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3 Minute Stephen Hawking (His life,…
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3 Minute Stephen Hawking (His life, theories, and influence in 3 minute…

by Paul Parsons, Gail Dixon

Other authors: John Gribbin (Foreword)

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This is a brief review, NOT of this book, but of the format: three minutes . . . . I laughed at first: how ridiculous, I thought. Stephen Hawking in three-minute "sound bites," reduced to print.

But wait a minute. I am NOT a physicist. Even Hawking's popular science books are well beyond me. I could/would never devote three hours to a book by or about him, much less the time and effort it would take me to decipher a serious work. However, as I discovered years ago , if I want to learn something about a topic about which I know next to nothing, the best thing I can do is to go to the children's collection in the nearest public library. Good children's books, even those for pre-kindergarten children, are accurate and succinct. Furthermore, they are likely to be simpler, clearer, more comprehensible, and more engaging than any adult encyclopedia, handbook, or book meant for popular consumption. (Books on such topics designed for popular consumption all too often are intended, not for reading, but for library shelves or coffee tables or the "gotta-read-this-someday" stack in the bathroom -- in other words, they are published to be bought but not to be read.)

These "3-minute" books have come up with a format that serves the same purpose as well-written chilldren's books. They too can be accurate and must be succinct. For the person who simply wants to be "culturally literate," to have a general understanding of topics referred to in the news and bounced around in intellectual circles, such a presentation is exactly what is needed: simple but accurate, clear but interesting.

This book is divided into three sections (life, theories, influence), each with twenty 3-minute pages -- adding up to a total of three hours. I've checked them out; they are almost exactly that. Each 3-minute page has a title, three one-minute paragraphs with subheadings, a 3-second summary, cross references, and a brief, pithy quotation.

Now this particular book, I must admit, is not particularly well-done. It's jumpy, repetitious, and a bit haphazard. But it's the format I'm reviewing, and I must tell you that, in spite of its somewhat amateurish writing, this book has kept me engaged and has left me a bit better informed than I was before purchasing it. The three one-minute paragraphs could sometimes be more closely related, the relationships among them clearer; the 3-second briefs are just window dressing, of little or no value. The full-page illustrations facing each 3-minute page are attractive, well-designed, colorful and delightful, sometimes even informative, but they are not necessary to the format.

I must confess that, though I have read the first three pages of the "theories" section is this book -- devoted to Einstein's special relativity, general relativity, and black holes -- I don't understand any of these concepts better than I did to begin with. In fact, I've read them three times each, determined to comprehend. Oh, I have the vocabulary, terms I can use as if I were knowledgeable, but I have only the vaguest notion of what they mean.

Black holes, for instance, are such intense centers of gravity that if you fell over the edge into one, you would be turned into spaghetti. Wow! But just exactly what gravity is and how it gets intensified in these centers is still beyond me. So I can throw around the term, but be no more knowledgeable than I was before.

As a whole, however, the format is genuinely commendable. I would love to see similar books on Freud, Jung, quantum physics, Michael Foucault, John Dewey, Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, Norbert Wiener, Steve Jobs, igor Stravinsky, Frank Gehry, Allen Ginsberg, post-structuralism, Noh drama, ballet, Wagner, Verdi, DNA, and many, many more topics.

So for the format four and a half stars; for this book as an example -- well maybe one and a half. ( )
  bfrank | Aug 18, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Parsonsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dixon, Gailmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Gribbin, JohnForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Stephen Hawking is arguably the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein. This title provides an instant introduction to this exceptional genius. It also explores his work on gravitational singularities (black holes), the nature of time, and much more.… (more)

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