Jennifer's Reviews > The Grand Design

The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking
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Aug 05, 12

bookshelves: non-fiction, science, owned, physics
Read in July, 2012

So I was in an airport with very little time to spare before my flight, but knowing I had hours of transit yet before I'd be home and I'd just run out of book. The only airport bookstore I found was tiny and the books on the shelvers were all titles I could only imagine reading under extreme duress (or, rather, wouldn't want to be seen reading unless under extreme duress -- I'm such a snob), and I was on my way out of the store, despairing of having anything to entertain myself but my own over-active and troublesome imagination, but especially no shield against strangers and the rest of the world, when I saw the name Stephen Hawking in big, stark letters and I knew I was saved.

Just for background, without the influence of Stephen Hawking, I might not have a master's degree in physics. Really. I count four main influences (other than my parents) in my choice of a physics degree. The other three were teachers/professors. A boy who was enamored of me once sent me a copy of A Brief History of Time. It was a really good gift. Probably the best gift I ever got from a boyfriend before I met my husband, who buys me bookshelves. (I just checked, because I couldn't remember, and the book wasn't inscribed. That boy was kind of an idiot.)

This is a book of grand ideas on the nature of the universe -- that tries to establish an understanding of the scientific theories on the most basic and fundamental questions underlying the universe. So, you know, big. From grand unified theories to the big bang to string theory, with multi-verses, alternate histories, and the probability of a Chinese pope along the way. It goes about explaining all this with humor, some fabulous illustrations, and Hawking's trademark straight-forwardness, which assures that "all of this is understandable."

That said, I had my usual complaint about this book that I have about all science books written for a lay audience. That is, my understanding is always deepened when I can see the math. It's just how my brain works. Most lay readers, however, are terrified of equations, so it will remain a problem for me. It only really bothered me in the section on Feynman's sum over histories -- something never really covered in any of my classes, but which I'd like to understand better. Time to get myself a textbook?

I would say there is no better place to look for a small, easy-to-understand (but intelligent!) book on the current scientific understanding of the history and structure of the universe, were it not for the recent (maybe) discovery of the Higgs boson -- there's not so much on elementary particles here. Still recommended, anyway.
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