Saturday, December 31, 2016

Depth of field

I don't know why I thought The Theory of Everything was a book more on par with A Brief History of Time than a series of lectures, but here we are. What's funny is that I had the chance to hear Hawking give one of these lectures (the one about black holes) at Cal Tech a few years ago when I bought my copy of A Brief History of Time so I feel a bit cheated - I'd already internalized at least a seventh of the book in Hawking's own words before I even unwrapped the cellophane on my copy.

TToE isn't a bad book but it's also not much of a physics book. Lectures are good and important, it's great that people who don't read much about science have an opportunity to experience a prominent theoretical physicist discussing physics, but dammit I wanted more science.

TToE is fairly superficial - it's actually a shockingly fast read - and the tone is more introductory and colloquial than other works I've read by Hawking. The science is largely sound but it isn't explored in depth in any way (and Hawking's final thoughts that a ToE will be settled by the end of the twentieth century seems ridiculously outdated now, as does the book's exploration of string theory, but those are due to time).

I wish that this had been the first book I'd read by Hawking, it's a great way to ease into larger discussions on the origins of the universe and the history of time and unified field theory, but it doesn't do anything to actually increase your understanding of science if you have anything beyond a basic understanding of the current theories in the field. And I have juuuuuuust enough knowledge that this book didn't tell me anything that I didn't already know. There are lots of references to astronauts in unfortunate encounters with black holes but none of the interesting diagrams or thought experiments or mathematics that you will run into when flipping through more comprehensive books.

All in all this was something of a let-down. It's a great read if you're new to physics, it would be a fantastic way to introduce a young reader to a new field of study, but it just isn't what I was expecting, and I suppose that's on me for not doing my research.

     - Alli

Hawking, Stephen. The Theory of Everything. Jaico Books. Mumbai: India. 2009. (1996).

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