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A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes by Stephen Hawking (1988)

  1. 20
    Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays by Stephen W. Hawking (gandalf_grey)
  2. 32
    Six Easy Pieces: Essentials of Physics Explained by Its Most Brilliant Teacher by Richard P. Feynman (OccamsHammer)
  3. 10
    The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality by Brian Greene (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Although it's longer, Brian Greene's book is much more easily digestible. Plus, he gives you an idea of what they're hoping to discover at the Large Hadron Collider.
  4. 00
    Knowledge and Wonder by Victor F. Weisskopf (erik_galicki)
    erik_galicki: I think Weisskopf strikes a better balance between big picture and detail. Hawking provides more detail on particle physics and cosmology, but I think Weisskopf makes the connections between the two more apparent and clearer.
  5. 00
    From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll (steve.clason)
  6. 00
    Chaos and Harmony: Perspectives on Scientific Revolutions of the 20th Century by Xuan Thuan Trinh (Louve_de_mer)
  7. 17
    The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by Dalai Lama XIV (leahsimone)

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Showing 1-5 of 106 (next | show all)
I listened to this book on a long car trip over the holiday… and I hesitate to admit it, but I was unimpressed. It was an older edition borrowed from the library, perhaps the first edition, and the narrator was just awful. He mispronounced many words, and I heard him use incorrect words (if they weren’t, the sentences made absolutely no sense, such as saying “neuron” instead of “neutron”)

I also thought the book was disorganized and was trying to be too many things, therefore failing to give proper attention to any one theme. I feel like I should have read this book when it was first published to be impressed with Hawking’s overview of physics and cosmology. As it was, I have read or heard all these concepts explained much more concisely from other sources.
( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
What I think the biggest achievement of this book is to bring some of the greatest and more complex theories to the non-scientist readers. It is an introduction to cosmology, black holes, light, the creation of the universe and the possibility of time travel.

The title could be a bit misleading. The book may be short but it follows the development of the scientific views about the universe from ancient greeks, through Galilei and Newton, to Laplace and Einstein.

I gave it 4/5 just because some of the theories are oversimplified for my taste. ( )
  muskurov | May 1, 2016 |
What a fantastic book. He managed to make the person most ignorant regarding physics understand, or atleast feel like understanding quantum mechanics and general relativity. All told with a delightful sense of humor and a stunning humility, especially coming from one of the greatest scientists of our time.

I'm happy that the first book regarding science I ever read was one that did not turn me off of the subject for ever due to being to difficult to grasp.
  bartt95 | Apr 10, 2016 |
Ok, this is a five star book, certainly. But I gave it a four because there were several moments when I realized that I hadn't understood a word that was written for a page or two - not the author's fault at all but it did lessen my enjoyment by a hair.

That said I love Hawking - he's very funny, easy (ish) to read (considering the weight of the subject) and inclusive. Hey, anyone who can make theoretical physics engaging, especially to the likes of me - a humanities loving Lit major, has to be a genius right?

I'm ending the year as I began, with some serious Hawk time - love it! ( )
1 vote MartynChuzz | Feb 22, 2016 |
Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time

Bantam, Paperback [2011].

8vo. xi+240 pp. Foreword by the author, May 1996 [ix-xi]. Glossary, Index [223-40].

First published in Great Britain by Bantam Press, 1988.
Bantam edition published, 1989.
Bantam edition reissued, 1995.
Twentieth anniversary edition published by Bantam Press, 2008.
Bantam edition reissued, 2011.
11th printing per number line [11].



1. Our Picture of the Universe
2. Space and Time
3. The Expanding Universe
4. The Uncertainty Principle
5. Elementary Particles and Forces of Nature
6. Black Holes
7. Black Holes Ain’t So Black
8. The Origin and Fate of the Universe
9. The Arrow of Time
10. Wormholes and Time Travel
11. The Unification of Physics
12. Conclusion

Albert Einstein
Galileo Galilei
Isaac Newton


This is really a rather remarkable book. I am not for a moment going to pretend that I understand more than half of it. But I was kept fascinated even by the parts I didn’t get. It’s quite a journey through space and time. On the one hand, it spans the history of science from Aristotle to the latest developments in wacky physics and mind-stretching cosmogony (the original edition was updated in 1996 as made clear in the Foreword). On the other hand, it attempts the much more daunting task to trace the history of the universe from its very beginning (the Big Bang) to its putative end (maybe the Big Crunch, maybe something else). These are huge questions. Moreover, they are discussed with lucid, chatty and engaging brevity seldom encountered even in less abstruse matters. I am willing to attach my incomprehension less to Hawking’s writing than to my mental inability to grasp concepts like, say, “singularity” or “string theory”.

Except for the very first sentence, which foolishly calls Bertrand Russell “a well-known scientist” who once gave a lecture on astronomy, the popular science is excellent. Hawking has a remarkable ability to make you appreciate the great scientists from the past and their unique contribution to human thought. He doesn’t have Bill Bryson’s liveliness and wit, but neither is he fond of tedious biographical gossip.[1] He sticks to the science and explains even the most complex theories with concise precision in a simple non-technical language that all who can read may understand.

Hawking’s discussion of the notoriously difficult Theory of Relativity, both Special and General, is quite a revelation. However complicated the details may be, the essentials are very simple. The Special Theory (1905) merely said, among other things, that space and time are relative to the observer. Both had been considered absolute by all the finest minds from previous centuries. The General Theory (1915) postulated that gravity was not a force, as had been thought by everybody including Newton, but specific distortion of space-time by mass and energy. These simple consequences changed the world of science, if not the world at large, completely and forever. It took the genius of Einstein to do that, just as it took the genius of Galileo to demolish by observation Aristotle’s theoretical nonsense some three centuries earlier. By the way, Galileo’s famous experiment with dropping different weights from the Leaning Tower (almost certainly apocryphal; he actually rolled them on a slope) is also explained with spectacular lucidity. The writing is rather dry on the whole, but just occasionally there is a delightful flash of humour. Here is my favourite example:

When asked: “What did God do before he created the universe?” Augustine didn’t reply: “He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions.” Instead, he said that time was a property of the universe that God created, and that time did not exist before the beginning of the universe.

Evidently the role of St Augustine as a cosmologist should be reconsidered. Hawking agrees with him that it makes no sense to speak of time before the Big Bang. If the universe is indeed expanding, and observation certainly does point in that direction, then obviously it must have started from something smaller: this is as far as the evidence of the Big Bang goes. The rest is wildly speculative and thoroughly entertaining. It is mostly contained in Chapter 8, the longest in the book and, I suspect, the major reason for its existence. I am pleased to say Hawking doesn’t shirk the question that must be in the back of all minds, religious or secular, who read this book. He is cautious and refrains from definite answers, as he should in so highly speculative a matter, but it is clear enough where his sympathies lie. Having discussed the weak and strong anthropic principles and several ingenious models about the beginning and the development of the universe, he concludes the chapter with the unambiguous rhetorical question: “What place, then, for a creator?” (“Creator” is here meant in strictly Einsteinian sense, of course. It has nothing to do with religious fairytales from planet Earth.)

As made clear in the very first chapter and as mentioned numerous times later, Hawking’s great dream is to produce a unified theory that explains the whole universe and predicts its behaviour accurately. He was honest enough to admit that he was still far from achieving that and I somehow doubt that now, twenty years later, he is much closer. He even suggests that this ultimate theory may be a chimera. In the end, we might be forced to study the universe piece by piece, much like we draw the maps of our own planet.

For this formidable challenge means to reconcile Relativity, which may be as weird as you want but it nevertheless remains an essentially deterministic theory, with quantum mechanics, based on the notorious Uncertainty Principle (aka Indeterminacy Principle, Heisenberg’s Principle, etc.) which postulates that you can never know the exact position and velocity of a particle. Unfortunately, most of the discussion revolves around ideas entirely incomprehensible to me. If you can make any sense of “imaginary time”, “virtual particles”, “singularity” or “string theory”, I salute you. I can’t. I can’t even understand why the Uncertainty Principle is such a “fundamental, inescapable property of the world”. It may be, let us assume, as fundamental as it likes in regard to elementary particles, but what about higher levels? That humans are volatile creatures fond of doing stupid things is surely no proof of the Uncertainty Principle on macro level, is it? Charmingly enough, in the very end of his book Hawking allows himself some tentative scepticism about this sacred cow:

The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics implies that certain pairs of quantities, such as the position and velocity of a particle, cannot both be predicted with complete accuracy. Quantum mechanics deals with this situation via a class of quantum theories in which particles don’t have well-defined positions and velocities but are represented by a wave. These quantum theories are deterministic in the sense that they give the laws for the evolution of the wave with time. Thus if one knows the wave at one time, one can calculate it at any other time. The unpredictable, random element comes in only when we try to interpret the wave in terms of the positions and velocities of particles. But maybe this is our mistake: maybe there are no particle positions and velocities, but only waves. It is just that we try to fit the waves to our preconceived ideas of positions and velocities. The resulting mismatch is the cause of the apparent unpredictability.

It would be fun if one day it turns out that much of quantum mechanics is plain wrong, wouldn’t it? But I do think Hawking’s casual dismissal of philosophy two pages later is rather unfair. His argument is that philosophers “have not been able to keep up with the advance of scientific theories.” Rather to the contrary, I should think! Physicists have become philosophers. They are now the primary jugglers with words that nobody else understands

I do have some general reservations about the non-historical part of the book. To cut the long story short, I am sometimes left at sea how much is theory confirmed by observational evidence and how much is merely hypothesis waiting for that honour. At one place in the beginning, in Chapter 1 to be exact, Hawking succinctly states the two conditions for a good scientific theory. First, “it must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements”. Second, “it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations”. What does not fulfil both of these conditions is hypothesis, literature, philosophy or something else, but certainly not science. Hawking has some amazing examples of theoretical predictions that were later confirmed by experiment. To take but a single instance, in 1922 the Russian physicist and mathematician Alexander Friedmann predicted the expanding universe several years before Edwin Hubble observed all those red shifts (also beautifully explained) and actually confirmed it. All Friedmann needed for his achievement were two simple assumptions and genius.

That said, sometimes I am more baffled than enlightened. Do we know that black holes are no more imaginary than the ether that was so popular among nineteenth-century scientists? So far as I can tell from this book, we don’t. This or that is “thought to be” a black hole, but it might just be something else. Discussing an anomaly in the M87 galaxy (some 50 million light-years away!), Hawking boldly observes that “this can only be a black hole.” Apparently he doesn’t think much of Haldane’s famous dictum that the universe is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.[2] That “central object two thousand million times the mass of the sun” in M87 could well be something we have no concept of. How much of the quantum theory, that bizarre world of wave-particle dualities, subatomic particles and what not, has actually been confirmed by experiment and how much is merely fantasy devised to fit otherwise inexplicable data? I cannot tell. The text is somewhat confusing on these issues.

Other mild criticisms include the pathological exclusion of scientific jargon and several somewhat self-serving autobiographical references. I see no good reason for preferring “a thousand million” to “a billion”[3], still less “million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million, million (1 with sixty-six zeros after it)” (this is a real quote from the book) to “10 to the power of 66” (properly written with superscript, of course). At one place we are even told that “an ellipse is an elongated circle”! I do wish pop science writers wouldn’t stoop that low. Lay readers are not necessarily idiots. Formulas are rigorously excluded, too. Not even Newton’s laws enjoy the privilege. This is simply silly. If readers can manage time-space diagrams, they sure can tackle some elementary mathematics as well.[4] As for the autobiography, it is of course necessary. Hawking apparently did a great deal of pioneering work on black holes and other esoteric matters. Yet references to his disease are quite irrelevant, not to use stronger words, and so is his account of a bet about black holes for which he had to pay the penalty of one year subscription to Penthouse. Hawking would do better to leave this inanity to Bill Bryson.

The rumour has it that A Brief History of Time is the most famous pop science book most people have never read. It would be a pity if this is true. As a brief introduction to a complex and immensely difficult subject, this is a wonderful little volume. By no means is it a bedtime read for tired brains, but otherwise it is a fascinating voyage from cover to cover, a genuine mind-expanding drug. Certainly, it leaves a number of questions open, but that is inevitable. I expect to find at least some of them answered in the “sequel”, The Grand Design (2010), which seems to develop further several concepts merely outlined here.

PS Even though I would urge anybody even remotely interested in that strange, strange universe of ours to read that book, I would not urge them to purchase this edition. Hawking’s Foreword and the updates are welcome, but the quality of the figures (mostly diagrams but also some photos) ranges from inferior to dismal. I should think the Illustrated Edition, which also contains the 1996 revisions and Foreword, is a far better choice.

[1] The three brief essays in the end of the book are the only exception. They should have been titled “Einstein and Politics”, “Galileo and the Church” and “The Nasty Character of Isaac Newton”.
[2] The original quotation has “queer” and “queerer” instead of “strange” and “stranger”, but the emphasis is Haldane’s.
[3] I cannot but be reminded of a hilarious scene from Once Upon a Time in the West (1968):
Cheyenne: Listen, Harmonica, a town built around a railroad – mm mm mm mmm – you could make a fortune, huh? Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hey, more than that. Thousands of thousands.
Harmonica: They call them "millions."
Cheyenne: "Millions." Hm.
[4] In his preface to the original edition, Hawking famously remarked that he was told that every equation would halve the sales. So he resolved to have no equations at all except one – you can guess which one. I wish he had shown more faith in the mental equipment of his readers and less interest in the commercial potential of the book. ( )
2 vote Waldstein | Feb 9, 2016 |
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Through his cerebral journeys, Mr. Hawking is bravely taking some of the first, though tentative, steps toward quantizing the early universe, and he offers us a provocative glimpse of the work in progress.

» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hawking, Stephenprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jackson, MichaelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kober, HainerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kreitmeyer, JensCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miller, RonIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sagan, CarlIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varteva, RistoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553380168, Paperback)

Stephen Hawking, one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists in history, wrote the modern classic A Brief History of Time to help nonscientists understand the questions being asked by scientists today: Where did the universe come from? How and why did it begin? Will it come to an end, and if so, how? Hawking attempts to reveal these questions (and where we're looking for answers) using a minimum of technical jargon. Among the topics gracefully covered are gravity, black holes, the Big Bang, the nature of time, and physicists' search for a grand unifying theory. This is deep science; these concepts are so vast (or so tiny) as to cause vertigo while reading, and one can't help but marvel at Hawking's ability to synthesize this difficult subject for people not used to thinking about things like alternate dimensions. The journey is certainly worth taking, for, as Hawking says, the reward of understanding the universe may be a glimpse of "the mind of God." --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:48 -0400)

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"In the ten years since its publication in 1988, Stephen Hawking's classic work has become a landmark volume in scientific writing, with more than nine million copies in forty languages sold worldwide. That edition was on the cutting edge of what was then known about the origins and nature of the universe. But the intervening years have seen extraordinary advances in the technology of observing both the micro- and the macrocosmic worlds. These observations have confirmed many of Professor Hawking's theoretical predictions in the first edition of his book, including the recent discoveries of the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite (COBE), which probed back in time to within 300,000 years of the universe's beginning and revealed wrinkles in the fabric of space-time that he had projected." "Eager to bring to his original text the new knowledge revealed by these observations, as well as his own recent research, Professor Hawking has prepared a new introduction to the book, written an entirely new chapter on wormholes and time travel, and updated the chapters throughout."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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