A Brief History of Time

by Stephen Hawking

Well, here’s another one that’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time now. And I think I can be excused for being a bit intimidated by this one. I mean, it’s not that long or anything, but I was well concerned that opening A Brief History of Time would be closer to observing unrelated words on a page than reading. Though, perhaps this was unfounded, or at least I was being a bit too hard on myself, because I’m pretty sure I got it.

That said, I don’t think I should really toot my own horn too firmly here, because a great deal of this accessibility comes from the book’s presentation and Hawking’s excellent writing. Though A Brief History of Time explores the complex scientific theories explaining lofty concepts such as the origins of the universe, time travel, and the quest to develop a theory that adequately explains how everything works in our universe, the presentation is straightforward and compelling. He begins with a rundown of intellectual movements throughout history that governed the way humans understood the world around them, providing context for discussions of more modern theories. As we move forward, Hawking offers brief and simple explanations for complicated concepts, and that’s part of both the beauty and the difficulty of his book. He throws a concept out there with only a basic discussion of the background needed to understand it, and then moves immediately on to the implications in an equally straightforward manner. Though you may need to stick to a passage and wrestle with it for a bit if it’s new information, those who understand the concept can move on freely without getting bogged down by familiar things, and Hawking gives a patient reader everything he needs to get there. And while some of these concepts most definitely messed me up when I got to the bottom of them, it was equally satisfying when I got there. (It took me multiple readings of one particular passage to get what Hawking was talking about, but, by the end, I finally came to a better understanding of electron orbitals. I mean, I understood the concept well enough to solve problems successfully in university, but I never really got it until now. Either I’ve grown in my capacity for understanding since then, or Hawking’s an excellent teacher.)

And that’s the long and short of it: A Brief History of Time presents concepts that mess with your head in a clear and concise fashion. If you want to have a better understanding of the universe we find ourselves within, give it a try.