A Month of Reading Stephen Hawking

Cover of "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen HawkingAbout a decade ago I tried reading “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking, but I quit near the beginning. It seemed like it was going to take a great deal of brain power to understand it – and much more free time than I had available.

I decided that I’d come back to the book far in the future – perhaps when I retired – when I’d be able to dedicate the time and focus that the book required. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be smart enough to understand it even when I had the time available, however.

When I started doing something new each month, I added “Read A Brief History of Time” to my list of potential activities.  Then last month I read it, even though I’m not retired yet.

It was certainly complex, and I did a bunch of additional learning online to help myself understand some of the concepts in the book, but overall it wasn’t quite as hard to understand as I’d expected.

The are many parts of the book that I still don’t totally understand, but that’s because either:

    • They’re impossible to understand (i.e. Can you imagine a 4-dimensional space-time? Neither can I, even though it’s reality. And neither can Stephen Hawking. He says “It is impossible to imagine a four-dimensional space. I personally find it hard enough to visualize three-dimensional space!”). Or,
    • The book doesn’t go into enough detail. This was quite common. Stephen Hawking does a great job of dumbing down advanced physics so that a lay person can semi-grasp the general ideas. But in dumbing it down he necessarily removes some of the complexity that’s required to really understand it.

For people like me who aren’t willing to get a PhD in physics, the book is great, but it can only take you so far.

I wanted a deeper understanding a some of the concepts, so after I finished the book I started reading Einstein’s book “Relativity: the Special and the General Theory” which I think actually goes into all the detail required (math included) to have a good understanding of relativity.

Unfortunately I didn’t get very far through Einstein’s book before the month ended. Since that one will also require a great deal of time and focus to understand, I’m postponing it to the future. Hopefully I’ll get back to it before another decade is up.

Comments

  1. koon says

    thank you for a very honest and unpretentious comment. I found reading it easy but understanding it not easy. I may have to reread it to visualise the concepts.

  2. Bingcheng Zhao says

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