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4.1 out of 5 stars51
4.1 out of 5 stars
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144 of 154 people found the following review helpful
First, I didn't want to wait for the Canadian release, so I just bought this book in the US.

Next, this book is about trying to answer some of the universe's biggest questions: Why is there something instead of nothing? Why do we exist? Why does this particular set of laws govern our universe and not some other set? What Hawking does is use Quantum Mechanics theory to explain our best answers to these questions. The answers are surprisingly satisfying. While it won't all be new to anyone who's read his Brief History of Time, the theories here are presented clearly, without explicit math, and in a way that's accessible to the average reader. Make no mistake though, this isn't a "physics for dummies" in that the ideas themselves are quite complex. But it shouldn't be too hard for most people to follow Hawking along well enough to get a basic understanding of what modern physics knows. I'm certainly not a physicist, and I found the reading to be just about right. In fact, I think that's largely the result of the contributions of his co-author Leonard Mlodinow, who's an accomplished popular science writer.

I'm really curious and don't mind math, so I wouldn't have minded a bit more of that. But it's OK without it, including the way Hawking and Mlodinow can illustrate complex ideas visually. The general gist of quantum mechanics relies on probabilities, the possibility of multiple universes, and the search for a theory that will completely unify all the "laws" of the universe. It's a really ambitious goal that I hope, but don't expect, physicists will soon reach.

Finally, despite the hoopla that the media made, this book is not a serious anti-religion book. This is not another God Delusion (by Richard Dawkins). Rather, the authors simply say that our current knowledge lets us do away with the need for a god-figure to explain the origins and properties of our universe. It could have happened with a god, it could have happened without one. As Hawking and every person who knows science understands, you can't prove or disprove an infinite proposition (e.g., God). The book's tone is sympathetic to an atheist's viewpoint, but it's certainly not exclusively so.

In that sense, I'm quite glad. That will hopefully mean a broader audience for this book as people don't simply avoid it for religious reasons. The more people who know about the truth of our physical reality, the better. The more people who are excited about good science, the better. The more people who get to read a brief, accessible book that can for the first time in human history answer some of the grandest questions in not just life, but the universe, the better! So it's easy for me to give this book five stars- not just for its content, but for the fact that it helps understand and appreciate the universe and ourselves that much better. And that's a pretty grand design for a book!
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2010
Stephen Hawking's latest book is very informative and compelling. Unlike A Brief History of Time where he generally focuses more on cosmology than physics this book is solidly planted in the realm of bleeding edge theoretical physics.

While it is a short book clocking in at four to five hours of reading it is by no means a simple book. The content is far denser in terms of ease of understanding than his previous work which could be called introductory in comparison to this one.

The first half of the book is really a foundational historical introduction to the real premise which is to introduce the lay person to M-theory...a potential winner in the search for a Grand Unifying Theory i(GUT)in science. Still Hawking is not unrealistic in the sense that he also proposes that new lessons learned from M-Theory about the nature of the universe suggest that a GUT may not in fact be possible.

I would suggest the only weakness is when Hawking strays into the realm of the philosopher or theologian by making sweeping declarations about the unnecessity for a god and the very bold (and some might suggest arrogant) statement at the beginning of the book that "philosophy is dead" and science is the only reliable source of knowledge in the new world today.

Still having said all of that the book is a very compelling read and certainly will require a re-reading or two. It is gratifying that geniuses like Hawking can find the time to translate and distill some of the most mind-bending and exciting developments of physics to a level that the rest of us can consume.

While you may not agree with everything Hawking says you will most certainly come away more knowledgeable and pleased. A very good read!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2014
Stephen W. Hawking is a brilliant scientist and a great writer.

You do not need to be an scientist to understand this book.
The book is is well written, clear and comprehensive.
This book makes me want to study physics.

It was a fascinating read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2011
Hawking's first published book in nearly 10 years, The Grand Design sets out to solve the question "Is there a unified theory?" If you've thought about this and think not, then you are right. The quick answer is No. However, many scientists have been pondering this for quite some time. Einstein did not find what he was looking for and, for now at least, Hawking and his colleague Mlodinow have concluded that a so-called unified theory of everything does not exist.

In their recent publication they open with a lovely reference to Douglas Adams' number 42, continue with a brief history of science, putter about defining laws, philosophize about realism and then talk about what makes a good theory. Its not for a ways in that you get to some good stuff; the meat and potatoes of what The Grand Design is all about is something referred to as 'M-theory'. Unfortunately, M-theory isn't anything new, rather a new-ish term for uniting the current physical theories. The proper new material in The Grand Design can be summarized as follows: M-Theory dictates that the universe is composed of 11 total dimensions. Full stop.

Compared to Hawking's other books, the amount of description and background material in this book is little, rather its focus is on a very clear description of where physicists are with current knowledge and technology, leaving the details and especially the mathematics behind. Hawking does a great job explaining some fascinating experiments and their implications including the double-slit experiment involving buckyballs and John Conway's game of life.

Overall, The Grand Design is simple to read, well illustrated, and without mathematical formulas. Its kept short both in length and detail to keep the general reader interested, however, it could have been even shorter if Hawking's mission was simply to let everyone know that the grand design is merely a joining of less-grand designs.

The book follows the same template as A Brief History of Time and so a lot of material is repeated. In this sense there is a split between new readers and those that have read Hawking's other books. The introductory bits are necessary to lay the grounds for the later chapters but may seem old-hat and without detail to those only looking for physicist's latest insights. The Grand Design is a very good starting place for someone that has not read Hawking's other books.

As for the conclusion that a unified theory of everything does not exist, its up to the reader to determine if M-theory is finished, or if its a work in progress.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 20, 2012
An easy to read book about a difficult subject. Well written with good, colour illustrations - although it could have used Figure Numbers instead of saying "the diagram above" - which often wasn't "above" it was on the previous page. Minor issue.
The constant pokes at religion didn't bother me. But at the same time I was also reading Eben Alexander's book "Proof of Heaven". It is about a neurosurgeon who ended up in a coma for seven days and had a big-time NDE. Prior to that he had very little use for religion and "knew" with his logical, scientific mind, that all this consciousness stuff was rubbish. After the NDE - big change.
So I just laughed every time Hawking and Mlodinow took another poke at spiritual beliefs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2014
I cannot say I truly understood all the concepts in this book but it was worth the read for what I did get out of it. If you want a precis of the latest in scientific thought regarding the universe this is it. Erudite yet readable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2014
Hawking presents here a well explained version of quantum mechanica and physics with several analogies and simplistic diagrams. The grand design is a must read for anyone interested in quantum physics and theory.
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on December 7, 2011
I bought this book for my son, who was doing his essay writing exercise on open problems of Modern Physics for his Advanced Quantum Mechanics course. However, it has appeared to be a good bed-time reading for myself. While it is not a preparatory text for a serious scientific review, this book adequately summarizes the current state of the Physics disciplines, in particular, the advances in Astrophysics and Particle Physics.
As such, 'The Grand Design' is nice addition to the list of the popular books (Brian Greene, George Gamow, other titles by Leonard Mlodinow and Stephen Hawking) on the subject.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2010
This provides yet another addition to Stephen Hawking's list of books for the lay-person. This does have some overlap with his previous material but is written in a manner that is much easier to understand. His views on model-dependent realism are insightful and one might want to consider how these theories might apply to areas outside of theoretical physics. I highly recommend this book.
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on March 14, 2011
This is a very good read to understand where the current scientific learning has brought us to understand the universe and how things are as they are. Hawkings and others do a good job visually representing some pretty complex ideas. The book sticks to what we can prove but half the fun leads us to think and extend that learning as to what it may mean. A book that should be read slow and enjoyed!
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