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No master of the written word
am 6. Dezember 1999
Hawking is no master of the written word. Early on, he warns us not to consult his earlier books for more detail - because they are "quite unreadable". He also admits that, during the production of this book, his editor bombarded him with comments and questions. The impact of this editorial input is plain. The book wallows from unnecessarily long complex sentences written in the passive sense to snappy anecdotes from Hawking's life.
I found the early chapters very useful as overviews of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. The middle chapters - on black holes and the origin of the Universe - were clearly written with enthusiasm.
However, that enthusiasm seemed to fade towards the end of the book. The chapter on the arrows of time seems to have been lifted from an old speech. Here's what I'm about to tell you: this is what I'm saying: this is what I've just told you.
Also, the explanation of the cosmological arrow of time left a lot of questions hanging. Question: What will happen when the Universe starts to contract - will people start to experience time running backwards? Answer: Intelligent life could not exist because, by then, all the stars will have burned out. Well, OK - but does that answer whether time is in reverse or not?
Chapter 10 introduces string theory. Clearly this is an incredibly complicated subject and not capable of being explained in a book entitled "Brief History". However, the way the subject is introduced and then dropped is tantalising. Apparently, string theories are only consistent if space-time has either ten or twenty-six dimensions. All these extra dimensions are curled up into space of a very small size. I, for one, would have liked more explanation of what that means.
In summary, a useful but frustrating book that varies in tone as the pages turn. I feel a better populist book would have resulted if Hawking had used a ghost writer to interpret his ideas, rather than simply submitting his own words to the scrutiny of an editor.