A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time

In the ten years since its publication in 1988, Stephen Hawking's classic work has become a landmark volume in scientific writing, with more than nine million copies in forty languages sold worldwide. That edition was on the cutting edge of what was then known about the origins and nature of the universe. But the intervening years have seen extraordinary advances in the te...

Title:A Brief History of Time
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:0553380168
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:212 pages

A Brief History of Time Reviews

  • Daniel
    Sep 22, 2007

    It is not clear to me who is in the target audience for this book. At times it tries to explain basic concepts of modern physics in simple language, and at other times it assumes a familiarity with the same subject. For the first time I think I "understand" why absolute time is not consistent with relativity theory or that space-time curvature supplants the notion of gravity, and for that I thank the author. There are a few other things I believe I have a glimpse of having (finally) slogged thro

    It is not clear to me who is in the target audience for this book. At times it tries to explain basic concepts of modern physics in simple language, and at other times it assumes a familiarity with the same subject. For the first time I think I "understand" why absolute time is not consistent with relativity theory or that space-time curvature supplants the notion of gravity, and for that I thank the author. There are a few other things I believe I have a glimpse of having (finally) slogged through the book.

    On the other hand, there are many places where he writes as if it were clear what he is talking about even though it would require a good deal of background knowledge. To give but one example, he starts talking about summing up over possible world histories (I cannot locate the quotation) without explaining what that would mean. Trained in statistics, I have some idea that he is talking about mathematical expectation in the context of quantum mechanics, but I don't know how another reader might make any sense of it (and I certainly don't have more than a vague notion).

    There are irritating writing practices that could have used some editing, e.g., the use of the naked pronominal adjective "this" when in the middle of a dense explanation of an abstruse concept(e.g., "This had serious implications for the ultimate fate of massive stars.").

    My biggest complaints, however, are about his philosophical opinions. Obviously he is entitled to think as he wishes about the ultimate questions, but his assertion that his hypothesis of a finite world without beginning or end would leave no place for God seems beside the point. The classic divide has not changed: some folks look around and say stuff just is, and other folks say there's a power behind the stuff that has at least as much going for it as we do. That argument hasn't changed with his theories. At one point in the book he claims that the late John Paul II told gathered scientists that they mustn't inquire into the Big Bang because that was God's territory. I would wager with anyone reading this comment that such an assertion is just plain false. JPII was a flawed mortal, to be sure, but he was no dope; it certainly sounds to me like someone hearing what he thinks the pope would say. (And the Galileo jokes are pretty dumb -- does anyone think that JPII, who apologized for the embarrassing Galileo fiasco, would go after this guy? It must be all that influence the Vatican has had in Britain over the last 400 years that has him scared.)

    Other philosophical complaints involve his use of entropy (he defines it first within closed systems and then uses it to explain why the "thermodynamic arrow of time" and the "personal arrow of time" must run in the same direction -- leaping from a box of molecules to the entire universe!), his droning on about what black holes are like when he doesn't know for sure they exist, his statements about "random" and being 95% certain a theory is true (does that mean about 95 out of 100 theories like that are true??). His opinions may be very rich, deep, though-provoking, but how would I (or most general readers) know? You can't really evaluate a judgment unless you know something in the field.

    And so that is why I ultimately cannot recommend this book: if you know physics inside and out, you might find his opinions interesting. If you don't, you can only walk around parroting what he says about black holes as if you had a clue what you were talking about. What we all really need is a remedial course in physics!

  • Bill
    Sep 09, 2008

    This book puts me in mind of the story about how a Harvard number theorist, through some malfunction of the scheduling computer, got assigned to teach an introductory course in pre-calculus. Being one of those individuals to whom math came so easily that they couldn't grasp how difficult others found it, the professor had no idea what to cover in such a course.

    So, he went to the chair of the department, who told him: "You'll want to start with the real number-line and then progress to inequalit

    This book puts me in mind of the story about how a Harvard number theorist, through some malfunction of the scheduling computer, got assigned to teach an introductory course in pre-calculus. Being one of those individuals to whom math came so easily that they couldn't grasp how difficult others found it, the professor had no idea what to cover in such a course.

    So, he went to the chair of the department, who told him: "You'll want to start with the real number-line and then progress to inequalities; from there, move on to quadratic equations, then trigonometry and the wrapping function, Cartesian and polar coordinate systems, and, if time permits, conic sections."

    The professor thanked the chairperson and went off to meet with his first class. Next week, he was back.

    "What should I teach them now?" he said.

    is like that -- Professor Hawking doesn't seem to notice when his treatment progresses from the obvious to the arcane, ending with his concept of "imaginary time" (very nearly incomprehensible in this overly brief presentation).

    Fun nonetheless.

  • Laurel
    Oct 05, 2009

    If I had a slightly more evolved brain or were as brilliantly smart as, say, Stephen Hawking, I might give this book 4 or 5 stars. I'm pretty certain it deserves 4 or 5 stars. But my brain is only (I like to think) a bit above average. And so, yes, I admit it -- much of this (especially when delving into his own theories) was over my head. And while I found what I did understand absolutely fascinating, I can't really give it more than 3 stars because doing so would imply I really "got it."

    I actu

    If I had a slightly more evolved brain or were as brilliantly smart as, say, Stephen Hawking, I might give this book 4 or 5 stars. I'm pretty certain it deserves 4 or 5 stars. But my brain is only (I like to think) a bit above average. And so, yes, I admit it -- much of this (especially when delving into his own theories) was over my head. And while I found what I did understand absolutely fascinating, I can't really give it more than 3 stars because doing so would imply I really "got it."

    I actually love quantum physics. I find that learning about how the universe works is just about the most intriguing thing in the... well, in the universe. :) The problem is that I am quite mathematically challenged. As soon as someone starts talking equations, my brain shuts down.

    I like to think that I would have been better able to follow this book if I'd read the print version. I am very visual when it comes to learning. With the print version, I would be able to read sentences that were hard to absorb multiple times, until they made more sense to me. However, with the audio version, whenever Hawking lost me, I tended to just tune out.

    Definitely worth the read, though. It's fascinating just to enter the mind of one so brilliant.

  • Huda Yahya
    Mar 17, 2013

    ‎‏‏

    ‏ إن لم تكن قد قرأت كتاباً علمياً من قبل ،أو على الأقل تابعت بعض الدوريات و المواقع العلمية ، ‏فلا أنصحك بهذاالكتاب كبداية

    فسوف تجده مملاً قليلاً ،وستجد نفسك غارقاً في المصطلحات التي ستشتّت ‏انتباهك،وتعيقك عن الإستمتاع به

    وهذا الكتاب يحتاج للقراءة لكثيرٍ من المرّات كي تتشبع بمعلوماته ،و يحتاج لكثير من القراءات الخارجية كذلك

    الكتاب معلوماته قيمة وشيقة لواحدٍ من أهم العلماء ‏الذين أنجبتهم الأرض

    ولا يزال علم الفلك متعة عظيمة ،، ‏

    وتحليقنا بين المجرّات محفّز عظيم للخيال

  • Ahmad  Ebaid
    Mar 28, 2014
  • David Sarkies
    Oct 03, 2014

    11 October 2014

    Ever since I took up physics in year 11 I have had a love affair with the subject, which is odd since I went on to study an arts/law degree (but that probably had something to do with the fact that I would not have had the staying power to pour all of my energy into helping human knowledge advance towards establishing a unified theory). I still wonder where I ended up getting this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for quite a while (pro

    11 October 2014

    Ever since I took up physics in year 11 I have had a love affair with the subject, which is odd since I went on to study an arts/law degree (but that probably had something to do with the fact that I would not have had the staying power to pour all of my energy into helping human knowledge advance towards establishing a unified theory). I still wonder where I ended up getting this book, and it had been sitting on my shelf for quite a while (probably because I was too busy listening to people tell me why I shouldn't read this book), but it wasn't until

    said that it was the most unfinished book (that is people start reading it but do not have the staying power to get to the end) ever written (I'm sure there are other books that beat this book though). There are quite a few things that I have discovered while reading this book, and it is these discoveries that I wish to share with you:

    One of the impressions that I got from certain people was that this was a book that an atheist wrote to try to argue that God does not exist, in much the same way that

    does in his books. However, that statement could not be further from the truth. In fact, throughout the book the question of the existence of God perpetually hangs in the background. Granted, Hawkings does suggest that if the concept of a infinite bounded universe (don't ask) turns out to be true then it would undermine God's existence, however he does not actually say that this may be the case. In fact his final sentence in this book is that the reason we study physics and try to find a unified theory is because we, as a race, seek to understand the mind of God.

    This probably goes without saying, especially since the cover of my book says that it is a 'record breaking best seller'. While he is involved in some very serious and complicated research he is able to write in a way that many of us who have probably studied physics up to a year twelve level (that is the end of High school) can understand. Okay, I probably have an advantage over most other people since my Dad is a theoretical physicist that we have regular conversations about some of these high level concepts (such as by having any more than three dimensions would cause the orbits of the planets to collapse), but I still found that he was very easy to follow and he explained many of these high level concepts in a way that many of us could understand.

    Many of us would be familiar with this guy:

    but as it turns out, after reading this book, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of theoretical physicists seem to live in the same world that he does. Okay, they probably don't spend their time at the comic book store, or arguing whether Babylon Five is better than Star Trek (actually, one of my primary school friends is a theoretical physicist, and we did have such an argument), but they do seem to see the world in a way that we ordinary people would consider strange.

    For instance, we see space as flat, meaning that if we look at a star, as far as we are concerned the star is in that direction. However physicists see space as being curved and that a straight line is not necessarily straight. We would see a brick wall as being a solid object and that the idea of walking through one would result in a sore nose. However physicists see it as being made up of mostly space, and the only reason we can't walk through it is because the nuclear forces (forces that exist inside an atom, not the force that can level an entire city) prevent us for doing so. Then there is the concept of dimensions: to us there are only three dimensions, however some scientists (and Hawking is not one of them) see that there are in fact ten, or even more, dimensions.

    While reading this book I could not get past about how complex this universe is and it made me wonder why it is, with the mathematical precision of the universe, and the complexity that lies therein, that so many scientists seem to argue that it all came about by chance. Even Hawking argues, using the second law of thermodynamics, that the universe cannot move from a state of disorder to a state of order – a broken plate simply cannot mend itself. However, the argument also goes that with the Big Bang Theory (not the television show) that the universe began in a state of disorder and moved to a state of order, however the laws of physics seem to suggest otherwise because what the big bang did was sent in motion a series of laws that caused the universe to come about to what we have at the moment. However, to go into details would require some intense theoretical physics, something which I have do desire to delve into at the moment.

    The truth is that it is not. Okay, if light were travelling through a vacuum where there are no external forces acting upon it, then it is a constant, but that is very rarely the case. Take for instance this phenomena:

    The reason light behaves thus is because when it hits the prism it SLOWS DOWN, and when it slows down it refracts. Thus my point is proven, the speed of light is only a constant when there are no external forces acting upon it.

    So, what external forces may act upon light in space. Well, first of all there are black holes. When light hits a black hole the force of gravity is so strong that it will actually prevent light from escaping. Thus, gravity is a force that effects light and slows it down. Then there is the concept of

    , which are clouds of matter that do not emit light and float between the star systems. Okay, we know very little about the stuff (and it is also a theory, so it has not been proven) but my hypothesis is that if this stuff exists then would it not have an effect upon light, namely by slowing it down, which means that there is a possibility that our calculations as to the distance of stars from our own Sun could actually be wrong?

    One of the things that Hawking stresses in this book is that theories are not actually proven. A theory is an idea that has some foundation based on mathematical calculations and empirical evidence. Therein lies the problem. Much of our understanding of the universe is based upon mathematical calculations, and it appears that if an event comes about which causes this mathematical calculation to break down, they immediately set out to try to find another mathematical equation to plug the hole.

    Take light for instance. For years we believed that light acted as a wave and suddenly it was discovered that it also behaves like a particle (a particle of light is called a photon). The same goes with matter – for years we believed that they were particles when all of the sudden we discovered that they can also behave like waves. As such, our understanding of the universe suddenly breaks down (meaning that we are not necessarily made up of atoms, but have wavelike properties as well).

    Mathematical equations have been very destructive in out modern world. Take the Global Financial Crisis for instance. A bunch of apparently really smart people create complex mathematical equations to determine when to buy and sell shares and how to make billions of dollars. However what these equations did not take into account was the fact that people could not simply continue to accumulate debt without having to pay it back and when people began to default on their loans enmass, the whole concept broke down and we were taken to the brink of financial armageddon.

    Another point goes back to Ancient Greece. Here we have the theory of Democritus, namely that matter was not infinitely indivisible (the smallest piece of matter is an atom), and then the theory of Aristotle, that is that matter is infinitely divisible. Scientists preferred Democritus' theory, however they soon discovered that you could break down the atom into protons and neutrons, and you could even break them down to quarks. So, maybe Aristotle was right after all.

    It goes without saying that their research and discoveries have lead to the computer that I am writing this on, the energy that powers our devices, and the bombs that can level entire cities. We know how to make a nuclear bomb, as well as a smart phone, so we don't question what they say, because it obviously works. However, as a friend of mine once said, it is still all based on theory, and just because something works does not necessarily mean that the theory is correct. Remember that penicillin was discovered by blind chance.

    Okay, maybe the people that win these prizes are actually really smart, but then again, the guys who set up

    also won a Nobel prize, which proves my point.

    Gravity is one of those odd forces that doesn't seem to connect with any of the other forces in our universe. As Hawking points out, there are four forces that have been identified: electro-magnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and gravity. Out of those four forces (five if you divide electric and magnetic, but since electricity will create a magnetic force, they are effectively combined) only gravity stands out. This is probably why Hawking spends so much time talking about black holes because black holes are where the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape from its grasp. The other thing is that gravity does not, at least in our knowledge, have an opposing force. Gravity basically sucks, and that is all it does – it doesn't repulse as the other forces can.

    It is interesting that in some texts that I have read (maybe it is speculative science-fiction but I simply cannot remember off the top of my head) some people have suggested that gravity is actually a force from another universe that affects our universe and what it is effectively doing is sucking our universe into their universe. However, as I have said, that is incredibly speculative, and since I am not a theoretical physicist I can't really say any more on the subject.

    The idea of the God of the Gaps is that where there are gaps in our knowledge we simply say 'oh, God did that' and think nothing more of it. This goes back to the days of paganism (and Medieval Europe) where all of the unknown forces, such as the weather, was attributed God (or the gods) and we could not know anything beyond that fact. However I am arguing that it is a cop out. Creation scientists who resort to this argument are at best lazy and at worst dangerous. The reason I say that is that it discourages research into areas that we do not understand. Okay, we may never be able to control the weather, or predict earthquakes, but that does not mean that we should throw our hands up in the air and say 'this is too hard'.

    While I may be taking a swipe at creation scientists here, I would also take a swipe at the atheists who claim that there is no God. The reason I say that is because there seems to be a fear within the scientific community that suggests that we may not be able to know everything, or that our understanding of the universe may be wrong. The problem that arises is that if we throw the idea of God out of the window and claim that the universe came about by chance, then we deny the fact that we live in an incredibly ordered universe that we can learn and understand through the development of mathematical formulae. If a formulae turns out to be wrong, that does not mean that the universe will collapse in on itself – it won't – it just means that we have to go back to the drawing board and start over from scratch.

    Why is it that some members of the scientific community insist that we must take the Bible literally? The Bible is not a scientific text, and it was never meant to be a scientific text. It is a theological text that tells us how we should live with one another and how we should view God. Science exists beyond the Bible, and neither contradicts the other. Okay, granted, God has intervened in this world and done things that break the laws of science, but doesn't he have a right to do that – he created the universe? However, what the Bible tells us is that God is a god of order, and if he is a god of order then does it not make sense that the universe that he created is an ordered universe?

    So, maybe you are looking for a whiz bang conclusion to my exposition on this book, but all I can say is that what I have written above pretty much sums up what I have learnt from this book. In a nutshell (hey, this is me in a nutshell), all I can say is that what I have learnt from this book is that the world is an amazingly ordered place in which we live, and having now completed this book I am just as committed to my Christian faith as I ever was. However, if theoretical physics fascinates you, then this is certainly a book that you should give a read (though you have probably done that already).

    This review also appears on my

    . I have also commented on this book in my review on

    .

  • Foad
    Jan 07, 2015

    خیلی وقت بود دنبال یه کتاب بودم که نظریات فیزیک جدید رو توضیح بده. زیاد از اصل عدم قطعیت و کوانتوم و نسبیت و نظریه ی ریسمان ها و سیاهچاله و کرمچاله و انفجار بزرگ و غیره و غیره شنیدیم، ولی شاید از هیچ کدوم تصور درستی نداشته باشیم. این کتاب خیلی از این نظریات رو مفصل توضیح میده.

    استيون هاوكينگ يك مستند سه قسمتى داره، به نام "به سوى كيهان، همراه با استيون هاوكينگ" با صداى بى نظير بنديكت كامبربچ، كه بيشتر مباحث اين كتاب رو، بسيار بسيار ساده تر توضيح ميده. توصيه مى كنم كسانى كه تازه مى خوان مطالعات كي

    خیلی وقت بود دنبال یه کتاب بودم که نظریات فیزیک جدید رو توضیح بده. زیاد از اصل عدم قطعیت و کوانتوم و نسبیت و نظریه ی ریسمان ها و سیاهچاله و کرمچاله و انفجار بزرگ و غیره و غیره شنیدیم، ولی شاید از هیچ کدوم تصور درستی نداشته باشیم. این کتاب خیلی از این نظریات رو مفصل توضیح میده.

    استيون هاوكينگ يك مستند سه قسمتى داره، به نام "به سوى كيهان، همراه با استيون هاوكينگ" با صداى بى نظير بنديكت كامبربچ، كه بيشتر مباحث اين كتاب رو، بسيار بسيار ساده تر توضيح ميده. توصيه مى كنم كسانى كه تازه مى خوان مطالعات كيهان شناسى رو شروع كنن، قبل از اين كتاب اون مستند رو ببينن.

    Into the Universe With Stephen Hawking

    مشکل اصلی کتاب، اینه گاهی زبانش خیلی فیزیکی میشه. به نظر میرسه آدم باید اطلاعات زیادی از فیزیک داشته باشه تا حرف کتاب رو بفهمه. من دانش فیزیکم در حد سوم دبیرستان و چیزهایی که جسته گریخته از این ور و اون ور خونده بودم هستش، در نتیجه شاید نصف کتاب رو آن چنان که باید و شاید نفهمیدم. خود استیون هاوکینگ میگه که ناشر بهش گفته بود: "به ازای هر فرمولی که در کتاب به کار ببری، فروش کتاب نصف میشه" و درسته که تقریباً هیچ فرمولی در کتاب به کار نرفته، اما همچنان زبان کتاب سنگینه. در مؤخره ی کتاب، نوشته بود این کتاب یکی از "ناخوانده" ترین کتاب های تاریخ ادبیاته. یعنی عده ی زیادی خریدن کتاب رو و حتی ادعا میکنن خوندنش، ولی در حقیقت نخوندنش! میشه فهمید چرا.

    اما جاهایی که دانش ناقص فیزیکم یاری میکرد یا خود کتاب ساده بود، خیلی خیلی عالی بود کتاب. قصد دارم یه بار دیگه بخونمش به همین زودی ها. تاریخ فیزیک از دوره ی ارسطو تا نیوتون تا آینشتاین و هایزنبرگ، مباحث کیهان شناسی، مثل گسترش جهان یا محاسبه ی فاصله ی کهکشان ها، برخی از مباحث فیزیک جدید، مثل اصل عدم قطعیت و نسبیت، جزء جاهایی بود که کمابیش فهمیدم و خیلی لذت بردم.

    گاهی هم مطالب علمی رو کلاً رها میکرد و شروع میکرد به تعریف زندگی خودش. مثلاً میگفت این نظریه در فلان تاریخ مطرح شد، در اون زمان من با دختری آشنا شده بودم و میخواستم باهاش ازدواج کنم و شروع میکنه ماجرای خودش رو تعریف کردن.

    کتاب بعدی از این نویسنده، "کیهان در پوست گردو" هستش که قصد دارم به زودی بخرم.

  • Jason Koivu
    Feb 07, 2017

    Isn't it amazing that a person can read a book like

    by Stephen Hawking and come away feeling both smarter and dumber than before he started? What a universe we live in!

    It's quite short and generally a quick read. Not every page is filled with mind-numbing theories and brain-busting equations. Some of it is just history, say on Newton and such. However, there were a few pages worth of passages where my wee brain felt like it was getting sucked into a black hole...mainly du

    Isn't it amazing that a person can read a book like

    by Stephen Hawking and come away feeling both smarter and dumber than before he started? What a universe we live in!

    It's quite short and generally a quick read. Not every page is filled with mind-numbing theories and brain-busting equations. Some of it is just history, say on Newton and such. However, there were a few pages worth of passages where my wee brain felt like it was getting sucked into a black hole...mainly during the black hole segment.

    I've forgotten so much since I left school, and since school was such a long time ago, some of what was taught back then is now outdated, so it was nice to read this refresher/cleanser.

    I came away with a better understanding of the Big Bang theory and why it's plausible. I'm trying to sort out the time/space quantifiability thing. That's going to require a reread...and probably further study elsewhere.

    Surprisingly, I also came away with the idea that God and science can coexist. I didn't expect that. I figured someone like Hawking would be like, "God? Pssh, whatever." But that's not his take at all, or at least that not the impression this book left me with.

    was written with accessibility in mind, knowing full well idiots like me wouldn't buy it, read it or recommend it if it were impossibly dense. Hawking's sense of humor even comes through on occasion, which is always appreciated in these sciencey texty thingies. So, I'll probably move on to his

    next and I'd be quite willing to read others as well!


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