(XKCD – 799. This comic isn’t relevant to the book review, really, I just wanted an excuse to post it…)
“Today will still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.”
I recently noted that great writers can make the intricacies of life seem simple and help you better understand the world around you with just a genius turn of phrase. Put another way, it takes an incredible mind to make the complex seem manageable. Hawking condenses time itself into two-hundred and forty pages here, and through crisp examples leaves you (for the most part) with a basic understanding of these impossibly large subjects. Metaphors keep this book alive.
Quarks; general relativity; string theory; quantum physics; black holes. These are often thought of as theories far outside a layman’s potential for easy understanding, so some people brush them aside, on the basis that there’s too much to learn and no clear place to start. This book gives you a good foundation for wrestling with huge ideas, and much more. A Brief History of Time isn’t as quick as a Brian Cox documentary, but it’s not too hard. Hawking proves that while some scientific theories can be anything but intuitive, when they’re explained by a great mind they’re bloody fascinating.
My relevant amazing science credentials going into this: GCSE physics and a love of documentaries, especially those which trick me into thinking I’ve understood a bit about space (especially when Carl Sagan’s narrating). It’s therefore a testament to this book’s readability that I finished it, let alone came away with the (possibly delusional) impression that I’d understood a good chunk. I’d recommend this to anyone who’s curious about the history of everything.