38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
This is the long-awaited follow-up to "A Brief History of Time". It's quite amazing how some of the ideas around the Physics of the very large and very small have developed in recent years, and Stephen Hawking is determined to communicate them to us.
He realises that this requires diagrams and analogies, since the mathematics is getting ever more forbidding. As a result, unlike a lot of books on modern Physics and cosmology, this one focuses on pictures and spatial representations. It's beautifully illustrated throughout, almost a coffee-table book. That said, Hawking hasn't neglected the text either - it's clear, concise and frequently humourous.
The book starts with the key ideas developed in the earlier part of the 20th century, Relativity and Quantum Theory, but in the context of more recent experiments and observations, which makes it feel more contemporary than more historical accounts. The second chapter explains how these developed through to the 1980s, summarising the various attempts at unified "Theories of Everything". The book's central chapter investigates what we now know about how the Universe formed and developed, presenting a lot of quite new findings and concepts.
After this, the going starts to get harder, introducing concepts like time travel through black holes, and the physics of the strangely-named "p-branes". You may need to read these several times, and understanding is by no means guaranteed, but Hawking rightly focuses on the key implications rather than the models themselves.
The penultimate chapter is a bit of a non-sequiteur, looking at the evolution of human and artificial intelligence. It's a fascinating subject, well described and clearly of great interest to Hawking, but doesn't quite fit with the rest of the book. Finally, the book presents some of the most recent ideas of unified theories - branes again - and makes some sense of why such strange mathematical models are needed.
I enjoyed this book, but I wouldn't pretend to have understood it all on a first reading. However, I understood enough to be convinced that Hawking is not only one of our time's great scientists but also, despite his disabilities, one of science's great explainers. If you're at all interested in modern Physics, I recommend this book...
48 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 18 February 2002
in this colourful book.
Hawking attempts to correct his heavily linguistic approach of 'a brief history' in a well thought-out attempt at presenting a more coherent image of our universe and our current level of understanding of it. In order to achieve this Hawking quickly guides the reader through some of the complex theories using careful and well-thought out language and cartoons and graphics that support the text along with reasonable summaries of the main findings. He is also keen to point out and highlight the relevance of each area in our overall understanding of the universe.
Many of these concepts are however, despite Hawkins best intentions difficult and abstract being very different from the normal classical experience of humans living in the macroscopic world. Quantum theory, P-Branes, Spin Theory, Sum of Histories, string theory are all dealt with here. Hawking avoids the use of Mathematics in explaining these concepts but it is still inevitable that some of the theories and concepts are not suited to this light approach - often complicated points that require more background comprehension in the subject remain difficult to comprehend. Occasionally one is left puzzled by abstract sections that are not well supported in the rest of the book.
However not delving too much into any one branch or area -does have its advantages; conscieness keeps the various branches connected and allow Hawkings overall image of the universe to form in the readers consciousness. This together with Hawkins frequent good humour also appear to capture the most important aspects of each area. If one can subdue the frustration of not fully comprehending some sections and trust to Hawkings guidance, one is carefully guided to a current cosmological understanding of the universe. Hawking seems to be generously aware of the difficulty in comprehending some of the abstract theories dealt lightly by him in the text and offers the reader a reading list at the end including a section on 'getting more technical'.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining an overview and powerful insight to the current shape of the universe. Hawking covers well the many theories and concepts that are pre-requisites for the more recent discoveries and Hawking brings his own valuable insight and guidance to these without becoming too bogged down in technical detail.
An excellent starting point too for anyone interested in finding some answers to some of the more fundamental questions asked by humans.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2002
This book is targeted at laymen who want to understand our developing knowledge of the fundamental laws governing the way our universe works. In this context it is only a qualified success, like its predecessor, "A Brief History of Time".
The publishers (or Hawking himself) have aimed this at the coffee table audience and as such it is rich on illustrations and photography but disappointingly brief on text. A book with three times the text and a few less illustrations may have reduced sales and added a few quid to the price but would have left a lot more informed customers.
However, most of what there is of it is very good, particularly on subjects not covered in his original book.
The main reason why this book is in the bestseller lists, particularly in the UK, is the mystique surrounding Hawking's name. I am sure Einstein would not be able to write as elegantly and persuasively as Hawking but in terms of conceptual scientific breakthoughs there is no comparison.
In short, if a layman wants to understand cosmology, astrophysics etc. there are better writers out there. Alternatively, if he or she wants to enjoy reading the thoughts of the great scientists of the twentieth century then Hawking would be the first to admit he is not at the top of this list.
If you want a combination of the two with pretty pictures, this could be the one for you!
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 2 August 2002
This is a beautiful book with magnificent illustrations. In fact one can not resist to buy it when you see it on the bookshelves. The name of Stephen Hawking increases your expectations even further.
The first chapter about Einstein is well written and easy to understand but then everything suddenly goes haywire. Hawking tries unsuccesfully to explain very complex ideas in simple terms with the help of illustrations. I have read many books (some that even include mathematics) on this subject matter and even with this background I found it difficlt to grasp imaginary time and p-branes.
If you want nice pictures and more informative text then buy Space - Our Final Fontier and if you want to dig in deeper and really try and understand string theory then buy the Elegant Universe by Brian Greene.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2004
As it says on the cover of this beautiful book it is the sequel to 'A Brief History of Time' and won the 2002 Aventis Prize. It starts, like its predecessor by explaining lucidly some of the bare bones of modern physics; the first chapter is one of the best descriptions of relativity I've read. By the second chapter we are already discussing how the shape of time can be reconciled with quantum theory and from then on each chapter deals with some of the most interesting pieces of cosmology and physics including branes, time travel, the multiple histories of the universe and, of course, black holes. This is riveting stuff and as ever it is described as clearly as it could be. He also diverges to ponder if intelligence has long term survival value, what our future holds, the philosophy of time travel and whether we could predict the future.
Hawking was told in his last book that it wouldn't sell half as well if he included even one equation but in this one there are quite a few, describing the most fundamental aspects of the world. As well as letting equations in he also has made this a lot more challenging than his first book and, in the process, a lot more exciting. This is certainly one of those books that you leave with a profound sense of wonder. Unlike the last book he did lose me at times for example when demonstrating how you could travel back in time, but I was glad not disheartened. The excellent graphics simultaneously aiding your understanding and make this the best looking physics book around.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. I much preferred it to his first book as it is not scared of whipping through the basics in order to get onto the really amazing parts or making you think about mind stretching concepts. It is one of those rare gems that manage to completely fill the reader with a sense of excitement and a bit of baffled awe at the same time.
53 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2001
This book is said to be the inspiring sequel to "A Brief History of Time".
It starts by two chapters discussing relativity and quantum mechanics, like repeating the old book, but with clear explanation of the concepts such as spin, time curve, forces, and string. A formula on the Black Hole Entropy closes these beginning chapters. It is something like S=Akc³/4hG :).
Startin on pages 67, it discusses "new" topics. The history of the universe, which is not linear. Then prediction of the future, with some other formulas, one from Schrödinger, and two others about Black Hole again :). Then it flows to the possibility for time travel to the past (and whether then the history could be changed). The next chapter discusses the future, whether it would be Star Trek or not. Also discussed are DNA, AI, mikroprosesor, etc. A discussion on the philosophy of the universe closes this book.
The chapters are linked well, but not sequential. Compared to many other popular science book published in the last 10 years, there is almost nothing new offered. But this book is a very excellent summary of all things discussed on those books (including the previous Hawking's book). We don't need to read his previous book before reading this one. The illustration is very rich, and luxurious. Many boxes discuss various topics from many other scientists, presented without making mess to the main text.
(But actually I expected something more from Hawking. I mean, he's Stephen Hawking, not just another popular science writer)
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2003
I read A Brief History of Time about 4 years before this (first in paperback and then more succesfully in hardback) and in between I read Hawking's 'Black Holes & Baby Universes' and then Brian Greene's book 'The Elegant Universe' which covers string theory and M-Theory (which I enjoyed).
I am a scientist by profession (a chemist) and my general physics is OK. I have a GCSE in it and some 'A' Level and some degree level understanding in certain areas of quantum mechanics (mainly the bits that overlap with degree level chemistry).
Hawking's first bestseller was very good but even as a scientist I struggled with quite a bit of it, especially the concept of imaginary time. His first book also did not really explain string theory at all well.
I found this new book much easier to understand, it is written in simpler language, the concepts are more fully explained to people without a degree in maths and / or physics and the diagrams are superb. He also now fully incorporates String and M-Theory into the picture.
Hawking possesses a real talent for teaching, he is able to take very difficult concepts and relate them to everyday experiences. He also seems to come off the fence a bit more with his views on the anthropic arguments in this book, which is refreshing.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and definately have a better understanding of cosmology after reading it. I'd still say one requires a fair amount of scientific background to get the maximum out of the book though. Well worth the money.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The Universe in a Nutshell is the best popular science book I have ever read. Professor Stephen Hawking deserves many more than five stars for this book!
If you have any interest in understanding the latest attempts to create a unified scientific Theory of Everything in the universe, this is the book for you. Professor Hawking has combined many perspectives to show how Einstein's special and general theories of relativity have been updated to explain the big bang, black holes, and an expanding universe; superstring theory; p-branes; how many dimensions the universe has; whether the future can be predicted in a deterministic way; whether time travel is possible; how science will transform our biological and thinking futures in the context of Star Trek technology; and M-theory to consider whether "we live on a brane or are we just holograms?" Although any of these subjects can be found in popular science books, few such books discuss all of them simply and intelligently in terms of each other from the theoretical perspective and experimental evidence.
Those who wonder what science has to say about religious ideas will find this book valuable, for Professor Hawking is unafraid to address questions about whether there can be a beginning to the universe in a scientific sense. What could or could not have preceded the big bang?
Fans of A Brief History of Time (1988) will find that Professor Hawking has made two changes to make this book more accessible to the nonphysicist. First, he as written the book so that you can follow the argument solely through the many beautiful and helpful illustrations and their captions. The method parallels the one he used successfully in the 1996 book, The Illustrated Brief History of Time. Second, only the first two chapters are required reading to understand the rest of the book. You can read chapters 3-7 in any order after the first two, which means that you can get into the material that will be of most interest to you much sooner!
Professor Hawking's sense of humor also lightens the subject a lot. The book has witticisms, puns, and visual jokes galore to make you chuckle, from funny Shakespearean quotes ("I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space." Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2), to images from his appearance in the Star Trek: Next Generation television show (where he won at poker with Einstein . . . and had a mysterious visitor sit on his lap), to tales of bets lost and won, to unexpected comments about the effect of airline food on your life expectancy.
To make the material less dense, he also includes biographical information about the quirks of the physicists who have made these marvelous discoveries.
If you are fairly knowledgeable about physics, you will find this a fairly quick read . . . but one that will stimulate new flights of thought that can keep you busy for years. For example, he describes the physical limits of population growth and electricity being reached on earth by 2600. Then he goes on to speculate about how knowledge expansion through books can carry us forward faster to solutions than our geometric physical expansion. The future may well include major changes in the physical qualities of what a human is, a better connection between our brains and our electronic extensions, and the need to solve a delicate problem of where we should design for speed . . . and where for handling more complexity.
My favorite chapter was the one on predicting the future. My next favorite one related to the relevance of Star Trek to our future. I found the chapter on the Universe in a Nutshell to be the most fascinating as Professor Hawking explains the case for multiple histories occurring based on Richard Feynman's work.
Ultimately, one of the beauties of this book is the marvelous human spirit behind it. Professor Hawking seems like Leonardo to me, bought forward to today to challenge us to be our best as people and as thinkers. I feel honored to sit and learn at his feet.
I recommend that you reread this book once a year, because your thinking will be stimulated again and again by this outstanding overview of how all of our theories of reality may fit together.
One of the lessons of this book is that much of what we think of as "fact" is merely a convenient approximation of a more complex circumstance. Newton's thinking about gravity is a good example. Where in your life do you need to know with as much precision as possible, and where will approximations work just fine? Making that choice well can be the most important talent you can develop.
See beyond your limited perspective to the pulsing reality around us!
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 24 October 2004
Hawking has achieved a cult status and popular appeal which few could have guessed was possible given his subject matter of theoretical physics. It is no small achievement that he has made such vast theoretical complexity accessible to a wide public: he stands as one of a handful of scientists who have pioneered the communication of science to a mass audience. Not only has his pure science transformed intellectual life, his writing skill has transformed public knowledge ... and I'm really not sure which is the greater achievement.
Hawking, in his best-selling "A Brief History of Time", introduced the lay reader to the big questions in science - where did we come from, why are we here, what is the meaning of life. He answered with an optimism and a passionate belief that science ... or Science ... was on the verge of the big break through. Sometime, in the next few years, it would discover the answer, and we would all sit back and go, "Ohhhh".
Unfortunately, this universal theory of everything has not materialised ... and there are many in the scientific community who would argue that it is now less likely we will discover the meaning of life than it was when Hawking first wrote his "Brief History of Time".
In the meantime, we have M-Theory, which tries to fill in the gaps. Hawking delivers an excellent explanation and exploration, but a number of critics have insisted his account is a bit sparse in places ... that the theory doesn't quite mesh together.
"The Universe in a Nutshell" is, therefore, and somewhat ironically, your starter for ten. Hawking's direct, economical style will capture your interest and your enthusiasm. You will enjoy the lavish illustrations and be engrossed by the man's capacity to reason and argue. But you may also decide you'd like to read more. If Hawking can induce you to keep searching, he will have done you a service and proved what a master communicator he is.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 2002
I have always had a great interest in Cosmology, ever since I first looked through a telescope. I have read many books on the subject, but remain an avid Hawking fan. I found Brief History of Time to be one of the most informative and fascinating books that I have ever read on this subject, but in areas struggled to grasp concepts and ended up with a headache, my non-astronomer friends who attempted the book were even worse. Then he releases Universe in a nutshell, wonderfully illustrated with concept diagrams which really do make it easier to "get your head" around the theory. Although much of the book is merely reviewing and summarising upon the idea's in Brief History, it is a genuine pleasure to read.