Other Books

A Brief History of Time

Hawking, Stephen - Finished Sep 24, 2016

Run-on Sentence Summary

Classic popular science book in which the legendary Stephen Hawking gives approachable explanations for the science and theory of the big bang, general relativity, black holes, quantum physics and more.


Stephen Hawking is an incredibly lucid and entertaining writer, and I can understand how he has become so famous. This book covers a huge range of topics and helps you appreciate the mind bending complexity and scope of modern (nearly 30 years old now) physics.

My main complaint is that the science in the book is all incredibly hand-wavey. Over and over, he will gloss over obvious questions. He’ll explain, quarks can have a spin of 0, 1/2, 1, or 2, and can be blue, red or green. Moving on! I still have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

It is a bit unfair because, as my physicist friends have argued (what? I can have physicist friends), it is impossible to give an adequate description of quantum physics in layman terms without diving into the prerequisite maths. All things considered, Hawking makes a pretty good effort, and the book is great as long as you understand that it is entertainment, not education.

As with Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, my favorite part of the book was the glimpses it gave in to scientific history. In the appendix there were descriptions of Hawking’s favorite scientists from history, including Galileo, Newton and Einstein. For instance, did you know that Einstein was an outspoken Zionist? He only became involved in the Manhattan project, after refusing due to his pacifism, because he understood what might happen if the Nazis succeeded first. After the war, he was actually offered presidency of the nascent Israeli state.

Final Thoughts

Don’t expect to understand physics after reading it, but it is certainly worth the time in pure entertainment.

Favorite Quote

“We might indeed expect to find several new layers of structure more basic than the quarks and electrons that we now regard as “elementary” particles. However, it seems that gravity may provide a limit to this sequence of “boxes within boxes.” If one had a particle with an energy above what is called the Planck energy, ten million million million GeV (1 followed by nineteen zeros), its mass would be so concentrated that it would cut itself off from the rest of the universe and form a little black hole. Thus it does seem that the sequence of more and more refined theories should have some limit as we go to higher and higher energies, so that there should be some ultimate theory of the universe."