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110 of 119 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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Humour and Philosophy, but Ultimately Unsatisfying
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...
Published on 6 Oct. 2011 by Andrew Johnston


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7 of 7 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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110 of 119 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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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is philosophy dead?, 4 Nov. 2010
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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50 of 56 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good history but it left me feeling like the book stopped before the end!, 24 Jan. 2011
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This book is a good read if you have some scientific understanding or are keen to learn. It is interspersed with humorous cartoons and occasional quips in text which made it an easier read for me.

As some other more eloquent reviewers than I have said it feels like you are left hanging at the end with little M-theory explanation. Another book explaining this more deeply would be most welcome!

To me it seems as if we are at a point in the theory that requires another Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking to make a leap to a new level.

Overall I felt the recent Horizon `What Is Reality?' on the BBC gave a better feeling for where we are at understanding our universe. Although they left us with the universe being a hologram idea which again smacks of physics needing a leap of understanding to a better model.

Certainly worth the read if you are looking for a summary of how we got to where we are now.
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Almost unbelievable how so many complicated ideas were transformed into an accessible book, easy to read, 1 Jun. 2014
This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
'The Grand Design' by Stephen W. Hawking is the new book is a brilliant scientist, a sort of sequel to his most famous book "A Brief History of Time" with which this wonderful writer and physicist due to his knowledge once again pleasantly surprised.

In this book that he made together with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking has gone one step further than the issues being discussed in his previous works and grapple with some fundamental and ultimate questions of human origin.

Inside, Hawking asks the questions "Why is there something rather than nothing?", "Why are the laws of nature so finely tuned to allow the existence of a people?", "Is there a master plan of some supreme being who created us or is there a scientific explanation?"
And then he provides the answers to those questions.

"The Grand Design" is a kind of handbook on quantum physics and metaphysics for complete dummies, and in a great way Hawking speaks about the question of God's existence, especially because lately some have started labeling him as religious, along with some other well-known scientists.
So, it's amazing how these two authors managed to create a work with so many complicated ideas and transform them into an accessible book that is extremely easy to read.

Therefore, the 'The Grand Design' is a book that can be recommended to Hawking fans, physicists and other people who love science, but also to all those who want to hear new discoveries about centuries old existing human beliefs.

Although its volume doesn't suggest it, this is a great and informative book that must be read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Jack of All Trades, 6 July 2012
By 
Sir Furboy (Aberystwyth, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Grand Design (Kindle Edition)
Stephen Hawking's attempt to answer the great questions about life, the universe and everything. It is co written with someone with a name I can neither pronounce nor spell, but apologies to Leonard Ml-whatever-your-name-is, for not taking the time to copy and paste it.

Plusses are that this book is a wonderful short history of the growth of scientific thought as well as a crash course in quantum mechanics, relativity and M theory.

However, there was nothing actually new here - although it brings a lot of material into one nicely accessible place. A fuller discussion of the scientific theories can be found in books such as Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (he has a later book that probably covers any recent changes Hawking includes).

As for the history of the development of science, that can be found in many places, but at times it was reminiscent of Russell's History of Western Philosophy.

On the downside, this book does not do what it purports to do. It asks the question "why is there something rather than nothing", but cannot answer it, and the attempt to reduce it to a non question is just a fudge that admits to the unanswerability of the question.

Early on the book also simply dismisses philosophy, saying it has not kept up with the science. That statement is a bold assertion written in defiance of the clear fact that modern philosophers are well aware of the latest physics, and make good use of it. Indeed, inasmuch as this book IS a work of philosophy, the book refutes its own assertion.

In a few other places, things are asserted without evidence and which are not obviously true.

The proposal of the unmodified radical multiverse idea as a solution to the extremely unlikely balance of the laws of nature that allow our universe to exist is also written in ignorance of the work of philosophers such as Keith Ward, who make the point that this merely multiplies the improbability of the whole. There is now so much more *stuff* to explain than before. We have mechanism but no answer to the reason there is something at all.

So no answers to the big questions in this book. I liked the physics, which is nicely described, but other books do that more thoroughly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little bit of everything, 7 Nov. 2011
By 
F. Martin (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
If you're already familiar with relativity and quantum theory then you'll find the first half of this book is mostly a retelling of those ideas. If you're not already familiar, then you may find it extremely hard going. The authors attempt to explain in a few pages concepts that other popular science books spend many chapters trying to get across.

Interspersed with the theory are various anecdotes of ancient religious myths and some history of the development of cosmological ideas which add colour and interest.

The second half of the book brings more recent findings and ideas into the mix. They talk about M theory, strong and weak anthropic principles and how the weirdness of quantum theory can explain the existence of the universe and why it seems fine tuned for us.

Once upon a time popular science books took complicated theories and brought them to a lay audience. They still do that and I would argue, better than ever, but I've noticed a more frequently occurring dimension. That of religion. A modern day battle is being fought on that front and it seems that not even Stephen Hawking is immune from entering the fray. He argues convincingly that science does not need to postulate a deity to explain anything. Whatever your opinion on that front, I don't think they labour the point too much and I didn't feel as though it got in the way of the basic science.

So overall I would say that if you are reasonably familiar (at a lay level) with modern physics then this book is a brief but clear and easily understood update. If you're not then I imagine a lot of the book will be incomprehensible.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars REVIEWING THE GRAND DESIGN, 4 Oct. 2010
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A well written, albeit fairly short, book; it develops the currently most popular themes in string theory and cosmology. However, it suggests M thory is the answer to everything; it may be - but the theories are not yet fully developed and certainly not yet proven. The level is trivial in places (to anyone who did A-level sciences, say) but conceptually farsighted overall. It lacks any mathematics (a good thing for a popular book) and, as such, is always going to be somewhat superficial - but at this level of theory, that is probably the only approach to take. A good, thought-provoking read; thoroughly recommended.
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The Grand Design
The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (Paperback - 18 Aug. 2011)
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