April 1, 2020

Review: Black Holes & Baby Universes by Stephen Hawking.

A Hawking Classic!

Many know the man, but few have read his work… this week, we take a look at Black Holes & Baby Universes, a collection of essays, speeches and musings by the eminent physicist Stephen Hawking. Though his body may be revenged by Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS, his mind is as fertile as ever. Hawking has a scientific sort of celebrity not seen since Einstein, and has made appearances on everything from The Simpsons (“I knew I should have listened to that wheel-chair guy,” laments a black hole-bound Homer) to Star Trek the Next Generation. When a controversial view is needed on anything from God to aliens, we look toward Hawking for sage advice as one of the greatest minds of our time… but how many of us actually read his pivotal work that put him on the map, A Brief History of Time?

True, while many found it obligatory to have on our coffee tables, few know of Hawking’s contributions to cosmology and black hole physics ala Hawking radiation. Like in A Brief History of Time, Hawking interweaves his personal journey through the world of physics with his own life struggles, and I think that deeply personal and intimate journey through the cosmos that he continues to take us on in Black Holes and Baby Universes is what provides so many with a winning formula. Like Sagan’s Cosmos, to understand the universe and mind of Hawking is to gain a deep understanding of ourselves and what it means to be human. Math-o-phoebes fear not, as Hawking doesn’t venture much past the seminal E=mc2 (legend has it that his publisher admonished him that each mathematical formula would halve sales) but what lies within is a snapshot of modern cosmology and physics that is still largely true today.

What are the consequences of entropy? What is the ultimate fate of the universe? What are the underpinnings of reality? Hawking shows us that these really big questions are accessible to all, and that a scientific literacy is an essential key to our continued survival as a species.

Musings on the phenomena that was A Brief History of Time also dot the book, as the collection of essays cover from 1976 to 1992. I’ve always loved the counter-intuitive title of A Brief History; after all, the first thing they tell you when coming up with a thesis is to not make your topic too broad, right? Of course, physics is about broad things… it’s been quipped that “everything else is just stamp-collecting…”

Do give Black Holes & Baby Universes a read, perhaps as a follow-up to that copy of A Brief History of Time you’ve had tucked away for a few decades now…you never know when you’ll have wished you had listened to “that wheel-chair guy…” and do follow Professor Stephen Hawking on Twitter!

Next Week: You’ve read the Tweets, you’ve watched the Gallium utensil videos… next week, we’ll introduce you to the Disappearing Spoon and some true tales of the Periodic Table!

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