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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My brief history, 3 Nov 2013
This review is from: My Brief History (Kindle Edition)
The physicist has written a simple, short memoir. He grew up in London just after the Second World War ended, having been born in Oxford; the book is illustrated with charming photos of Hawking and his sisters, of blitzed London, of the Oxford rowing team. Hawking's father had grown up poor and got scholarships to train as a doctor, so it was inevitable that his son should be sent the same route. Like many very bright kids he was not an exceptional student at school. While one of his sisters did become a doctor, he concentrated on physics, chemistry and maths. In 1959 he gained a scholarship to Oxford, aged seventeen.

Having graduated Hawking went to Cambridge to become a physics researcher. Cosmology and general relativity had not progressed since the 1930s. Hoyle, Feynman and Sciama were the top people in the field at the time, but Britain was losing researchers in a brain drain to America, where nuclear physics was the trendy field. The student was getting increasingly clumsy, falling on stairs. A doctor just assumed that he was overdoing the beer. After a fall while skating his mother got him to hospital, where a progressive disease was diagnosed. Hawking was only twenty-one and he says that while he was depressed he did not drink heavily as has been reported. He enjoyed working hard for once, hampered by becoming less able to type or write, and was lucky enough to find and marry a student called Jane Wilde in 1965.

Concentrating on cosmology meant the starting point of the universe, black holes and the like were awaiting mathematical proof by the research student, who had ample material for his PhD. From 1970 he was using a basic wheelchair; his wife coped with their three children. A visit to Cal-Tech showed him that America was far more advanced for people with disabilities. In 1985 Hawking had a choking fit at Cern and his wife refused to have his ventilator turned off, getting him flown by air ambulance to Cambridge where a tracheotomy saved his life but removed his speech. An artificial voice system was provided to him by a Californian computer expert.

The further story tells of family issues and coping with his motor neurone disease. There are occasional flashes of humour, such as bets between scientists and asides on life. "My doctor told my wife that I was coming home to die. I have since changed my doctor." The progressive nature of his illness proved too much for both his wives, but Hawkins is pragmatic about the divorces and admits he owes his life to the ladies. 'A Brief History of Time' was intended to explain black holes and the Big Bang to the general reader, without equations. His publisher, Bantam Books, took his suggestion seriously and sent lists of items which he needed to simplify. The book spent 147 weeks on the NYT bestseller list; 237 weeks on the London Times bestseller list. With his daughter Lucy he has also written a series of books for young people. Hawking has won several awards, and helped to host the Paralympic Games in London in 2012. The final photos show some travels, meeting Queen Elizabeth, and experiencing zero gravity. The cover photo of the Oxford years is splendid.

There is discussion of physics in this book of course, but the biographical material is the largest part. Hawking's travels are continuing, because he's booked to be a space tourist. MY BRIEF HISTORY makes an entertaining and inspiring read.
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