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102 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good summary of our current cosmological understanding
Stephen Hawking's new book, "The Grand Design" (written together with Leonard Mlodinow), is his first popular science book for about ten years. It seems to have created quite a stir in the non-scientific press, although in reality the book is very much in line with our latest theories in cosmology. Science began with the ancient Greeks, and the book starts off with a...
Published on 7 Oct 2010 by David Love

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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed content
"Philosophy is dead", the authors declare very early on, and then roundly prove over the next few chapters why they could have done with the services of a good philosopher. Hawking is known, of course, for his ground-breaking science, but not for his analysis of the history of knowledge or the social progress of our culture. Unfortunately, a substantial part of this book...
Published on 18 Feb 2011 by CP


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102 of 111 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good summary of our current cosmological understanding, 7 Oct 2010
Stephen Hawking's new book, "The Grand Design" (written together with Leonard Mlodinow), is his first popular science book for about ten years. It seems to have created quite a stir in the non-scientific press, although in reality the book is very much in line with our latest theories in cosmology. Science began with the ancient Greeks, and the book starts off with a summary of their ideas. After a gap of some 1,400 years, a scientific approach to the Universe was revived by men such as Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes and Newton. Hawking goes on to describe the history of scientific advances since then, and introduces ideas of what is meant by reality and what constitutes a scientific theory. He introduces us to the mysteries of quantum mechanics and relativity, and explains how our understanding of the Big Bang is growing as a result of our studies of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

But the key part of the book comes when Hawking describes something called M-theory, the leading candidate for the "theory of everything" which it is hoped will unite the two (currently incompatible, but highly successful) theories of quantum mechanics and general relativity. Both M-theory and other strands of evidence increasingly point to the conclusion that our Universe is not, after all, the only universe. The implication of these latest theories is that there are billions - and probably an infinite number - of other universes, each with their own physical laws and physical constants. This is the theory of the Multiverse. At a stroke, the theory explains why there are features of our own Universe which make it suitable for life; this is simply because we could only ever have evolved in the tiny minority of universes with the right set of physical laws.

All in all, a fascinating read. If you want to give a mind-blowing Christmas present to somebody, this is the one.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed content, 18 Feb 2011
"Philosophy is dead", the authors declare very early on, and then roundly prove over the next few chapters why they could have done with the services of a good philosopher. Hawking is known, of course, for his ground-breaking science, but not for his analysis of the history of knowledge or the social progress of our culture. Unfortunately, a substantial part of this book is dedicated to those topics, and makes for a short-sighted and naive read. Once the writing turns to actual science, its value greatly increases: the major elements of relativity and quantum mechanics are summed up simply and clearly, then form the basis for explanations of newer work such as M-Theory. Hawking has written better about his (and others') work, but if you're looking for the most up-to-date and/or easily read version, then this book is worth its very reasonable cover price. It's a short and superficial book, however, so if you're looking for anything in-depth you are likely to be disappointed.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is philosophy dead?, 4 Nov 2010
By 
S. Meadows (UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The inside cover of the book states that it is:

"A succinct, startling and lavishly illustrated guide to discoveries that are altering our understanding and threatening some of our most cherished belief systems, The Grand Design is a book that will inform - and provoke - like no other."

Well, it is most certainly succinct, well illustrated and thought provoking. Indeed, the book is perhaps a little too succinct. It is certainly very short, and it doesn't take long to read. The writing style is very clear, though some of the humour does have the feeling of having been inserted periodically as an afterthought, to maintain some levity in the book.

The book is a mixture of bold statements about the current state of theoretical research and an overview of historical developments in physics over the last hundred years (with some going further back than that). One of the weak points of the book is that it lacks references. This makes it very difficult to distinguish what is widely-accepted, evidenced scientific theory and what is optimistic speculation. At one point in the book, the authors state: "M-theory is the only candidate for a complete theory of the universe." I would certainly take issue with that, given that it is certainly not a universally accepted opinion. Any reader wanting to gain an alternative opinion on some of the bold assertions made about M-theory would do well to read Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics.

Probably the most interesting claim in the book comes at the start, with the declaration that "Philosophy is dead." This claim is never convincingly argued, and in fact the authors go on to employ certain philosophical ideas in pursuit of their goals. The entire argument of the book hinges on the acceptance of "model-dependent realism." After a little research, it seems that this is an original term although the authors do a good job of defining it. Here, however, rhetoric has been used as a substitute for reason. There is plenty for room on this debate and so it seems that if philosophy ever had been dead, which I see no evidence of it ever having been, then this book jolts some life back into it.

There is one enormous "If" hanging over the book, which is not dealt with in sufficient detail. That is the question of experimental verifiability. M-theory is spoken of as the underlying principle behind the various string theories. Yet even these have not been confirmed by experiment. At one point, the authors state that their claims can be verified by experiment but they do nothing other than state it as though it were plain fact. No justification is given, nor experiments suggested.

I was really torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars. It certainly well worth reading, but if anyone who has not studied the issues discussed were to read it in isolation, then they would likely end up with a highly skewed view of physics. This is a good book, worth reading, but it could have been so much better.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost back to the beginning!, 24 Oct 2010
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow have made yet another stab to popularise the exploration of how the universe began. I read it interspersed with Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw's book "Why does e=mc2" which I found as a lapsed mathematician to be much more readable, understandable and less opinionated than the Hawking/Mlodinow text, which left me feeling strangely empty towards the end, as if they couldn't quite reach the final point they were trying to make: is it because that point is beyond mathematical comprehension? Read both and decide!
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and enjoyable, 20 Sep 2010
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"Philosophy is dead", Hawking and Mlodinow proclaim on the first page, ending the book by stating that, if M-theory is confirmed by observation, "We will have found the grand design."

M-theory turns out to say that we actually live in a ten-dimensional universe (plus time), but we don't notice the extra seven dimensions of space because they are curled up into an infintesimally small size. They precise way they are curled up defines the laws of nature, or at least the laws the govern sub-atomic particles out of which everything else is constructed. There are, it seems, 10 to the power of 500 ways that this could have happened - in other words, a nearly infinite number of possible universes with different laws of nature to ours.

The authors point out that the laws of nature seem to be tuned incredibly precisely to allow life to exist. Tweak them every so slightly, and there might not even be suns and planets, let alone living things. So the vast majority of those different universes would be uninhabitable.

There are two ways you can react to this. One is to declare it as open and shut evidence of God. That is not Hawking and Mlodinow's view. Instead, they follow the idea that in some absolute sense all these possible universes "exist". Quantum theory suggests that what we think of as reality is the result of observation. Without observation, all possibilities exist equally. By being here, by observing, we selected one of the very few universes that could have given rise to us.

This is a lucidly written book, not over long, nicely illustrated with some witty cartoons and sprinkled with impish humour. Books about cosmology and quantum theory are never going to be easy for the general reader, but Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow do a creditable job.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Too simple for the scientific, probably too complex for the non-scientific; but generally well worth a read!!, 11 Sep 2010
Having read Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" some years ago, I was excited to learn he was releasing a new (somewhat controversial) book, where he updated the discoveries that science had made since the mid-80s.

The science that Hawking and Mlodinow discuss in this book is remarkably complicated, even to the brightest of minds, and simplifying these concepts so that they can be understood by a lay reader is by no means easy! Largely they make use of everyday analogies to help in the comprehension.

Being from a medical, rather than a physical background myself, I found it particularly interesting reading "The Grand Design", as it reminded me of concepts that I had not had much chance to deliberate since I was 18. As well as this, I found the authors were actually quite amusing at times; there is a lot of subtle humour included in the text.

Unfortunately, I was also a little disappointed that M-theory was not discussed in more detail. Most of the book deals with building up a basic scientific background that is relevant to the understanding of M-theory, and can not be assumed to be had by the user, since it is aimed at people of all backgrounds.

I would also like to comment on the analogies to God that are made throughout this book. Personally, I fear that these were put in as a way of trying to sell science to the mass public. Hawking has not changed his views on religion, as some might believe, having read a recent review article in "The Times". Hawking has always spoken of God metaphorically, referring more to a unified design theory of the Universe. The concept of a personal God is discussed in this book, but perhaps is not entirely relevent. People have many different reasons for believing in a God (mostly due to the insecurities of human nature); I fear that some readers will be unhappy by the assumptions that are put forth in this book.

In summary, "The Grand Design" is well worth a read! If you consider yourself scientific, you will likely find this book amusing, interesting and thought provoking. If you consider yourself very un-scientific, I would adivise that you take your time as you read, and make sure you've got your head round each of the concepts before you move on.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Saddened; as 1/3rd of book is dis-crediting others' thoughts only to bolster his own case!, 20 July 2013
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
I expected more from such an eminent cosmologist and highly-regarded thinker. Expects to use a top down approach to come up with how the universe formed, then contradicts the same method by promoting that a prior history of our universe has undergone an infinite number of possible histories. Such histories being totally random and all inclusive... very thin! Our universe apparently just appeared from nothing. Science is based upon causality (cause and effect), it is also a study in logic, therefore, how can we have an effect that was without cause that is also totally illogical? I expected much better than this from Stephen Hawking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Humour and Philosophy, but Ultimately Unsatisfying, 6 Oct 2011
By 
Andrew Johnston "(www.andrewj.com/books)" (LEATHERHEAD United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
Stephen Hawking is not only, without question, one of our greatest surviving physicists, but also, remarkably given his disability, one of the field's great communicators and educators. Having enjoyed his previous writing I was very much looking forward to his insights on the cosmological advances since "A Brief History of Time". However, although this latest book is both entertaining and thought provoking, it ultimately left me frustrated with its failure to properly explain these new scientific concepts.

This is a small and unthreatening book, especially in the Bantam edition, and nicely put together with some apposite cartoons and a series of chapter endplates which develop a recurring graphical theme in multiple contexts. However, in contrast to previous books, especially "The Universe in a Nutshell", it's very light on genuinely explanatory diagrams and equations, forcing the user to try and comprehend complex physical and mathematical concepts from purely textual explanations.

The first third of the book deals mainly with the evolution and nature of scientific "laws", and the meaning of reality relative to our various mental models. This is very interesting, but perhaps a little ironic given the authors' statement on the first page that "philosophy is dead". What other label should be attributed to this discussion?

The next section explains key aspects of quantum theory, in particular wave/particle duality, probabilistic rather than deterministic behaviour, and the effects of observation on the system. That we can now demonstrate this behaviour for relatively large objects, and affect the observed outcome from behaviour originating some considerable time before the observation, is fascinating.

Since Newton science has developed a series of theories describing the workings of our universe, and has then attempted to combine or extend them to provide an ever more comprehensive description. The next section of the book describes this progression. The descriptions of classical physics, relativity and quantum theory are fine, and don't suffer too much from relative brevity as the older theories will be broadly familiar to most readers. However the pages on M-theory are really too brief, and don't adequately explain it. Finishing that section with the fact that M-theory admits 10^500 solutions makes it sound very far from the elegant theories espoused earlier in the book.

The final section of the book attempts to describe and explain some of the most problematical aspects of current cosmology, but in my view doesn't make a very convincing job of it. Cosmological problems include both the fact that universal expansion is still accelerating, and that our current model requires the young universe to have spontaneously "inflated" from coin-sized to many times galaxy sized in less than a second. Neither of these are well explained by current theories as I understand them, and this book doesn't bridge the gap. Earlier in the book the authors pooh-pooh theories relying on "then a miracle occurs", but don't seem to be proposing something much better.

Instead of proposing a theory which explains the observations, the authors seem to be saying that under M-theory all things are possible, and we choose the set of outcomes which matches our measurements. To my mind this is perilously close to saying "God created the Universe as it is", even though the authors are at pains to refute precisely that interpretation.

It feels to me that Physics is on a threshold similar to its position in the late 19th Century, where we are creating progressively more arcane versions of existing theories in an attempt to prop them up, but what is really required is fresh new ideas - the 21st Century equivalents of Relativity and Quantum Theory. This book confirms that need, but its suggested resolution does not convince me.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 20 Sep 2011
By 
L. Davidson (Belfast, N.Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
I've been reading a lot about philosophy recently and to be honest my studies of this subject seem to have led me ,almost inexorably, to study science in more detail. Science, and physics especially, seem to be at the forefront of asking the big questions traditionally asked by philosophers , such as "Does God exist ?" "How and why does the universe exist ? ,"How did the human race come about ?" and "Is there a meaning to life ?" Stephen Hawking's book uses theoretical physics to try to answer most of these questions. A lot of this book went over my head somewhat. I only have GCE "O" Level Physics , so I found much of Hawking's discussions about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, String Theory and M Theory etc. quite difficult , although I sort of got the gist of much of it. This guy(and his co-author) has an amazing intellect and knowledge of the physical world and a lot of the answers to the "big questions" are in there. I intend to re-read this book, maybe a couple more times, and try to get my head around it all and I would be surprised if the general reader with little scientific knowledge would be any different. "Philosophy is dead" states Hawking in the opening pages of this book and I can see what he's getting at, although I wouldn't be qualified to judge if he's correct or not. Theres no real place for "God" in this book as Hawking believes that life is quite capable of being generated spontaneously and he points out that the existence of any supreme "God" will always be met with the question of "Who created God ?" - ad infinitum. I personally think that interfering aliens were behind most of the world's religions, pretending to be sovereign deities who created the world a few thousand years ago ,and Hawkings book confirmed my beliefs in this respect.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It didn't answer what it set out to do, 2 May 2011
By 
Nyall Davies (Diss UK) - See all my reviews
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I found the book easily readable but didn't give me any new information. As a popular book it has to be simple and cannot go into much depth so I had already picked up what it had to say about quantum physics. Towards the end of the book it moves to using vague illustrations rather than proofs that the universe does not need a cause and to introduce M theory as something that could possibly explain things. He states that no one knows what M stands for and, having read the relavent parts several times I have little idea what it is. There certainly is no solid proof and the idea of gravity spontaneously generating something when there was no gravity is left so vague that I suggest M stands for myth. Stephen Hawkings is undoubtedly a brilliant scientist but the statement that philosphy is dead seems to be a statement of philosophy that suggests that he has moved from an unbiassed scientific.
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The Grand Design
The Grand Design by Leonard Mlodinow (Hardcover - 7 Sep 2010)
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