Top positive review
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Another great book from a great physicist
on September 3, 2010
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!