Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Brief History Of Time

Stephen W. Hawking is very likely the most famous physicist in the world. This is partially as a result of the public's amazement that a man who is so severely disabled by motor neuron disease (Hawking has lost almost all ability to move his extremities and can only "speak" through the aid of an specially designed electronic device), can be such a brilliant scientist. But part of Hawking's fame is in his wiliness to present to the general public his fascinating views on Cosmology.

What makes Stephen W. Hawking's popular introduction to Cosmology different than others, is that it's written by one of the leading class expert. While Professor Hawking's has not won his Nobel prize yet (largely because no way yet been found to prove if his theories are right or wrong) he like his friends Roger Penrose and Kip Thorne, is one of the leaders in the field.

Hawking does insert himself into the story, but never obtrusively, just enough to remind you that science is carried out by real people. For instance he writes,

"However, one evening in November that year, shortly after the birth of my daughter, Lucy, I started to think about black holes as I was getting into bed. My disability makes this rather a slow process, so I had plenty of time."

His most interesting chapter is perhaps "Black Holes Ain't So Black" where he describes the discovery (which he was very involved in himself) that because of quantum effects, energy and particles can be emitted from black holes.

"A Brief History Of Time" contains no mathematics what so ever. Hawking was warned that every equation would half his readership and has avoided all except E = mc2.

The book ends with three short biographical sketches of the great physicists Galileo, Newton and Einstein. Hawking justifiably describes Isaac Newton as "not a pleasant man". Ironically both Hawking and Newton held the same position: Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University.


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