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4.1 out of 5 stars
127
4.1 out of 5 stars
The Universe In A Nutshell
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on 5 April 2014
Having read Son of the Circus, I had trouble putting down, I thought I would give The Fourth Hand a try.
Not quite as unput down able as Son of the Circus but stoll a good read.
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on 8 December 2014
good
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on 8 July 2001
For a John Irving novel, this book is an 'easy read' and more lightweight than previous novels. It has traditional Irving trademarks - eccentricity, twists in the plot, coincidences (for example, the 'left hand' fertility symbol), loss and grief. There are some recurring themes, e.g. a Father's love for his son, but it is still refreshingly original - with the loss, gain and loss of a 'hand' being the central story. Patrick Wallingford isn't immediately likeable, but this is his story, and you grow to like him more throughout the book, and begin to hope that he finds his way, developing into more than the somewhat shallow, good-looking 'lion guy'. This novel will not give you the same gut-wrenching feeling as Owen Meany or Garp, but it is so, so much better than other books around. Well worth reading more than once.
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 December 2015
This isn't the best of John Irving's novels unfortunately, although it's not a bad book. It's just an average effort from a writer who is capable of greatness. The story centres on Patrick Wallingford, a good looking journalist who loses his hand in a freak accident broadcast live on air, and later undergoes a hand transplant. The surgeon who performs the operation, and the donor and his wife are also major characters.

It is an odd book in terms of structure and it always felt aimless and lacking a strong framework. The individual sections are well written but they don't come together well enough, a problem you don't often see in a book with a relatively compact timeframe like this one does. I liked the character of Dr Zajac and his family and found I related to him immediately, and invested in his storyline, but after a lot of page time in the first part of the novel, his storyline tailed away into nothing. I wasn't really clear what was happening and what the book was meant to be about. Initially the goal of the story was for Wallingford to get his new hand and everyone to adapt to that, but once that happened the whole focus of the book changed. The characters featured changed halfway through, which was annoying when I'd invested in the ones introduced at the start.

Also as someone who works in the medical professions I found the technicalities of the hand transplant storyline hard to swallow, in particular the role that the donor's wife was allowed to play and the suggestion that was encouraged by the medical ethicists! It just wouldn't have been. It was really bizarre and undermined the whole concept of the novel, which was very far fetched. It served as a vehicle for Irving's writing, and made some good points about the American media, but on the whole there wasn't much of a story here. I would much have preferred it to be told more from Zajac's perspective, as he was the most interesting character and the one I cared about.

It's always pleasurable to read Irving's writing, he's one of those writers who can make you smile with a witty paragraph or good turn of phrase, and his writing is always interesting. For this reason I enjoyed the novel despite my criticisms of it. From a lesser author I might have rated it more highly, but the author of 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' always suffers from the heightened expectations of his readers. I would certainly recommend the book to those who enjoy literary fiction, but if may not be the best Irving novel to start with, as he's written several much better.
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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!
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on 18 September 2014
Patrick Wallingford, a New York Journalist, Accidentally allows a Lion to eat his left hand! Which leaves him forever known as the "Lion Guy", as millions of viewers witness the event on TV, as he is interviewing someone at the time!
A renowned plastic surgeon Dr Zajac offers to do the worlds second hand transplant for him. The only down side being that the wife of the hand donor (who is safely dead) wants to have visitor rights to the hand afterwards!
And so we have the recipe for a weird and wonderful story that is funny, sad and eye opening for all concerned!
I really enjoyed this book, but then I love anything John Irving presents to us, he has the most delicious sense of the absurd, but always manages to pull out of it a thought provoking story!
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 12 November 2014
This was, of course, a fascinating premise and Irving got off to a blinding start. I do love literary fiction when it's well written. John Irving is an excellent writer.I suppose it is a bit of a tall order to write a whole novel around an interesting news item. Not many could do it. Irving has a darn good try.His characters are Deftly describes unbelievable.And nobody has ever descend into mawkishness or sentimentality. I suppose the plotline was a little thin but Irving's writing style was sound enough to keep me hooked till the end.
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on 25 December 2013
I'm surprised that this only has 3 stars on Amazon. It's a very insightful, beautifully written, funny and touching novel.

The characters are extremely well drawn, even ones who only appear in a couple of scenes.

Some of the set pieces are so well put together that even by the first chapter I was putting the book down, revolted at how talented Irving is.

If only all authors were as insightful and clever.

A very good read, full of laughs and poignant moments.

9 / 10

David Brookes
Author of "Half Discovered Wings"
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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.
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