[Stephen Hawking] A Brief History of Time

  • Title: A Brief History of Time (from the Big Bang to Black Holes)
  • Author: Stephen Hawking
  • Published: 1988
  • Publisher: Bantam Books
  • ISBN: 0-553-34614-8

Modern physics (Relativity theory, Quantum mechanics, String theory, etc.) has changed our view of the world as well as our everyday lives. Cellphones, the internet, and even atomic bombs are the result of this rapid development of a new understanding of the world.

Modern physics deals with very small entities and very big ones. Classic Physics (Newtonian mechanics, Electro-magnetics, and others) successfully explained how things work in normal conditions, where we live. It even calculated the route of a spacecraft with a reasonable margin.

Modern physics is based on complicated mathematical formulas. If you had a chance to look at the university textbook, it is full of mathematics. Scientists have celebrated the beauty of the mathematical models, which elegantly fit together. But, for laypeople, it is hard to grasp what the models try to explain.

There were many introductory books to Modern Physics without mathematics. “A Brief History of Time” is one of these attempts and has been really popular as a long-time bestseller. More than 20 years have passed since the book was published. During that time, many new theories evolved, and old theories were reinforced or modified. If you want to know a more recent (maybe correct) introduction to the topics, this book might not be a good choice, but as a book of a mainstream scientist, the book provides you with a valuable impression of how science looks at the world.

“Strange, Weird, Incomprehensible” It is the common response of the modern physics. How can time be different from you and me? If Big Bang really happened, how did it happen? If the universe is expanding, what is outside of the universe? Even more, I (or a cat) am both alive and dead?

In the mathematical model, all these phenomena are explained. The numbers from the model match with the numbers of the test machines. The problem occurs when the numbers (formulas) are translated into plain language. We can think of two option:

  • Numbers do not lie. The everyday language has limitations in explaining how things really work, and our so-called common sense actually blocks the understanding of the meanings of the science.
  • It is a mathematical illusion. It only works in the world of numbers. We do not know exactly how the world works or if we cannot explain in plain language, a theory might be wrong.

The choice is up to you.

“A Brief History of Time” is a short history of what physics has achieved in the 20th century from the perspective of “Grand Unified Theory”. Hawing was famous for his pursuit to combine all theories into a single theory. That is the reason why he focuses on Bing bang and Black holes, which can be the ideal condition to unify all forces into one.

It is Ok to read through from the first to the end, and you will get a basic understanding of some major topics of modern physics, which matches the goal of the book. However, personally, the book does not fit with my preferences. In my opinion, the book seems more focused on the personal achievement than the factual explanation. The most commonly reiterated expression is “someone won the Nobel prize.” The notion of the Nobel prize might give the authority to the author’s assertions, but in an introductory book, I am not sure why this is so important. Another point is that this book is an introductory book. Do not expect that you will understand how and why things work in this way.

I still recommend you read this book even though it might not be the best introductory book. The book is concise and will make you decide to learn more.

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