Title: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes
Author: Stephen Hawking
Genre: Nonfiction / Science
Date: 2016 (1987)
Publisher: Bantam Press
Started: 10th September 2018
Completed: 11th September 2018
Summary: Was there a beginning of time? Could time run backwards? Is the universe infinite or does it have boundaries? These are just some of the questions considered in the internationally acclaimed masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest thinkers. It begins by reviewing the great theories of the cosmos from Newton to Einstein, before delving into the secrets which still lie at the heart of space and time – from the Big Bang to black holes, via spiral galaxies and string theory.
Stephen Hawking (1942 – 2018) was a British theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and author. He worked at the University of Cambridge until his death and he wrote several popular science nonfiction books alongside his academic career.
I have always admired Stephen Hawking and it was a huge loss for Britain and the entire world when he passed away earlier this year. After his death, two Russian astronomers dedicated their discovery of a black hole to Stephen Hawking as he was well known for his theories on black holes, including the theory of Hawking Radiation.
I loved almost everything about this book. It’s funny, engaging, and extremely well written. I feel like if I had read this when I was taking my A-Level Physics exams I would have done a lot better than I did. I always say that if I hadn’t done English Literature at university I would have done a degree in theoretical physics (and this is evidenced by the personal statement I wrote for such a degree which never made it to the universities I had chosen).
One of the things I love the most is that Professor Hawking’s personality shines through the writing. He uses a lot of exclamation marks which is incredibly endearing because it emphasises his own excitement for the topic and it makes you excited to read it! I also love that, since this is an updated edition, he added in tidbits about how his own thoughts and theories have changed over the years. He may have helped to prove that the Big Bang almost certainly happened but he disagreed with his own work and eventually wrote a theory (along with Professor Thomas Hertog) that the universe is actually finite and much simpler than his original work suggested.
I also really liked that Professor Hawking explored the history of physics from Aristotle onwards. He doesn’t include every significant figure since this is a very short book (indicated by the title) but it’s fascinating to see how our theories have and have not evolved since antiquity. I’m a huge history nerd so this aspect of the book really appealed to me.
Since this is a popular science book I do wish that some things were explained in more detail. They are explained eventually but sometimes you can get a little bit lost until all is revealed a page or so later. Reading this book actually prompted a lot of my knowledge of physics that I thought I’d lost, such as all of the equations used in quantum mechanics, and it was really nice to be plunged into that world again after being away from it for so long.
The book also touches on the friction between religion and science. It gives examples such as Galileo who believed in the independence of science but was still a devout Catholic. He battled against the institution of the Catholic Church and even ended up on house arrest due to things that he wrote about science but he still believed in God. There was a lovely little section in the book where Hawking says that the sun and moon could still be gods, as with many non-Abrahamic religions, but they are gods that must adhere to strict rules.
The only thing I disliked was one of the final sections of the books which was about the state of philosophy after the eighteenth century. Hawking claimed that examining language was a ‘come-down from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant’ (Hawking, 2016, p.209). Philosophy may not be the same as it was in the eighteenth century but it’s still pretty awesome.
Overall, this is a fantastic book which covers a small amount of the history of the universe and how it came into existence. It covers everything from gravity to black holes, from Aristotle to feuding Professors at the University of Cambridge. I really enjoyed reading it and I’d recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in physics. I’m definitely going to read more of Stephen Hawking’s books in the future and more science books. I’ll probably avoid the books of Professor Brian Cox and Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson but I’d welcome all other suggestions!