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A definitive biography of a remarkable man and a brilliant scientist. Scarcely able to move or speak as a result of motor-neuron disease, Hawking has vastly expanded our scientific knowledge and made his discoveries accessible to the layperson in his bestselling book A Brief History of Time.
|1||The Day Galileo Died||1|
|4||Doctors and Doctorates||56|
|5||From Black Holes to the Big Bang||74|
|6||Marriage and Fellowship||87|
|8||The Breakthrough Years||117|
|9||When Black Holes Explode||135|
|10||The Foothills of Fame||152|
|11||Back to the Beginning||175|
|13||When the Universe Has Babies||207|
|14||A Brief History of Time||220|
|15||The End of Physics?||252|
|16||Hollywood, Fame, and Fortune||265|
|17||A Brief History of Time Travel||292|
|18||Stephen Hawking: Superstar||304|
|About the Authors||329|
Douglas Adams once described the writing process as "banging your forehead against the keyboard until the keys are covered in blood." The creative process is hell. But the reward is that after you have been through the hell, you understand the subject better than you ever did before. I guess (although I have no personal experience) that it is like mountain climbing -- the climb itself may be murder, but the view from the peak is breathtaking. You learn more if you have someone to work with (and pinch things from), and along the way you have someone to bitch at when the going gets tough.
My most frequent, and longest-suffering, collaborator is my wife. In particular, we have worked together on books for young readers, where the climb is only made possible at all thanks to the skills of my coauthor, whose day job involves teaching children with reading difficulties, and who knows everything there is to know about expressing thoughts clearly and simply. First, I have to understand the subject myself. Then, I have to make her understand. And then, between us we express it in language that she feels is suitable for the intended audience (this involves a certain amount of "creative tension," which I shall draw a veil over here). And only then, it turns out, do I really understand it myself. This is a totally different process from writing about the same sort of things for adults, who can be assumed to have some initial interest in the subject, or they wouldn't be reading the book at all. For ten-year-olds, no prior knowledge can be assumed. But the essence of collaboration is still the same -- I have learned something for myself.
Which is why I started writing books at all, because I wanted to know about things that were not easily available in books I could understand. For years, I went around telling anyone who would listen that ideas like relativity theory and quantum physics ought to be explained to nonscientists, to give them a feel for the excitement of modern science, and an insight into what their tax dollars are being spent on. And then I got the response, "OK, do it." It proved harder than I thought, but I got there in the end, often with the help of an expert coauthor.
Of course, there are different kinds of expertise. In my collaborations with Michael White, for example, I have been the scientific "expert," and he has been the one who introduced me to a new kind of communication, as befits a former member of a bestselling pop group (the Thomson Twins). It is much easier than in most of my other collaborations to tell who did what in those scientific biographies of Hawking, Einstein, and Darwin -- more or less alternating chapters on life and science provide a pretty obvious clue, and it would never have occurred to me to include Shirley MacLaine and Tears for Fears in the story. But as with all the collaborations, the whole ends up being greater than the sum of its parts, which is another rewarding reason for the enterprise.
The most rewarding of these collaborations (in all but financial terms) are those for young people. The rewards are not immediate, because I have no contact with the readers. But we have been beavering away at this task for just long enough now that we occasionally receive gratifying email communications from 16-18-year-olds who say that they were turned on to science by reading one or other of our books, and are now planning a degree, and a career studying black holes or DNA or something of the kind. Gratifying, but an awesome responsibility; I look forward with some trepidation to the emails I may be getting from those same people in five or six years' time. John Gribbin