I know, I know. It may seem out of character for me, but I do pick up a book every so often for some light reading. Again, I can hear what you’re thinking. “Umm, RJ, exactly how is Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time light reading?” You’re right, it’s not. However, it’s the closest you’ll ever get to light reading when it comes to books about theoretical physics. I read this book as part of research for a pilot that I want to write (I also have to read Paradise Lost at one point, when you guys see it it’ll make sense). Other than that, though, it was one of those books that I had heard a few people talk about but simply never got around to reading. Until now, that is.
I picked up this book having absolutely no idea what to expect. I had heard good things about it, yes, but exactly how entertaining could a book like this be? Despite what people said, I couldn’t help but think that reading this book was going to be like watching Requiem for a Dream, unpleasant but beneficial in the long run. This fear was made worse by the thought of having Stephen Hawking’s computer robot voice in my head the entire time I read this book. By the end of the introduction, though, this fear immediately evaporated. Within the first few paragraphs, he makes the joke “I’ve sold more books about theoretical physics than Madonna has sold about sex”. When I read that, I laughed audibly, causing Will to glance at the book cover before shooting me a confused look. I much prefer reading Hawking’s writing than listening to him speak, mainly because, on paper, he’s freed from the confines of his crippled body and able to be witty and engaging and charming. He peppers the incredibly deep concepts he presents with random tidbits of humor. For instance, whenever he comes up with a new theory that another physicist tries to contradict, he will always make a bet with them. But he always bets against his own theories. That way, even if he’s wrong, at least he wins the bet. Speaking of bets, one of the ones he made with a colleague involved magazine subscriptions. When Hawking lost the bet, he not only ordered his rival the subscription he wanted, but also included a subscription to Penthouse forum just for the hell of it. When you read this book, it feels less like you’re getting a lecture from him and more like you’re sitting next to him at a bar.
Granted, the stuff that he discusses is still really deep and really complex. This isn’t the kind of book you typically just pick up on a whim (kind of like I did) and just breeze through. I couldn’t read more than one or two chapters of this book at a time. As easy as it is to read Hawking’s writing, the material is still really dense. I would read a chapter or two and then have to put the book down for a day or two just to digest everything that he said. So yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this for just your average person who is looking for a new book to read. Granted, I’m sure your average person isn’t going to want to sit on the toilet and read Stephen Hawking, and I certainly don’t blame them. There’s a reason it took me several months to finish this book. I’m the kind of reader that has to build up momentum. I can read a Harry Potter book in a day or two, but this takes me considerably longer.
That said, if you’re at least vaguely familiar with the concept of String or Superstring theory and are looking for something to help put things in terms that you are capable of understanding, this book is a great place to start. I realize that there probably aren’t a whole lot of people who want to casually learn theoretical physics, but it doesn’t hurt to give it a shot.
That said, I know that my next book will be considerably less complex.