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103 of 112 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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50 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mixed content
"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...
Published on 18 Feb 2011 by CP


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5 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Little information, too much history, unconvincing presentation, 3 Jan 2011
This was a really boring read. Too much history. Too little new information. If you have been watching Discovery channel for last couple of months, you have already seen and understood anything and everything this book has to offer. In fact the book does it really poorly to introduce all the amazing innovations we have seen in the theoretical physics and cosmology. Most shockingly, it ends with an idea that gravity created the whole universe and there was no intelligent design. If you are really proposing such a dramatic idea, at least put two or three chapters on these and enough convincing logic.
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4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting - but wrong!, 16 Jan 2011
Very well written, clear exposition of the current state of thinking in cosmology. Unfortunately, the final chapter seems to have been penned in haste, and owes too much to the Richard Dawkins school of thought for my taste, apparently concluding that we have found the answer to everything, and "there is no God, because I say so".
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It's turtles all the way down, 22 Oct 2010
Stephen Hawking's new book 'The Grand Design' makes an interesting read. It is an informative but popular book about contemporary theoretical physics, stimulating, witty and, with its magnificent artwork, aesthetically as well as intellectually pleasing.

Eight chapters take you on a journey starting with the ancient Greeks and ending with M-theory. On the way complicated ideas such as quantum theory, relativity, super-gravity, the anthropic principle (both weak and strong), as well as questions as to the relevance of God for science and why we exist, are clearly discussed. I recommend this book to those who have a basic background in physics but you might also consider reading Brian Greene's 'The Elegant Universe' which covers the same material with equal clarity but more depth. Finally, as could be expected, 'The Grand Design' does not give a better answer to the meaning of life than that already supplied by Monty Python or Douglas Adams.

Is the book without blemish? Unfortunately not. Regrettably the publishers seem to think that anyone reading a book on quantum and space-time physics will be bewildered by the concept of 10 raised to a power and will feel happier if some temperatures are given in Fahrenheit. Furthermore there are two self-inflicted problems, one minor, the other not quite so. Let us start with the minor problem.

The book starts with a flourish. "Philosophy is dead", we are told; "Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery". This initial lack of modesty is backed-up by an occasional outbreak of Aristotle-bashing. According to the authors the old man with the beard "didn't make definite predictions, and when [he] did, the predictions weren't always in agreement with observation. One of these predictions was that heavier objects should fall faster because their purpose is to fall."

But unfortunately for Messrs Hawking and Mlodinow heavier things do fall faster as any underweight member of a sky-diving group will certify. They know that it is difficult to hold hands in a circle when descending with their more corpulent companions because 'fatties fall faster'. Indeed Newton's equations are adequate to show why. Similarly-shaped objects but of differing mass will fall at equal rates in a vacuum (which neither Aristotle nor the authors believe in) but in air the heavier ones come down quicker. So 1 point to Aristotle, 0 points to the two contemporary physicists. (This is a reason to buy the first edition because such an embarrassing blunder will certainly disappear in revised versions.)

Steven Weinberg described in chapter seven of his book 'Dreams of a Final Theory' the annoyance that philosophy can cause physicists. Unfortunately such explanations are lacking in 'The Grand Design'. Furthermore the demonstration that the authors are capable of scoring home-goals gives the impression of haste and superficiality and make us wary to accept uncritically other statements. And rightly so because the second problem is less trivial.

At the very beginning of the book it is suggested that we should adopt 'model-dependent realism' to understand our universe. According to the authors what is important is that a theory correctly predicts things which can be observed. If two theories "accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient." If you take them literally then what they are saying is something like:
it does not matter if one theory uses electron, quarks and bosons to predict a result and the other utilizes little green men with bongo sticks; if both methods make accurate predictions which conform to our experiences when tested then both are equally valid and both are equally 'real'.

Now if a theory is real so too must be the entities that that theory uses. By 'real' I mean that there is a correspondence between an entity which we define in our theory (like mass, electron or quark) and something in the world which exists independently of us. For so-called 'scientific realists' electrons are not a convenient fiction: they really do exist. But if everything that makes the correct predictions is equally real, as the authors seem to suggest, then this can only be good news for little green men with bongo sticks. (Even taken literally Messrs Hawking and Mlodinow would not be advocating something new - it's called 'constructive empiricism' - although its followers normally remain agnostic about the possible reality of theoretical entities.)

Of course Hawking and Mlodinow do not believe this, they are full-bloodied scientific realists (like the vast majority of us). They believe there is a real world out there full of stuff that we can comprehend through science and they testify to this in the rest of their book by speaking of electrons, photons, and quarks in the same breath as footballs and rubber ducks on water. For them even when two theories predict the same result one can be superior; for example, even at low velocities Einstein mass is an improvement on Newton's definition because it is a better description of reality, (or - and just to be provocative - what Aristotle would have regarded as the 'essence' of mass).

Much later in the book it becomes clear why the authors attach such importance to a 'model-dependent reality'. We are told "It could be that the physicist's traditional expectation of a single theory of nature is untenable, and there exists no single formulation." Instead of a 'theory of everything' it is suggested we could use the family of theories collectively known as M-theory. Each individual theory successfully predicts observable phenomena in its own domain and each agrees with its neighbors on predictions where they overlap. We are given the impression that M-theory is like one-stop-shopping: a place where you can find the theory that fits your particular, if limited, requirement. (Unfortunately very little else is discussed in the book about M-theory, although we are assured it is the ultimate solution.)

Now it could be that the 'model-dependent reality' approach is appropriate in string theory. This is far removed from the microscopic concepts like electrons and photons we normally use. But its general use, and this is what is advocated in the beginning of the book, is a problem because it is a body-blow to scientific realism. It means that the same entity could be a flat plate in one theory and a tortoise in another. Only where two theories overlap is it turtles all the way down! In other words there is nothing fundamental, nothing thought-independent, about any entity used in these theories. Each time you change theories you get new entities. And the entities are new because they have different properties. Entities are defined through their properties (Newton's mass has different properties than Einstein's) so if the properties change so too does the entity. The plate first becomes a turtle then a tortoise. Everything is metamorphic and everything changes according to the theory you wish to use.

As for God, well the authors' concept seems not to have progressed further than the beginning of Genesis. Einstein was once asked if he believed in God. He replied that he believed in Spinoza's God. However Messrs Hawking and Mlodinow would have to read philosophy to understand why this response might be more profound than their answer.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grand Design - more flab than theory, 5 Oct 2010
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D. M. Warner (UK.) - See all my reviews
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If the authors had stuck to science rather than trying to prove / disprove God (they fail on both scores), the book could have been a useful update for laymen. As it is, try Wikipedia instead.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last a book which describes the fundamental principles of the universe in language you can understand., 28 Sep 2010
This review is from: The Grand Design (Kindle Edition)
The title of this review says it all.

Hawkins at his best. This deals with the issues raised by other physicists, including on occassion Hawkins himself, but in a manner which can finally be understood.

Excellent.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Underwhelming, 18 Sep 2010
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M. S. Randall - See all my reviews
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I expected alot and in some areas I got too much and yet too little in others. I found the first chapters hard going. More detailed - or perhaps clearer explanations were needed of many concepts which popped in and out. Some better editing here may have been useful along with more visual aides.

Towards the end things get more exciting and you think you are going to get the 'big' answer which disproves God etc. Unfortunately I found the conclusions muddled and abit of a damp squib. Yes 'M-Theory' may be the grand design but on the other hand it is only another mathematical construct with NO observational evidence yet.....maybe they should have waited abit!

Overall the book seemed to rush thhrough complex ideas at first (with few visual aides to help us) and then fall flat abit at the end. A disappointment from two great minds.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am a nerd...leave me alone., 15 May 2013
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I love these books as they really make you think, I can say that it is for the more casual reader based on the illustrations within. However it is very good at describing the current trend in thoughts and past of theoretical physics. I can say that for people that read papers and any of his other work it may be a little underwhelming.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 30 April 2013
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
It was a very easy read, loved it. Arrived on the day I was told it would. nothing could have been simpler.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book, 3 April 2013
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
Bought this for my boyfriend for Christmas
Brilliant book but the cover was scratched and the pages were bent at the corners
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read, 8 Dec 2012
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V. Craft (Uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Grand Design (Paperback)
I am no Einstein and found this to be simply great.
I can recondmend this book even if you have no interest in life.
Wake up and smell the science.
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