The changing of the year always prompts me to note the swift passage of time. And the realization that we now have fewer than 50 years to wait until first contact with an alien species, as established in the Star Trek canon, makes me think of space. So what better book to highlight this month than Stephen Hawking’s non-fiction classic, “A Brief History of Time”?
In his acknowledgments for the book, first published in 1988, Hawking writes: “…the basic ideas about the origin and fate of the universe can be stated without mathematics in a form that people without a scientific education can understand. This is what I have attempted to do in this book.” More than almost any other modern-day scientist, Hawking helped the average person get a grasp on what physicists mean when they discuss the big bang or quantum mechanics or black holes, and why they now refer to space-time as one single term rather than two separate things. In “A Brief History of Time” he provides an historical overview of beliefs about the workings of the universe, beginning with Aristotle. Then he moves into current (at the time) knowledge and theories.
In 2005, Hawking published “A Briefer History of Time,” an updated and even more simplified version of his earlier work, for those of us whose brains move at a pace considerably slower than the speed of light. He followed this in 2010 with “The Grand Design,” co-authored by Leonard Mlodinow, which discusses further recent developments in cosmology, including something called M-theory.
Hawking’s life is as interesting as the subjects he explores, and he shares some of the details in his new autobiography, “My Brief History.” He just celebrated his 72nd birthday on January 8, over 50 years after being diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21 and told he didn’t have many years to live. But he spends more time discussing his research and education than his physical condition. Late bloomers take heart – he did not learn to read until he was 8 years old.
For those who can’t get enough Stephen Hawking in their lives, he maintains a website with up-to-date information about himself and his work: http://www.hawking.org.uk.