Review, Book: Hawking's History of Time

Review.Book: A Brief History of Time

Nexus

Introduction to Physics and Black Holes.

Bibliography

Hawking, Stephen (1998). “A Brief History of Time”. New York: Bantam Books.

Abstract

Introduction to Physics and Black Holes.

Review

The first half of the book, up to the beginning of chapter 6, is a basic introduction to physics that anybody with a decent education probably already knows.
From thereon, things get more interesting, yet Hawking text is riddled with condescendence against the reader and his fellows. At the same time, he uses many references to other physicists as arguments for his points, without illuminating the reader on the contents of the referred statements. Also, the spaghetti astronaut example is boring and overused quite like the “millions millions millions millions […]”.
However, the biggest problem of the book is that the content has to be taken quite much at face value. It is quite impossible to follow the argumentation of Hawking, because it is essentially based on mathematical calculations that are never demonstrated. And understanding the implications of the important discoveries made by recent physicists cannot really be expected – seeing how people like Hawking himself and his peers had to spend decades trying to comprehend them.
The real reason Hawking wrote this book is best found in the conclusion. There, Hawking crowns himself the spiritual successor of Galileo, Newton and Einstein. In my opinion, this conceited self-praise would not be necessary and undermines the quality of the whole book – if Hawking tries to make himself look as good as possible, his argumentation is certainly fitted to that purpose. And since the argumentation is difficult to grok and has to be trusted, this fact lowers the value of the book.

Recommendation

Anybody in knowledge of the names Newton and Einstein should skip to chapter 6. Those who don’t are in dire need of additional education in physics, but I am almost certain that there are better resources than Stephen Hawking available. But as I do not have any specifics, Hawking introduction should also do the trick.
As for the second part, it is an exercise in mind-bending, if one is so inclined and does not expect the lecture to have any practical consequences. And if one can live with Hawking drumming into oneself that Hawking himself is solely on the apex of physics, which he might well be.

Quotes

“The idea of radiation from black holes was the first example of a prediction that depended in an essential way on both the great theories of this century, general relativity and quantum mechanics. It aroused a lot of opposition initially because it upset the existing viewpoint: “How can a black hole emit anything?” When I first announced the results of my calculations at a conference at the Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, I was greeted with general incredulity. At the end of my talk the chairman of the session, John G. Taylor from Kings College, London, claimed it was all nonsense. He even wrote a paper to that effect. However, in the end most people, including John Taylor, have come to the conclusion that black holes must radiate like hot bodies, if our ideas about general relativity and quantum mechanics are correct. Thus, even though we have not yet managed to find a primordial black hole, it would have to be emitting a lot of gamma rays and X rays.”

“I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death!”

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