Bob Nichols's Reviews > The Universe in a Nutshell

The Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking
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's review
Jun 29, 2011

it was ok
Read in June, 2011

This book doesn't do much to clarify Hawking's earlier work. There are more pictures and diagrams, but the narrative is overly abbreviated or unclear. Other books by other writers do a better job of describing the same material (and even Hawking's own theoretical contributions).

There are a few observations in this book that stood out as ways of conveying difficult concepts. Spacetime is best viewed not as passive background, for example, but as an active participant "in the dynamics of the universe." He makes it clear that there is vacuum energy in space and that it corresponds to matter (with gravitational effects), per Einstein's formula that equates matter and energy. In his glossary, Hawking gives a good definition of mass (quantity of matter in a body, which is it's inertia or resistance to acceleration). Hawking also writes that matter and energy decouple after the big bang. Off hand, this seems to say that underlying matter and energy in the pre-big bang moment there is just one thing. Or, alternatively, he may be saying that "raw" energy is the most basic constituent in the universe and that matter flows out of it (after initial cooling), eventually allowing the formation of inorganic (quarks, atoms, molecules) and then, organic compounds. If the latter, this also implies that there is a significant directionality and identity (i.e., what combines with what, and how) that lies at the cosmic core.

At the end of this book, Hawking strays a bit by saying that human intelligence is defined by brain size, which makes one wonder about Neanderthals, whales and elephants, and he predicts that after a couple of decades, the computer will be as complex as the human brain.
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