A Briefer History of Time
Stephen Hawking’s worldwide bestseller, A Brief History of Time, has been a landmark volume in scientific writing. Its author’s engaging voice is one reason, and the compelling subjects he addresses is another: the nature of space and time, the role of God in creation, the history and future of the universe. But it is also true that in the years since its publication, readers have repeatedly told Professor Hawking of their great difficulty in understanding some of the book’s most important concepts.
This is the origin of and the reason for A Briefer History of Time: its author’s wish to make its content more accessible to readers –as well as to bring it up-to-date with the latest scientific observations and findings.
Although this book is literally somewhat “briefer,” it actually expands on the great subjects of the original. Purely technical concepts, such as the mathematics of chaotic boundary conditions, are gone. Conversely, subjects of wide interest that were difficult to follow because they were interspersed throughout the book have now been given entire chapters of their own, including relativity, curved space, and quantum theory.
This reorganization has allowed the authors to expand areas of special interest and recent progress, from the latest developments in string theory to exciting developments in the search for a complete unified theory of all the forces of physics. Like prior editions of the book–but even more so–A Briefer History of Time will guide nonscientists everywhere in the ongoing search for the tantalizing secrets at the heart of time and space.
About the Author(s)
STEPHEN HAWKING is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge; his other books for the general reader include the essay collection Black Holes and Baby Universes and The Universe in a Nutshell.
Physicist LEONARD MLODINOW, his collaborator for this new edition, has taught at Cal Tech, written for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and is the author of Euclid’s Window and Feynman’s Rainbow and the coauthor of the children’s book series The Kids of Einstein Elementary.
Gets somewhat caught in the switches, November 4, 2005
I do not have a science background, and I did not read a Brief History of Time when it was originally published or thereafter. So this review is written to a fairly small category of potential readers — those like me with an interest in modern physics but without much background.
I thought the book was exceptionally well written, and it was outstanding in places. It was certainly a very fun read, and I think it achieves a very lofty goal — making liberal arts grads like me understand both the desirability and potential implications of reconciling general relativity and quantum physics. But, overall, I thought it tried to walk too fine a tightrope between discussing complex subjects and at the same time attempting to be as conversational and accessible as possible. That is a lofty goal — hard to achieve I think. The reality is that some of these concepts are very very difficult to the uninitiated, so the cursory treatment the authors sometimes give them, in their attempt to make the book accessible and to live up to the "briefER" in the title, actually at times makes the book harder to understand, not easier. It is most acute in the book’s introduction to uncertainty, quantum physics, and understanding the implications of interference experiments. More detail, not less, was needed here to reach the authors’ goal of accessibility. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t seeking a text heavily laden with mathematics or equations. I just think the overriding editorial doctrine with this book was to condense wherever possible, and that is just not always possible or desirable.
All that said, the book achieves it purpose: To take some of the amazing intelligence and insight of one of the world’s most important thinkers, squeeze it into understandable packets, and give us ordinary folk some insight into the exciting times in which anyone interested in the Universe and its fundamental questions live. But to steal a little from Einstein, I thought the authors didn’t quite follow the second half of his famous exhortation to make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.