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
6 of 6 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 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good book, unless your expectations are unrealistic,
There is a trend in modern writing that 'more is more'. What I like about this book is that it takes the view that 'less is more', there are no long passages of stuffing to push up the word count to make a big hefty volume that can shift at a big hefty price. Hawkins and Mlodinow say what they need to say to get their point of view across and no more. The writing is tight and difficult ideas are conveyed in an effecient way but keep it understandable to an audience of non-professional scientists.
Most of all what I liked about this book is that Hawkins made his view on god clear, in previous books (I've read) he has fudged the issue with vague references to a god of an unknown theology. This straight down the line honesty is to be commended, people uncomfortable with books that clearly express atheism should not read science books. Science above all must be honest, if a scientist speaks of the origins of the universe they must be able to express their opinion on the ultimate question with the same freedom of opinion we'd expect in a discussion about 10 dimensional space. You do not have to agree with the writer about 10 dimensional space or god, but the scientific writer must be free to discuss it honestly; the days of excommunicating Galileo should be firmly in the past.
If you expect the book not to be opinionated, or be understandable to an readership with no scientific/mathematical knowledge at all, or help you with your post-graduate studies in quantum physics don't buy this book (actually don't buy any books they'll all disappoint you). For all other people with an interest in the ideas of why we are here, this is one of many books well worth putting on your reading list.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant, informative but eventually disappointing,
It's fascinating to read how one of the greatest minds of our time thinks. This is why I bought and read this book, hoping to discover a revolutionary theory that would replace God with something else, something explainable by science - as Mr. Hawking boldly asserted.
It's elegantly written and it carries you through all the theories and discoveries that led mankind to ask and try to answer to the most important questions regarding our existence. As such, it is an informative read. Unless, of course, you already are accustomed with these theories, because there is very little new information brought up in the book.
I appreciated the occasional humor and the illustrative manner in which Mr. Hawking delves into very complicated theories and I also enjoyed the final chapters in which it sums up why our Universe is so finely tuned for life to appear.
But I find this ultimately disappointing because the theory that Mr. Hawking is promoting, the M-Theory, doesn't get anything new from him in this book. Replacing God with gravity as a creative force in an ever reproducing Universe describing a never ending loop is a nice idea, but it is really a shame it only covers two pages in an entire book dedicated to describe what's behind The Grand Design.
I understand that this final chapter was written in such a way to spark debates in the scientific community, but I find that this is somewhat misleading for the reader, who expects that a 7 Chapter introduction is followed by at least some chapters dedicated to describe, explain and prove (or at least try to prove) the theory that you put forward. Instead, we get 7 introductory chapters with very little new information, and only 1 chapter that summarizes Mr. Hawking's idea and then lets us staring at the Sun.
I will not discuss the validity of this idea - it's up to the scientific community to delve in it. I would only say that this book is recommended for those that don't have a strong grasp on the current scientific theories and for those that have a basic understanding or interest in cosmology. Everybody else will find it a bit lacking.
It is, however, a good and enjoyable read, which I clearly cherished. Now let's hope Mr. Hawking will have the time and energy to develop the final chapter into a complete new book that will really explain how we got here.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Almost back to the beginning!,
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!
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lucid and enjoyable,
"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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read,
Stephen W. Hawking is a brilliant scientist and a great writer.
You do not need to be an scientist to understand this book.
The book is is well written, clear and comprehensive.
This book makes me want to study physics.
It was a fascinating read.
41 of 49 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!!,
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.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A light but ultimately pleasing read,
If you are looking for a hardnosed work in the style of A brief history of Time or The Universe in a Nutshell, then this book is definitely not for you.However if you require an effective overview of our current understanding of reality and the universe with a human touch -then this volume may be just what you require.
The Grand Design delivers a succinct and cogent summary of string theory, supersymmetry and quantum mechanics, interspersed with anecdotes about the lives of key figures in the field, e.g. the drumming exploits of Feynman (as good as Brian Cox I wonder?) and the struggles of Faraday.
Central to the book is the concept of model determined realism and the notion that the attempt to develop a single theory of everything must be replaced with a series of overlapping theories known as M-theory which incorporates all the string theories and that of gravity, explaining the universe in the context of 11 dimensions and suggesting the quantum possibility of many universes each with their own apparent fundamental rules of nature - unique to their own model.
Frustratingly the notion of supersymmetry and its possible role in providing a quantum theory of supergravity is only briefly touched upon leaving the reader asking how the hunt for the Higgs Boson is related to this.
Recent discoveries of expansion in the universe due to an unknown repulsive force (dark matter?) and the resultant reintroduction of the cosmic constant to account for it are also not fully explored -but it does create the curiosity to find out more.So maybe this is job done for a book of this type!
4.0 out of 5 stars An even briefer history of time,
Leonard Mlodinow and Stephen Hawking are two very excellent writers. Their previous books have captivated me so much that I would skip class so I could finish reading whichever one of their books I was reading at the time.
Their latest book, "The Grand Design", though a marvel of the scientific mind, was much shorter than what I'm used to of these authors. The quantum experiments they describe are beautiful and make me want to put on a lab coat and join the research that's going on in these fields, but they're not proposing any ground-breaking ideas. Yeah, they say that God was not necessary to sneeze the universe into existence, which is saying a lot, but it has also been said a lot in recent years, especially by formidable scientists such as Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins, as well as thought-provoking writers like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennet.
I suppose Hawking has gotten fed up with the way people mistook his pantheism for theism, so he became more explicit about the things he does not believe in. Which is fine, y'know... as the great Carl Sagan once said, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". It's unfortunate that this point needs to be hammered home so often, but we do live in a world where the great majority of the population believes in imaginary friends.
But then Hawking and Mlodinow seem to take a strangely resolute stand on their belief that M-theory is the right theory. Perhaps the correct attitude here would be to remain agnostic until further evidence rolls in. I wouldn't be surprised that M-theory turns out to be the holy grail of science, but let's save the champagne and the "I told you so!"s for when CERN actually shoves some particles through other dimensions.
All in all, it's definitely worth the read, especially if you've never studied quantum theory or M-theory. For people who are familiar with the work of scientists like Brian Greene and Lawrence Krauss, it's probably better to wait for the paperback version.
4.0 out of 5 stars Sum over Histories,
Don't know why other reviewers found "philosophy is dead" so hard to swallow. I think the authors only meant that speculation about the nature of the universe should be based on what scientific evidence there is, rather than on a pure thought exercise, as philosophers in the past were wont to do. Of course this book will disappoint anyone thinking it will provide conclusive answers, how could it? But what it does well, after covering some historic views of the universe, is explain moderately clearly where the latest scientific speculation leads. It leads to M theory and a universe that obeys the same rules as electrons passing through the two slits in the famous double-slit experiment, that is to say quantum rules in which the "sum over histories", when applied to our budding universe,gives rise to mutiverses and a non-linear history. This interpretation also accounts for the "strong anthropic principle" in which all basic parameters of our universe are so finely tuned for life to exist.
The subtitle of the book is "New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of life, not "final answers"! I thought the book very worth reading and enlightening, although the last chapter is disappointingly bitty and refers back to an earlier chapter for some crucial information, which is a bit of a cop-out. Seems like it was finished off in haste.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing,
This book is better than a brief history of time, which I also enjoyed. Here Hawking sets out the universe and it's workings in the simplest way he can, and he still baffles me. I could read this book again and again, partly because it's so interesting, partly because I don't understand most of it, and partly because I would learn something new every time.
Absolutely brilliant, I highly recommend this to anyone that has ever looked at the universe and wondered what it's all about.
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The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking (Audio CD - 9 Sept. 2010)