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Thinking Great Enough to Match the Cosmos
on 18 November 2003
For anyone looking for a great, comprehensible explanation of the current state of the theories driving today's physics, this is it. Hawking has taken everything from the early history of thinking about the universe, its laws and composition, to the latest developments on black holes and string theory and placed it in a remarkably lucid set of explanations that detail the concepts behind all the mathematics that is so intimidating to most. This book is written without a single equation or a single statement on the order of "From the above, it is obvious that..." Instead, we proceed from the (comparatively) simple concepts about the everyday observable world of gravity, planets, and stars, travel carefully along the historical path of scientific observations as they modify and enhance the simple theories till we reach the world of quantum mechanics, the big bang, wormholes, and Grand Unified Field Theories. Each concept is fully explained, and with this expanded second edition, many of the concepts are beautifully illustrated with drawings and photographs.
And, possibly surprising to some people, as we enter the rarified air of today's theories, we see that the line between physics and philosophy is a very thin one, and ruminations about the origin of the Universe lead to discussions about God and fate. Here we see why Hawking is one of the premier physicists of today, as he obviously thinks in same kind of conceptual language that this book is written in, capable of looking at the meaning behind the mathematics and how it relates to us as humans.
Physics students and engineers may not find very much new here, but even they may benefit from the clear thought lines presented here, forcing a look at the meaning behind all the esoteric symbols that are their everyday working fare.
About the only quibble I had with this was Hawking's insistence on writing out very large/small numbers as million-million-million... While this was fine the first couple of times it becomes a little irritating in place of the standard 1,000,000... representation, or even better to use standard scientific notation.
A great elucidation of some of the most complex theories of the day, theories seemingly unrelated to your everyday life, but which are in fact the bedrock upon which today's technological marvels are based, and with implications that catch the nether regions of religion and the questions we all have about the meaning of life and the universe.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)