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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)
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on 12 October 2004
I started out with low expectations, i thought i was going to be overwhelmed by incomprehensible facts and figures. I would be lying if i said its an easy book to read, its not, you have to give it maximum attention or else you will miss bits, but for such a complex topic Hawking does an excellent job of making it manageable for those of us who aren't geniuses yet are mildly interested in the subject, and the illustrations make it even more so.
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on 18 April 2002
This book explains the concepts introduced in the "Brief history of Time" more clearly with the use of outstanding illustrations and graphs. People that read the original edition will now be able to understand the somewhat cryptic notions using beautiful representations of the microcosm and macrocosm. A must for people interested in science.
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on 18 January 2005
This is a truelly amazing book it has to be said. Anyone interested in space and time travel etc must buy this book. It's not one of those books you buy and then never read, you'll be hooked in no time. Before you know it you will be understanding how space really works. Explained with amazing clarity by the true master of space. A must buy for anyone.
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on 16 September 2005
This is a truly excellent book. Why? Because it covers a wide range of cutting edge physics and makes it more or less understandable to everyone.
I notice that one reviewer has called this book "A Con Job" and goes on to ask "If he [Hawking] is such a great genius why do we never come across his name in the history of science? What major breakthroughs has he made? ... One reviewer admitted that he [Hawking] did not understand more than 60% of the book. I certainly didn't understand more than 10%". Well let's answer the first part shall we? Stephen Hawking provided a mathmatical proof for the big-bang theory and has done extensive research into the workings of black-holes. Are these not major breakthroughs? I certainally think so. The fact that the reviwer understood less than 10% of the content perhaps says more about his intelligence that the quality of the book.
The book is fairly short (240 pages) and this is to its credit - it is long enough to introduce and explain difficult concepts, but short enough not to bore you.
All in all, this is an great book - give it a try!
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HALL OF FAMEon 20 December 2005
The mark of a true educator, which Stephen Hawking certainly is, is that he would take time (very valuable time, in his case) away from research and contemplation of the great mysteries of the universe to write a piece that would serve to help explain to the greater number of less-scientifically-adept persons the fruits and implications of modern scientific research from the cutting edge of physics. Hawking is ranked in popular and scientific thinking on a par with Einstein, and has motor neuron disability that severely restricts his ability to move, even to type or write, so, when he takes time to write something for general consumption, it is probably going to be worthwhile. And indeed, this is.
'Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve sales. I therefore resolved not to have any equations at all. In the end, however, I did put in one equation, Einstein's famous equation. I hope that this will not scare off half of my potential readers.'
Hawking begins by exploring the large scale structure of the universe (time being part of the `fabric' of the universe, in spacetime), the connections of space and time as a relatively new concept in thinking of the universe, and the way the universe `acts' (cosmological dynamics). From there, he explores the universe at a very basic level, as elementary particles and forces of nature, introducing quarks.
'There are a number of different varieties of quarks: there are thought to be at least six "flavours", which we call up, down, strange, charmed, bottom and top. Each flavour comes in three "colours", red, green and blue. ...We now know that neither the atoms nor the protons and neutrons within them are indivisible. So the question is: What are the truly elementary particles, the basic building blocks from which everything is made?'
From this discussion Hawking proceeds to black holes (and the fact that they aren't so black and permanent as popular belief holds them to be), which circles back around to the origin and destiny of the universe (which relates back to the large-scale structure), which ultimately brings us to time. This is where things begin to get interesting.
'When one tried to unify gravity with quantum mechanics, one had to introduce the idea of "imaginary" time. Imaginary time is indistinguishable from directions in space. If one can go north, one can turn around and head south; equally, if one can go forward in imaginary time, one ought to be able to turn around and go backward.'
Hawking explains variations of the thermodynamic, psychological and cosmological laws that regulate the direction of time's arrow, which, despite the theoretical flexibility of time with regard to scientific principles, always apparently goes in one direction.
Finally, Hawking explores the most current topic in theoretical physics: unification theories, which may or may not be a wild goose on the loose. Hawking also explores what such a grand unified theory (also called sometimes the `theory of everything') would mean, and what it wouldn't mean. But Hawking assures us that the quest for understanding is worthwhile even it won't be the final word on everything.
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on 30 November 2003
Like so many, I have always said I'd read Brief History. So i bit the bullet and delved in...
Now I'm not a mathematician, or a physisist. Not since GSCE's have i pondered over the equations that were set down over the last few hundred years. Luckily Stephen Hawking knew this when he wrote A Brief History of Time. In fact that was his driving force.
It proved to be, from the start, an enjoyable read. Doesn't really say much does it? "An enjoyable read", sort of reaction you'd have to a Spot the Dog book. Well that's how it starts. But I got through that to discover mind blowing theories and genuine enjoyment in reading Hawkings.
Yes there are a lot of things to get your head round, things that are complicated and at times uncomprehensible. But this is said in terms of altering your view on our world and universe, not in terms of being far too complicated and above us.
It's not for everyone, but if it's for you its an enthralling read. Not one to be left on the coffee table.
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I'm reading this book 20+ years after its initial publication. I suspect that had I read it 20 years ago my reaction would have been Wow! that's incredibly interesting stuff and given it 5 stars. 20 years is a long time in quantum physics and so a lot of the material was familiar to me, and I think, Simon Singh, in the Big Bang: The Most Important Scientific Discovery of All Time and Why You Need to Know About it covers the same territory in a much more readable and enjoyable form. Still I learned some new stuff. I found out what quarks and gluons are. I'd heard of them but had no idea what they did. I even found out they (quarks) have up and down versions and come in different colours. I also found out why strings came and went and where all those other dimensions are hiding.

I think Stephen Hawking made an admirable attempt to reach down from his lofty mental perch, he even injects a little humour from time to time. I felt that there seemed to be an undercurrent throughout the book that hinted at a possibility (or maybe probability would be a better word given the subject matter) of an uncertainty in the author's mind about the existence of God and his use of science to prove it one way or another. (God is the very last word of the final chapter)

This book is very Hawking-centric. It touches on being autobiographical. It is very much about Hawking's views, ideas, opinions, research, mistakes, and changes of mind. So although it covers the historical information about people like Newton, Einstein, and many others, it seems that that information is provided only to put Hawking's own conclusions into context. In this respect I much prefer Big Bang because Singh's position is one of observer rather than participant. Though it is quite nice to have the 'horse's mouth' version in Brief History.

If you are interested in Hawking's contribution to theoretical physics then I would encourage you to read this. If you simply want to know how quantum theory fits into the creation, existence, and evolution of the known universe - then are better books.
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on 23 October 2000
A disagree with another reviewer who insists on seeing mathematical formulae. You have missed the point, mathematics is not required for understanding principles only for proving them. I do not believe this would add anything to the content for the lay reader who it was intended for.
The importance of this book cannot be underestimated in its ability to fundamentally shift the common mans (or womans) perceptions of the world around them. You will rarely feel as close to understanding your god (whom or whatsoever it may be) and his work.
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on 24 April 2000
Brilliant, intriguing, thought-provoking and scintillating, are four ways that this book could be described. On the other hand, it could also be named tedious, confusing, mind-boggling and unreadable. If you have a yearning to find out more about physics this book is truly brilliant, but if you're looking for a bedtime read with a bit of science thrown in, this is not for you. Hawking deals with the really difficult stuff: Einstein is quickly worked through in chapter two before you even hit the more advanced work in the last 8 chapters. Yet Hawking has allowed me to understand more about physics, and more in depth, than any of my school science teachers ever did. If you're looking for answers, this is the best place to find them from the man most capable of explaining.
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