My Brief History

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

Stephen Hawking has dazzled readers worldwide with a string of bestsellers exploring the mysteries of the universe. Now, for the first time, perhaps the most brilliant cosmologist of our age turns his gaze inward for a revealing look at his own life and intellectual evolution.
 
My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years...

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

Stephen Hawking has dazzled readers worldwide with a string of bestsellers exploring the mysteries of the universe. Now, for the first time, perhaps the most brilliant cosmologist of our age turns his gaze inward for a revealing look at his own life and intellectual evolution.
 
My Brief History recounts Stephen Hawking’s improbable journey, from his postwar London boyhood to his years of international acclaim and celebrity. Lavishly illustrated with rarely seen photographs, this concise, witty, and candid account introduces readers to a Hawking rarely glimpsed in previous books: the inquisitive schoolboy whose classmates nicknamed him Einstein; the jokester who once placed a bet with a colleague over the existence of a particular black hole; and the young husband and father struggling to gain a foothold in the world of physics and cosmology.
 
Writing with characteristic humility and humor, Hawking opens up about the challenges that confronted him following his diagnosis of ALS at age twenty-one. Tracing his development as a thinker, he explains how the prospect of an early death urged him onward through numerous intellectual breakthroughs, and talks about the genesis of his masterpiece A Brief History of Time—one of the iconic books of the twentieth century.
 
Clear-eyed, intimate, and wise, My Brief History opens a window for the rest of us into Hawking’s personal cosmos.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345535283
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 119,083
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge for thirty years. He is the author of several books, including the worldwide publishing phenomenon A Brief History of Time, A Briefer History of Time (written with Leonard Mlodinow), The Universe in a Nutshell, The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, and the essay collection Black Holes and Baby Universes.

Biography

In the universe as a whole, the nature of black holes may be one of the most puzzling mysteries. No less puzzling, in the slightly smaller universe of book publishing, is the astounding popular success of Stephen Hawking's 1988 book on the matter, or anti-matter, as it were: A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes.

Clocking in at just over 200 pages, it was, indeed, brief, but it was hardly the easy read its marketers promised. Nor did it stray much beyond the tone of a scholarly lecture, though at times it did take quick autobiographical peeks into Hawking's personal life. Still, it is just the author's persona that may have been the selling point prompting more than 10 million people worldwide to pick up a copy -- and to have it translated into more than 40 languages in the 10 years since its release.

For Stephen Hawking is an instantly recognizable public figure -- even for those who haven't delved into his so far unprovable theories about black holes. Stricken by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- or Lou Gehrig's disease, as it is called in the States -- while he was working toward his doctorate at Cambridge University, this Englishman is known for the keen wit and intellect that reside within his severely disabled body. He uses a motorized wheelchair to get around and a voice synthesizer to communicate -- a development, he complains, that has given him an American accent. He has guest-starred, in cartoon form, on an episode of The Simpsons and has appeared in the flesh on Star Trek: The Next Generation, using the benefits of time travel to play poker with Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. (He has said he doesn't believe in the theory himself, noting that the most powerful evidence of its impossibility is the present-day dearth of time-traveling tourists from the future.)

The son of a research biologist, Hawking resisted familial urging that he major in biology and instead studied physics and chemistry -- as a nod to his father -- when he went to Oxford University as a 17-year-old. In academic writing, Hawking had an extensive career pre-History, starting with The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, coauthored with G.F.R. Ellis in 1973. But in the late 1980s, faced with the expenses incurred by his illness, he took up Bantam Books' offer to explain the mysteries of the universe to the lay public.

"This is one of the best books for laymen on this subject that has appeared in recent years," The Christian Science Monitor wrote in 1988. "Hawking is one of the greatest theoretical cosmologists of our time. He is greater, by consensus among his colleagues, than other expert authors who have written good popular books on the subject recently. And he is greater, by far, than the ‘experts' who have ‘explained' quantum physics and cosmology in terms that support a religious agenda." And The New York Times in April 1988 said, "Through his cerebral journeys, Mr. Hawking is bravely taking some of the first, though tentative, steps toward quantizing the early universe, and he offers us a provocative glimpse of the work in progress."

Since then, A Brief History of Time has been republished in an illustrated edition (1996) and as an updated and expanded 10th anniversary edition (1998). In Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, a collection of 13 essays and the transcript of an extended interview with the BBC, Hawking turned more autobiographical, mixing stories about his studies in college and the beginning of his awareness that he had ALS with thoughts on how black holes can spawn baby universes and on the scientific community's efforts to create a unified theory that will explain everything in the universe. And in The Universe in a Nutshell, his sequel to A Brief History of Time, Hawking takes the same approach as he did in his first bestseller, explaining to the lay reader such ideas as the superstring theory, supergravity, time travel, and quantum theory.

A common current in Hawking's writing -- aside from his grasp of the complexities of the universe -- is a sharp wit. In one of the rare personal reflections in A Brief History of Time, he said he began thinking about black holes in the early 1970s in the evenings as he was getting ready for bed: "My disability makes this rather a slow process, so I had plenty of time." In life, he has a reputation for quickly turning his wheelchair away of a conversation that displeases him, even running his wheels over the toes of the offending conversant.

Even questions about his muse are likely to draw an answer tinged with pointed humor. When Time asked Hawking why he decided to add explaining the universe to a schedule already taxed by his scholarly writing and lecture tours, he answered, "I have to pay for my nurses."

Good To Know

Hawking worked 1,000 hours in his three years at Oxford, roughly an hour a day. "I'm not proud of this lack of work," he said in Stephen Hawking's a Brief History of Time: A Reader's Companion. "I'm just describing my attitude at the time, which I shared with most of my fellow students: an attitude of complete boredom and feeling that nothing was worth making an effort for."

Despite his science degrees, Hawking has no formal training in math and has said he had to pick up what he knows as he went along.

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    1. Hometown:
      Cambridge, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 8, 1942
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England

Read an Excerpt

9780345535283|excerpt

Hawking / MY BRIEF HISTORY

1

Childhood

My father, Frank, came from a line of tenant farmers in Yorkshire, England. His grandfather—my great-grandfather John Hawking—had been a wealthy farmer, but he had bought too many farms and had gone bankrupt in the agricultural depression at the beginning of this century. His son Robert—my grandfather—tried to help his father but went bankrupt himself. Fortunately, Robert’s wife owned a house in Boroughbridge in which she ran a school, and this brought in a small amount of income. They thus managed to send their son to Oxford, where he studied medicine.

My father won a series of scholarships and prizes, which enabled him to send money back to his parents. He then went into research in tropical medicine, and in 1937 he traveled to East Africa as part of his research. When the war began, he made an overland journey across Africa and down the Congo River to get a ship back to England, where he volunteered for military service. He was told, however, that he was more valuable in medical research.

My mother was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the third of eight children of a family doctor. The eldest was a girl with Down syndrome, who lived separately with a caregiver until she died at the age of thirteen. The family moved south to Devon when my mother was twelve. Like my father’s family, hers was not well off. Nevertheless, they too managed to send my mother to Oxford. After Oxford, she had various jobs, including that of inspector of taxes, which she did not like. She gave that up to become a secretary, which was how she met my father in the early years of the war.

I was born on January 8, 1942, exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo. I estimate, however, that about two hundred thousand other babies were also born that day. I don’t know whether any of them was later interested in astronomy.

I was born in Oxford, even though my parents were living in London. This was because during World War II, the Germans had an agreement that they would not bomb Oxford and Cambridge, in return for the British not bombing Heidelberg and Göttingen. It is a pity that this civilized sort of arrangement couldn’t have been extended to more cities.

We lived in Highgate, in north London. My sister Mary was born eighteen months after me, and I’m told I did not welcome her arrival. All through our childhood there was a certain tension between us, fed by the narrow difference in our ages. In our adult life, however, this tension has disappeared, as we have gone different ways. She became a doctor, which pleased my father.

My sister Philippa was born when I was nearly five and better able to understand what was happening. I can remember looking forward to her arrival so that there would be three of us to play games. She was a very intense and perceptive child, and I always respected her judgment and opinions. My brother, Edward, was adopted much later, when I was fourteen, so he hardly entered my childhood at all. He was very different from the other three children, being completely non-academic and non-intellectual, which was probably good for us. He was a rather difficult child, but one couldn’t help liking him. He died in 2004 from a cause that was never properly determined; the most likely explanation is that he was poisoned by fumes from the glue he was using for renovations in his flat.

My earliest memory is of standing in the nursery of Byron House School in Highgate and crying my head off. All around me, children were playing with what seemed like wonderful toys, and I wanted to join in. But I was only two and a half, this was the first time I had been left with people I didn’t know, and I was scared. I think my parents were rather surprised at my reaction, because I was their first child and they had been following child development textbooks that said that children ought to be ready to start making social relationships at two. But they took me away after that awful morning and didn’t send me back to Byron House for another year and a half.

At that time, during and just after the war, Highgate was an area in which a number of scientific and academic people lived. (In another country they would have been called intellectuals, but the English have never admitted to having any intellectuals.) All these parents sent their children to Byron House School, which was a very progressive school for those times.

I remember complaining to my parents that the school wasn’t teaching me anything. The educators at Byron House didn’t believe in what was then the accepted way of drilling things into you. Instead, you were supposed to learn to read without realizing you were being taught. In the end, I did learn to read, but not until the fairly late age of eight. My sister Philippa was taught to read by more conventional methods and could read by the age of four. But then, she was definitely brighter than me.

We lived in a tall, narrow Victorian house, which my parents had bought very cheaply during the war, when everyone thought London was going to be bombed flat. In fact, a V-2 rocket landed a few houses away from ours. I was away with my mother and sister at the time, but my father was in the house. Fortunately, he was not hurt, and the house was not badly damaged. But for years there was a large bomb site down the road, on which I used to play with my friend Howard, who lived three doors the other way. Howard was a revelation to me because his parents weren’t intellectuals like the parents of all the other children I knew. He went to the council school, not Byron House, and he knew about football and boxing, sports that my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of following.

Another early memory was getting my first train set. Toys were not manufactured during the war, at least not for the home market. But I had a passionate interest in model trains. My father tried making me a wooden train, but that didn’t satisfy me, as I wanted something that moved on its own. So he got a secondhand clockwork train, repaired it with a soldering iron, and gave it to me for Christmas when I was nearly three. That train didn’t work very well. But my father went to America just after the war, and when he came back on the Queen Mary he brought my mother some nylons, which were not obtainable in Britain at that time. He brought my sister Mary a doll that closed its eyes when you laid it down. And he brought me an American train, complete with a cowcatcher and a figure-eight track. I can still remember my excitement as I opened the box.

Clockwork trains, which you had to wind up, were all very well, but what I really wanted were electric trains. I used to spend hours watching a model railway club layout in Crouch End, near Highgate. I dreamed about electric trains. Finally, when both my parents were away somewhere, I took the opportunity to draw out of the Post Office bank all of the very modest amount of money that people had given me on special occasions such as my christening. I used the money to buy an electric train set, but frustratingly enough, it didn’t work very well either. I should have taken the set back and demanded that the shop or manufacturer replace it, but in those days the attitude was that it was a privilege to buy something, and it was just your bad luck if it turned out to be faulty. So I paid for the electric motor of the engine to be serviced, but it never worked very well, even then.

Later on, in my teens, I built model airplanes and boats. I was never very good with my hands, but I did this with my school friend John McClenahan, who was much better and whose father had a workshop in their house. My aim was always to build working models that I could control. I didn’t care what they looked like. I think it was the same drive that led me to invent a series of very complicated games with another school friend, Roger Ferneyhough. There was a manufacturing game, complete with factories in which units of different colors were made, roads and railways on which they were carried, and a stock market. There was a war game, played on a board of four thousand squares, and even a feudal game, in which each player was a whole dynasty, with a family tree. I think these games, as well as the trains, boats, and airplanes, came from an urge to know how systems worked and how to control them. Since I began my PhD, this need has been met by my research into cosmology. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it, in a way.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 12, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    I have been a longtime fan of Stephen Hawking. The details of St

    I have been a longtime fan of Stephen Hawking. The details of Stephen’s childhood, wherein he was nicknamed Einstein by his fellow classmates, are all enthralling. Stephen writes with humility and even humor. It is an excellent book.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 10, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    A class book of a man who himself is a class in himself. I have

    A class book of a man who himself is a class in himself. I have read works of Prof. Hawkins, both academic and popular, and have been fascinated by them. I once considered, and still do, everything as thermodynamic heat engines. We humans included. And this great legend-today's Isaac Newton, wrote long time back on thermodynamics of Black holes. I would say this book-'My Brief History' is the thermodynamics of this great man himself. We identify his sources and sinks. But one thing is true, if at all we had to calculate his Carnot efficiency, that would truly go more than a 100 percent. That is because he has defied death and lived. He is making his life like the subject which is making him live- infinite-not just in length but in breath. From string theory to black holes, the intensity of his life is reflected in his studies. If we were to consider his theories like a Shakespearean drama, then his life is all the real drama, with same or sometimes more emotions, that takes place behind the scenes.
    Autobiography of such a genius and fighter will help future generations to get inspired and help themselves overcome various obstacles, scientific and social, and come up with ideas that can change the world-yet again.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 3, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    My Brief History is a wonderfully insightful memoir. Many recogn

    My Brief History is a wonderfully insightful memoir. Many recognize Stephen Hawkins as a genius, but My Brief History gives us a look into his childhood and upbringing. It takes us through his evolution into one of our generation’s greatest minds. It is beautifully written and an amazing story of success and hope.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2013

    Interesting

    An interesting look into the life of one of science's greatest minds. This wasn't particularity deep or complicated but it was a nice enjoyable read about a fascinating man.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2013

    Very Interesting

    A short but fascinating look into the life of a very unique man. This is not an in depth biography, so if you're looking for a lot of details, this won't be your thing.

    A lot things get glossed over, which only serve to show the things that are really personally important to Hawking.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 12, 2013

    Well worth the read

    A personal look at a brilliant and extraordinary individual!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 4, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    Enjoyed it very much

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted June 29, 2014

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    Posted April 5, 2014

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    Posted April 29, 2014

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