On the heels of a somewhat disappointing science book in this meme, I felt I’d be pretty safe with this one. Written in ’88, it’s a bit dated for a cosmology/astrophysics tome, but it’s landmark enough (cosmology for the layman? what a concept!) to merit it’s expansion in 1998. Sadly, my library only had the original.
While written in a distinctly different style than the subpar Electric Universe or the—dare I say it?—orgasmic A Short History of Nearly Everything, Hawking’s book manages to cover extremely highbrow scientific concepts in a way that, while still baffling, is most certainly readable. Take this excerpt, for example:
If the universe really is in such a quantum state, there would be no singularities in the history of the universe in imaginary time. It might seem therefore that my more recent work had completely undone the results of my earlier work on singularities. But, as indicated above, the real importance of the singularity theorems was that they showed that the gravitational field must become so strong that quantum gravitational effects could no longer be ignored. This in turn led to the idea that the universe could be finite in imaginary time but without boundaries or singularities. When one goes back to the real time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities
Of course! It’s so simple! No, really, no matter how good a writer Stephen may be, his non-“Lucasian Professor of Mathematics” readers will only understand this material on a superficial level. Still, I found it absolutely fascinating, as Hawking manages to find a happy medium between technical specificity and reader-friendly vagueness. The only formula he includes is e=mc2, and for very good reason: someone told him—kidding “on the square”—that every formula included halves the book’s sales numbers.
So, you never know what mathematician/cosmologist will end up penning a decent book. Had I let Brian Greene’s atrocious Nova special color my opinions of him, I never would have read The Fabric of the Cosmos, which was superb. Again, however, I must stress that if you aren’t a science/tech geek, even on a very basic level, this book might be too much for you, and you might be better off with the rather toothless scientific jaunts of David Bodanis.