Wednesday, June 25, 2014

My Brief History by Stephen Hawking

Only this book is brief. Stephen Hawking's life, as he describes in My Brief History, has been relatively long compared to his prospects after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in his senior year at Oxford in 1963. He has been under the cloud of short expectations ever since, just carrying on as best he can. That's 51 years in which he has had a family and three children, written numerous hefty books, travelled the world, and become nearly as famous as Albert Einstein as a theoretical physicist. The threat of death encouraged him to make the best of his time.

His mobility and dexterity declined steadily after diagnosis, and in 1985 he required an emergency tracheotomy which stole his ability to speak. He now communicates through a wheel-chair-mounted computer linked to movements of his cheek bones. His ability to stay positive and involved in life is remarkable.

What I like about My Brief History is that Hawking is a natural story teller, concise and humorous. I almost wanted to both laugh and cry when the first doctor he consulted about his growing awkwardness told him to lay off the beer. I also enjoyed reading about the childhood bet of a bag of sweets that he would never amount to anything. That wager foreshadowed bets with other physicists made throughout his career.

I also like that Hawking included some serious science with challenging questions in this short memoir. My favorite question may be (paraphrased): if all time is current and everlasting, why don't we remember the future like we remember the past? Hawking says time travel is theoretically possible but impractical, as massive numbers of infinitesimally small particles would have to be controlled and sent at the speed of light. At least, that the way I understand what he said.

My Brief History is a slim book and only a little over two hours as an audiobook. I enjoyed listening to the audiobook twice.

Hawking, Stephen. My Brief History. Bantam Books, 2013. 127p. ISBN 9780345535283.

also, 2 compact discs. Books on Tape/Random House, 2013. ISBN 9780804164306.

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