Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Brief History of Time - a waste of mine

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (Bantam Press: 1988) One of the world’s greatest minds sets out to explain the very big (and very small) theories of the universe, exploring the nature of space time and the possibilities that our understanding of it opens up.
Hmmm.....yes, well.....right....hummmm, ok.
Uh huh.
Not quite sure where to start with this one. No doubt about it, it was a toughie.
I bounded into it full of enthusiasm. We all know about this book, and every time it’s talked of it’s praised for its ability to explain the mysteries of the universe in a populist, accessible way.
Well, that may be a bit harsh. It started out colourfully enough. And there were tid bits of light. The odd anecdote that brought a point to life, the odd passage that suddenly made the previous twenty pages of confusion make sense.
But for the most part, confusion reigned. Confusion and disappointment.
I’ve no doubt part of the fault was my own. I’m not an idiot, but I’m perhaps not the most scientifically minded either. I’m sure one or two people I know would have grasped a lot more of this than I did. But no more than one or two. OK, maybe three. Come to think of it, four, but that’s it. Four people I can think of that might skip through these pages a little more light footed than me, without having to read passages two or three times before they even began to make some sort of sense.
And the shame was that, after a while, I stopped caring. I hate it when that happens with a book. Here are these powerful little collections of pages, capable of huge things, truly huge things. They can (and have) changed worlds, inspired greatness, all that stuff. And here I was, with one of them in my hand, doing nothing other than reading the words in my head one after the other, taking none of it in. The words could have been anything by the end. Which felt like a massive waste.
I tried. I did try. I’ve read scientific books before. Philosophy books. Other books crammed with difficult ideas. But this one, this one drained away my enthusiasm and my patience to the point that (to my embarrassment) I simply stopped caring.
This book may succeed in its scientific mission, but it fails in its literary one. It may accurately put forth the important thoughts of a great mind, but it failed to take me along for the ride.
Which is, after all, what I was promised. I was promised the secrets in the universe packaged up in a way that made them accessible to me.
They were not.
Ouch! Sorry Stephen.
Right, I’ve held up my part of the bargain. Dave told me I couldn’t read and review this book. Well, I have and I did.
And the stakes? Well, Dave lost, so now Dave has to do a guest review.
Over to you, Davey boy.
Next week (presuming that Dave takes more than a week to do his review) an interesting idea from that delightful Stephen Fry.


Grimbo said...

I picked this up a long time ago and don't remember enjoying it that much. I've read other popular science books and enjoyed them a lot more. Recently "The Grand Design" is another from Stephen Hawking, with a co-author. It's much easier, I would still say without a good backing (a-level physics) most people will find the concepts odd. I also read Prof Cox, E=mc2? and again I wouldn't give that to anyone without a strong interest and good grounding in maths/physics. They are all interspersed with everyday analogies and quirky anecdotes, sometimes these are just annoying.

As a genre, there are few popular science books that will inspire a new reader with no background interest.

Avoid them unless you suddenly develop a passion Gav, and if you do, genetics or physics, I'll send you some.


Gav Collins said...

Cheers Grimbo. Yeah, gave this a try cos the topics really interest me, and everything I'd seen about this kept going on about how accessible it was. Didn't turn out that way. If you've got recommendations of other science books that are better written / more readable, bring it on!