C P Snow observed that the humanities and the sciences represented two cultures neither of which understood, or made an effort to understand, the other. This bright little book explains why. The nature of relativist cosmology (studying the universe by applying the theory of relativity) is as clear as mud. As a theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking, like Einstein, was at home with abstractions which, in some instances, have been proved to be an accurate predictor of events. Intellectually he is brilliant with an IQ in the region of 250 and a mind he has trained to work out complex problems in his head. As a human being his appreciation of other humans has been hindered, not simply by his motor neurone disease, but by his egotistical personality which led to two divorces.
Hawking was never backward in coming forward. He publicly questioned Fred Hoyle's Steady State theory of the Universe and built on Roger Penrose's singularity theory by applying it to the beginning of the Universe which was called, in derisory terms, the Big Bang. "The major claim of the theory is that in the large scale average the Universe is expanding in a nearly homogeneous way from a dense early state." It remains cosmology's prevailing paradigm. The ideas underlying the Big Bang theory are superbly illustrated, even if the underlying theory remains opaque.
In 1974 Hawking discovered that Black Holes (stars imploding at the end of their lives) radiate like thermodynamic bodies. He also presented a model of the early Universe which he called the no boundary proposal, suggesting that there was no beginning and no moment of creation which brought the Universe into being. This was in line with Hawking's metaphysical thinking which was more atheistic than agnostic. It also suggested that Einstein's theory of relativity is not valid at the moment of the Big Bang. To counter this Hawking combined the theory of general relativity with that of quantum mechanics. His ideas were backed up by the COBE project which appeared to support the Big Bang theory by measuring different temperatures between two points in space.
Of course, Black Holes remain a subject of controversy as does the early state of the Universe which scientists hope to recreate by experiment. In fact, much of what is called cosmology consists of abstract formulations which receive general support but cannot be considered absolutely right. Cosmology, once considered a pseudo-science, is now at the centre of scientific study. There is no question that Hawking has played a major role in this change and the book charts his progress.
I've given it four stars because of the manner in which it deals with the subject. However, for those schooled in the humanities, a lot of which passes for basic scientific knowledge is beyond their grasp and I'm far from convinced that McEvoy's explanations bridge the gap involved. The book is imbalanced in setting Hawking in his historical context and could have been written in a better framework for those for whom the sciences remain a mystery. Relativity remains obscure for most of us and the two cultures continue to exist independently of each other.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 28 September 2000
Introducing Stephen Hawking by J.P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate
Stephen Hawking is a scientist whom in most people inspires a combination of pity and envy. Pity for the fact that he is trapped in a living prison that is his own body, and envy for the fact that he possesses a mind that has the ability to dissect the universe in a way that the rest of us could not even hope to do.
J. P. McEvoy and Oscar Zarate have succeeded in putting together a book that accomplishes the two tasks of analysing the life and mind of a great scientist and of outlining how this mind has been able to dissect the theories of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. A task that has resulted in Hawking discovering how these very distinct and revolutionary theories seem to overlap or even contradict each other.
I found this book to be both interesting and easy to follow. It showed me the tragedy of a young man whom had his body taken from him, and who was therefore forced to rely on his mind alone. It also showed me how that very same man succeeded in utilising this tragedy to his advantage, which has resulted in the continued advancement of physics.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in physics and/or in the life of Stephen Hawking. It is a good read and I found the book difficult to put down.
Just as at a dinner party or other gathering, being introduced to someone does not necessarily mean an intimate - in the best sense of the word - relationship will follow so, "Introducing Hawking" does not guarantee leaving as a cosmological scientist or an astrophysicist of any great standing. Fortunately, as an arts graduate, knowing my own scientific limitations, I approached it with enthusiasm but not high expectations. Unlike one of the reviewers, I knew it WAS rocket-science and I did not anticipate the highest levels of astrophysics to be explained in a few simple sentences.
I have read a lot on science and astrophysics (Most recently Brian Cox's "Why does E=mc2?" - and was fairly familiar with the lower regions; books "introducing" subjects or writers are sometimes more complicated than the original but I approached this with hope.
I enjoyed it, learned a lot and knew there were areas I still regard as mysteries; however, along the way, I found the drawings and sketches helpful and graphic in their attempts to simplify the extraordinarily complex.
I garnered more terminology and felt I was beginning to think more in the right way. Einstein commented on one occasion that he rarely thought in words but also that imagination was essential for a scientist. I have the imagination and the words, it is the rest I lack but this book helped.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2001
I was disappointed with this book; it's too difficult for the non-mathematical reader. Obviously cosmology is a complex subject, but I'm sure it could have been explained more simply. McEvoy insists on filling the book with long algebraic formulae and often uses specialist language without defining it. After reading this book, my grasp of the subject remains tenuous. A missed opportunity.