I’ve been a fan of Brian Cox for years. His infectious enthusiasm, his ability to boil down complex concepts for an average dude without a physics degree, and his clear passion for what he does, make him compelling viewing.
So after seeing him and Jeff Forshaw lecture on the subject of this book, I decided to get a bit more in depth and check out the book.
It’s excellent. The guys are able to help me to understand and visualise relativity. This is easier said than done with such a counter-intuitive topic, and they do it with style.
They look at space, time, spacetime, relativity and mass. They bring in a bit of chemistry making things clear that I didn’t get at school.
The last book I read on this topic was Hawking’s Brief History which was rubbish. Badly written and impenetrable.
I came from this book with a much clearer understanding of E=mc^2, particle physics and where we’re going with the latest research.
I’ll read it again for sure.
This is apparently the second most unread book on British bookshelves, after the bible. Reason enough to have a read.
As I started to read this book the language was very non technical and it seemed very accessible. As I got into it however, I started to be disappointed: for some basic things, like describing what probability is, he went into ludicrous detail using patronising analogies. But then it got to the meat of some of the theories, such as Feynman’s multiple histories, and he glossed over the idea.
The synopsis of the sequel – A Briefer History of Time – says “readers have repeatedly told Professor Hawking of their great difficulty in understanding some of the book’s most important concepts” so it looks like it’s not just me.
The impression I came away with after reading this book, is that we have some useful theories – general and special relativity, quantum theory, etc. that describe the universe well. However, the impression I got about a lot of the other theories about origins, black holes, boundaries, etc. is that they are made up ideas that might explain things, but nobody really knows. Almost like they’re metaphors to describe what might be. Maybe that’s his way of getting across what they mean, but then I’d have preferred some more of the thinking behind them, and more of the observations that match the theories.
In short, this is probably better as a review of the ideas for someone that already has a good understanding of the physics; there are better books out there to get the hang of these ideas (see Jeff Forshaw and Brian Cox’s excellent books).