Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Book Review: My Brief History – Stephen Hawking

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Relative to the rest of his works, Stephen Hawking’s Autobiography, aptly named My Brief History, is actually a fairly quick read. However even in its brevity, it still could be split into two significant parts – a biographical portion and a scientific portion.

The first half is a fascinating journey of his early life, including his family’s struggles living in England during and after World War II. For both parents being “Intellectuals” as he calls them, they actually were not particularly well off, as his father made a living from research grants to study tropical diseases.

Stephen worked his way up through the educational system of the time, and made his way into Oxford knowing he wanted to study physics. Cosmology (science of the origin and fate of the universe), was Stephens ultimate passion, but was not a well studied field at the time, primarily due to the explosion of particle physics after the advent of the Hydrogen bomb. Nevertheless, Stephen worked his way into a research position as a grad student at Oxford, and began his quest towards his greatest discoveries.

Of course one of the most notable facts about Stephen Hawking is his battle with ALS, and he thoroughly discusses his symptoms and physical deterioration throughout the battle. He does not, however, discuss it as if it was a curse, but rather just a challenge he faced.  He states more than once how he is fortunate to be a theoretical scientist, as almost any other career would be impossible for him.

The second half of the book starts becoming more of a discussion on his scientific research. He bounces back and forth between technical commentary and relevant life experiences during the time, which is very interesting, if not a bit confusing. The closer his story gets to the present day, the more interested he is in explaining his discoveries and theories, which tend the story towards some of his more technical writings. For someone who has read his books such as A Brief History of Time (to which this book owes its namesake), The Universe in A Nutshell, The Grand Design, etc, it is a familiar and welcome style of writing. These sections may be a bit off-putting to someone who is new to Hawking’s technical writing.

I thought this was an excellent autobiography that settles itself perfectly between being a life story and being a learning experience.  Though Hawking is one of the most important and recognizable scientists of our time, he does not approach his biography with any sort of egotism or pride. In fact in many cases his humility leaves the story a bit lacking. Nevertheless, I am glad to have read it, and hope you might consider enjoying it too.

Verdict: 4/5