This masterpiece was written way back in 1988, by Stephen Hawking, who is widely regarded as the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Einstein, and holds Newton’s chair as the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge. For a book like this to be written way back in ’88, is indeed astounding as the “theoretical” concepts Hawking talks about here seem way further than what was fairly known at that time. This is known to be the best single book on astrophysics for the common reader, as Hawking tries (rather successfully) to explain to audiences the possible answers to the most curious questions we all have about the universe. Questions like how the universe began and what made its start possible; whether the universe is unending; how space and time work in parallel or otherwise; and what will happen when it all ends.
This is Hawking’s first book for the non-specialist, and holds many rewards for the lay audience, which practically refers to us all. The book provides a glimpse into the workings of his mind and delves into rather lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy and cosmology. This is also a book about God, or perhaps the absence of a God. As Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein’s famous question on whether God had any choice in creating the universe, he is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do.
I have had this book since I was around 13 years old and I tried to read it back then and understood almost nothing hehe (hey, give me a break, not a lot of kids that age would have!) What it did though, was spark a rather deep interest I had on how I saw the universe to be back then. It was also quite an experience to have tried to read this book 4 years after, then another 4 years after, and then try to do it again this year. To think that Hawking tried to write this for us non-specialists speaks largely of how great he is. The 3rd time I tried to read it, I understood more and more about the concepts he spoke of, as the modern world has caught up with how diverse and broad the universe actually is, compared to ’88. Honestly, I still don’t understand a lot of the concepts written in the book, but I have discovered quite a lot more about what the universe is.
There are very interesting topics in the book, such as curving space and time, Hawking’s concept of the expanding universe, which is really very interesting, black holes, and the fate of the universe. In terms of the expanding universe, for example, the book talks about a “rubberband theory.” Just like a rubber band, the universe will expand only up to a certain point, and when it can’t expand anymore, it will snap. So the theory here is that our universe will only expand up to a certain point and then it will collapse back on itself and create another Big Bang, and then the universe would start all over again.
That was the first time I have ever heard of such a concept, and just thinking of that possibility challenges you to think whether it is possible or not, with what your aptitude of what the universe is at this point in time. As I said earlier, when I read this around 15 years ago, I didn’t quite get the concept of what an expanding universe was because at that time, all I knew was that there were 9 planets, separated into Terrestrial and Jovian. See, I was a smart kid already back then, I’m sure a lot of you don’t know what Terrestrial and Jovian planets are haha! Look it up!
Currently, most of us know that there are thousands of galaxies out there, thus the concept of an expanding universe is more clearly understood! This book is great for that reason. Whether you’re 14 years old, or whether you’re 30, it speaks to you based on where you are at. Your understanding of the book is somehow dependent on how much you know about the universe right now, and if you know NOTHING about the universe, well… it’s time for you to be a little more curious because it is indeed interesting to know these little things.
So if you haven’t heard of this book, please go out and get it. I assure you that it will be a very rewarding experience to try to understand even just a few of these theories and concepts. Hawking came out with a book after this one called “A Briefer History of Time,” that expands on the original concepts with topics like quantum theory, relativity, and curved space. The book brings us all up-to-date with the latest scientific observations and guides non-scientists everywhere in the on-going search for tantalizing secrets at the heart of space and time.