discoveries in physics. This new edition includes updates from Stephen Hawking with his latest thoughts about the No Boundary Proposal and offers new information about dark energy, the information paradox, eternal inflation, the microwave background radiation observations, and the discovery of gravitational waves.
I’m not going to pretend that I understood everything discussed in this book. But I do want to stress that the late Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is significantly more readable than many people make it out to be. When I first opened the book for what I thought would be a quick curious glance earlier today I had no intention of finishing it a few hours later. But once I got going I found it incredibly hard to stop.
My knowledge in any science related field is substantially minimal since my academic background is in the history of art, so my tolerance for reading complicated texts may be a bit above average. But I want to stress how little I knew about the subject of this book before going in. I have an armchair interest in astronomy and physics but it doesn’t go beyond binging Brian Cox’s beautiful documentary Wonders of the Universe or falling down the occasional Wikipedia rabbit hole. In university, I took an undergraduate astronomy course for my science context credit and despite my straight-A status I couldn’t seem to budge the grade for that class above a C-. However, after reading A Brief History of Time I realise that my university professor was missing something that both Hawking and Cox have that truly brought these complex and grand ideas to life: passion.
A Brief History of Time can be summed up by the phrase ‘it isn’t the destination, but the journey’. Hawking looks to the history of his field and discusses the various influential figures in human history that helped us get to the understanding we have the universe today. He credits his friends, colleagues, and graduate students as well as those he meets at various conferences he travelled around the world to participate in as being among the great minds that brought humanity to its current place of understanding. Before reading this book I thought of Stephen Hawking as existing in his own bubble of infinite knowledge and understanding, but now I see him as an important piece of a much grander puzzle in which he was thrilled to be involved. A Brief History of Time, a book that many find unrightfully intimidating (myself included prior to today) is actually an extremely insightful look at how far we have come as species and our tiny existence within something so much larger than we can ever imagine.
Overall, this book is moderately easy to read and interesting enough that I didn’t put it down until it was completed. Hawking is passionate and excited about his field in a way that makes you excited right along with him. He uses examples of everyday occurrences and situations to explain the ways he and other scientists believe the universe works while providing extremely helpful diagrams that were a blessing for a visual learner like myself. A Brief History of Time, most importantly, allows a look into the human side of the internationally famed physicist with occasional references to his family and the various humorous bets he made with colleagues. It was really fascinating to hear how Hawking placed his own research (with its ups and downs) into a historical context alongside some of the most renowned thinkers of human history. It goes without saying that this is anything but your typical science text.
Please don’t find this book intimidating simply because of its authorship and definitely don’t go into it thinking that you will completely understand everything that’s being discussed. Take from it what you can and enjoy the ride through one of the world’s most celebrated minds. This book was written for people like me and you who are nothing more than curious readers looking to learn more about our universe without attending Cambridge for a PhD in theoretical physics.