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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 24 May 2001
Well i found this book very interesting. As a reader of a brief history of time this book is a must as it expands on many of the ideas introduced there leading to a better understanding of many of the concepts. Although it is only a collection of essays i think it makes the topics more digestible as subjects range from a personal account of hawking's childhood to a description of a baby universe created by a dying black hole! If you were fascinated by the brief history of time this book is definately worth the money.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Covering the period 1976 to 1992, it contains a series of essays on a wide range of subjects from his early childhood, university experiences at Oxford and Cambridge, Einstein's theories, Hawking's ideas on black holes and ends with his "Desert Island Discs" programme transcript. In some cases, their genesis as a lecture or talk shows through in the style but they are not less enjoyable for that.
In his eleven page essay on black holes, he explores these phenomena with the enthusiasm of a regular traveller or a travel-agent tour-guide hoping you will return again next year and there can be no better guide to these mysteries.
Reading, listening to or watching Stephen Hawking on the wonders of our universe, he always seems to have such a clear purpose - "to boldly go" where few have trodden.
A wonder of the universe himself, he is always an interesting, thought-provoking writer; as a travel-guide, no-one surpasses him.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 1 July 2005
The essays are drawn largely from various lectures delivered by Hawking over the years; the occasion of each is mentioned as it comes up. Since they were designed to be spoken, it's worth getting a good recording of these as well as the book itself. I recommend the audio edition narrated by Simon Prebble over that read by Connor O'Brien, although the Prebble recording omits "DESERT ISLAND DISCS". (O'Brien's reading is very stilted, while Prebble conveys Hawking's sense of humour properly.)
The first 3 essays, "Childhood", "Oxford and Cambridge", and "My Experience with ALS" are autobiographical, drawn from talks presented to various Motor Neurone Disease Societies in 1987, with material added in 1991. Much of this (particularly "My Experience with ALS") should be familiar to anyone who watched Errol Morris' A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME or read the transcript (STEPHEN HAWKING'S A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME: A READER'S COMPANION, edited by Gene Stone). To me, this material is most interesting taken together with the film and with Jane Hawking's MUSIC TO MOVE THE STARS. For example, the filmmakers followed up the professor's childhood friends who once bet a bag of sweets on whether he'd ever amount to anything, while Jane Hawking in her book discussed her theory that the professor (like their sons) is probably dyslexic, explaining why he learnt to read relatively late.
"Public Attitudes Toward Science" (October 1989) isn't a history of science, but instead (after pointing out the drawbacks - and impossibility - of putting the clock back to a 'simpler' age) a talk about the need for basic scientific literacy for the general public to be able to make informed decisions. Hawking is careful to make clear that understanding the concepts, not the math, is fundamental.
"A Brief History of A BRIEF HISTORY" (THE INDEPENDENT, December 1988) describes how Hawking came to write the book, first published on April Fools Day 1988, why he avoided heavy mathematics in it, and the predictable outline followed by many popular articles about Hawking and his book to this day.
"My Position" (May 1992) "I would say that I am a realist in the sense that I think there is a universe out there waiting to be investigated and understood...But we cannot distinguish what is real about the universe without a theory...A theory is a good theory if it is an elegant model, if it describes a wide class of observations, and if it predicts the results of new observations. Beyond that, it makes no sense to ask if it corresponds to reality, because we do not know what reality is independent of a theory." Discussion of how better theories replace less complete theories, such as how Einstein's theory of relativity replaced the notions of absolute space and time, and some discussion of Schrodinger's cat experiment. (This last is even better if followed by reading THE SCIENCE OF DISCWORLD series).
"Is the End in Sight for Theoretical Physics?" (April 1980) was Hawking's inaugural lecture as Lucasian Professor. This is the first essay that might lose the lay reader, but be patient; various terms left unexplained here, such as the uncertainty principle, are explained more fully in subsequent essays.
"Einstein's Dream" (July 1991) explains the fundamentals of both relativity and quantum mechanics, and why Einstein was unhappy about quantum mechanics. Includes a nice, simple explanation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, ends with some discussion of black holes.
"The Origin of the Universe" (June 1987) corresponds to a sizeable chunk of chapter 1 of THE ILLUSTRATED BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, but the material is organized differently and includes somewhat different details.
"The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes" (SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, January 1977) explains what black holes are, where they come from, and work done by Hawking and various colleagues to understand them better. Should be read with "Einstein's Dream", since each essay lays some groundwork for the other.
(If you'd care to pursue Hawking's comment that a black hole *could* emit almost anything, see Diane Duane's SO YOU WANT TO BE A WIZARD.)
"Black Holes and Baby Universes" (April 1988) What happens to objects that fall into black holes (where do they go?) and the possible consequences (or not) for rapid-transit space travel.
"Is Everything Determined?" (April 1990) Philosophical discussion; if a grand theory of everything is found that can "explain everything", can people have free will?
"The Future of the Universe" (January 1991) starts with a discussion of prophecies in general, from the Oracle at Delphi to modern-day doomsayers. ("These have even tended to depress the stock market, though it beats me why the end of the world should make one want to sell shares for money. Presumably, you can't take either with you.") Leads into a discussion of whether the universe might expand forever or eventually recollapse, and whether time travel might be possible. Some of this material also appears in THE UNIVERSE IN A NUTSHELL.
"DESERT ISLAND DISCS: An Interview", first broadcast by the BBC on Christmas Day 1992. The show's guests are asked at various points in the interview to name 8 CDs, one book, and a luxury object they'd want if stranded on a desert island. The music is played during the interview (though not during O'Brien's narration on the audio edition). Hawking mainly talks about why he chose each piece (which turns a bit autobiographical for very old favourites), answers stock questions about his speech synthesizer, and deflects questions about his personal life.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is a great book to start with if you're feeling a little intimidated by Hawkings ideas, or have tried to read 'A Brief History...' and failed, (although I'd say that book is well worth persevering with). It covers a wide selection of essays about Hawkings theories, as well as his personal life and illness. The essays are short enough to not be too heavy to enjoy and they are mostly clear and informative. Overall this is a good read with some interesting ideas.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
An event horizon is the boundary of a black hole, defined by the light that can reach out that far and no further. Hawking himself sometimes uses pictorial metaphors to illustrate abstruse mathematical concepts, and this one occurred to me by way of an analogy of the brilliant illumination that I am trying to persuade to shine out far enough to reach my own dim wits hovering hopefully in the outer darkness.

The whole `feel' of Hawking's discourses reminds me of the stories I have read about Einstein at work - placid, orderly and without excitement (or should I say `perturbation'?). Genius of this kind seems to be a kind of glorified knack - such minds just operate naturally with concepts of this kind, and there is no sense of effort or struggle. Sandwiched between some biographical material and a radio interview, the main material in this book is a collection of essays and lectures. They include Hawking's inaugural lecture at Cambridge where he occupies the chair of mathematics once held by Newton, and all are intended in the first place for an audience of his peers. On the other hand, where Newton and Einstein did not try to address the general public, Hawking, like Russell, seeks to do just that, and he does it superbly. The style of writing is both literate and unpretentious, and the occasional jokes are very good. Readers who, like myself, are intensely interested in the subject-matter but entirely lacking in natural aptitude for it, ought to find this book enormously helpful. There is a certain amount of repetition inevitably, but the more of that the better so far as I'm concerned. Any amateur trying to get a handle on mathematical concepts like these has to get into a mathematician's way of thinking as best he can and stop thinking as a layman. We can all understand the basics of gravitation without being Newton, but if we are still struggling with the general idea of the General Theory of Relativity in 2006 it's worth remembering that it was propounded in 1915 and that physics and astronomy have came on a long way since then, so we had better get our minds round it at last.

At least as astounding to me as Hawking's triumph over his physical paralysis is the fact that this professor of mathematics at Cambridge never graduated in that subject. His degree subject was physics, allegedly on the grounds that the Oxford physics course was easy. Not easy enough to tempt me away from Latin and Greek, I must say, but doubtless for him. Mathematics is just a technique that Hawking invokes as a tool in his quest for a grand unified theory of the entire cosmos. This, said he 20 or 30 years ago, is something he hoped and largely expected could be achieved in 20 or 30 years. I'm sure we would have heard if he thought by now that he had got there, but he honours us with his ideas at the time of writing on the origin and future of the universe. The main obstacle to the final resolution of the issue is apparently that no one has yet successfully integrated old Newton's gravitation with the rest of it. However he also helps us with some more `back-at-the-office' theory concerning black holes, on which topic he appears to be the leading thinker, and that gives him the opportunity to remind us of the outlines of the most important advances since Einstein, namely quantum mechanics and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.

The latter principle enunciates that the better the position of a particle can be predicted the less well its velocity can be predicted, and conversely. Since it is necessary to predict both, all we can do is predict the combination on a `smeared' statistical basis. It seems to come into everything, and Hawking invokes it to try to comfort us with the belief that although everything (and everyone) actually is determined by particle physics, the extent of the unpredictability is such that we might as well consider ourselves to be free agents. For once, I would dare question him. In the first place such a view doesn't seem to require Heisenberg - simply viewing the story of the cosmos as a chain of events constituting causes and effects would surely get us that far, as the permutation of these is incalculably large and therefore only to some extent predictable. Secondly, when we talk about `free will' and `determinism' what are we even talking about? I'm often told in arguments that I can think what I like. On the contrary, I wish I could, but my own observation and reason, such as they are, leave me unable to. When I exercise `free choice', e.g. in choosing from a menu, I can quite understand that my choice might be determined by physical causes (whether that is the truth of it or not). However when I change my mind about something factual or theoretical, which is taken as a sign of free intelligence, I do so because I feel that the evidence leaves me no choice, and evidence is not an `event' or a `cause' or any matter of particles or physics. Where does all this leave `free will'?

Those seeking God or a Creator will find that Hawking hedges his bets, so that any capable by nature of thinking what they would prefer to think remain, I suppose, `free' to do so. The issue is beyond me, and my own quest is for a better understanding of the cosmos I have been born into and will have to leave before too long. May I wish Professor Hawking a long and productive further career. We are much the same age, and his 20-30-year estimate for solving the riddle of the cosmos is up around now. If he finds it, I hope I can recognise it when I see it.
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on 12 August 2011
I rate the published popular science output of 'Sir' Stephen Hawking very highly, having read much of his output. Somehow this one had escaped me. Of course, much of it was written in the 1970-80 period, nevertheless given the stage to which physics had advanced then his essays are most excellent. His ideas are understandable to an extent but without the mathematics they have a tendency to remain somewhat obscure; this being a failing of much of 'popular science'. I was surprised to find no mention of Leonard Susskind's work in the book, but then you can't have everything can you?
I would recommend Stephen's literary work to anyone who has the patience to read it but particularly to those who think they already know what he is talking about here.
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on 8 March 2015
This is my favourite Hawking. I have read and re-read this book over the years and have just re-visited it after seeing the film. Each chapter a a separate essay, which means you never get stuck if one is a little difficult to understand. That said, Hawking writes about complex subjects in a way that even someone not at all versed in the subject can understand. That is a real gift. There was only one chapter I found remotely tricky, but it was all the same fascinating - I would just hate to have been asked to summarise it!
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on 3 August 2015
In this book Hawking talks about his life and about his major areas of interest in his researches.
The book is a collection of updated essays and speeches concerning the cosmology and related topics. Hawking explains scientifically, and explains his explanations using a clear and understandable language.
Like always, Steven Hawking makes even the most complex theory sound simple.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 14 February 2000
From imaginary time and the sum over histories to the uncertainty principle. Those left slightly bemused after reading Brief history of time will find themselves finally understanding, as Hawkings manages to expand on his ideas whilst masterfully introducing new ones. Constantly inciteful and never monotonous, Hawkings is almost story telling, leaving you craving more whenever you put the book down. A must read for those who actually read 'Brief History' rather than just displaying it on the coffee table. The Desert island discs interview at the end also offers a welcomed less interlectual perception of the man beneath the science.
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on 16 May 2015
Highly readable and very informative.
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