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Book: The Illustrated: A Brief History of Time

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This is one of the most classic books that I believe most people interested in science have already read. Recently I purchased the new illustrated (and expanded) edition and this is what this review is about. With no further prologue, here are the chapters.


Title: The Illustrated: A Brief History of Time
Author: Stephen Hawking

Chapter 1: Our Picture of the Universe
Starting from the ancient Greece and the initial observations of Aristotle, Stephen Hawking introduces us to a long journey of humanity in search of a theory that describes the universe we’re living in. From ancient civilizations’ assumptions to today’s theories such as quantum mechanics, this chapter presents the attempt to discover a theory that will describe the laws of the universe in the most excellent and accurate manner.

Chapter 2: Space and Time
As you probably have been expecting this chapter begins with Galileo‘s work that resulted in Newton’s Principia Mathematica. On the other hand, even though Newton’s laws were great for explaining events in speeds below the speed of light, they were failing to do so in speeds close to that of light. After years of working in this problem, Albert Einstein gave the solution with his special and general relativity theories. Of course, there are many details and things I intentionally omitted here since this is just a tiny outline of the second chapter.

Chapter 3: The Expanding Universe
In attempt to present man’s view of the universe this chapter goes from the early findings such as Edwin Hubble‘s regarding the observation of our galaxy to the later universe development theories, and it ends up with the Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking’s work that proves the big bang singularity. It’s a great chapter that discusses all the milestones that eventually lead to the expanding universe approach which is the most widely accepted nowadays and leaves a small window for the next sections that will deal with quantum mechanics theory.

Chapter 4: The Uncertainty Principle
Another journey this time starting with Marquis de LaPlace‘s argument regarding universe determinism which lead to the first quantum hypothesis by Max Planck. Author discusses the history behind quanta and how Werner Heisenberg introduced the uncertainty principle which assisted in the creation of Planck’s constant and finally along with Erwin Schrödinger and Paul Dirac, the creation of quantum mechanics. Obviously, many little steps took place between all those huge scientific achievements but this is just a tiny overview.

Chapter 5: Elementary Particles and the Forces of Nature
As the title suggests, this is an walk-through the scientific achievements regarding elementary particles which begun from Aristotle’s assumptions and Democritus‘ idea of an elementary particle named atom, and lead to Joseph John Thomson‘s discovery of electron which in turn helped Ernest Rutherford on his next discovery of internal atom structure. This long journey later resulted in Sir James Chadwick‘s neutron discovery that introduced the concept of elementary, subatomic particles. There are many more details and extraordinary scientific achievements in this chapter ranging from electromagnetic and nuclear forces to quark-antiquark measurements using the CERN large hadron collider. A great chapter that takes us one step closer to a unified theory for the most basic building block of the universe. The elementary particles.

Chapter 6: Black Holes
This is the subject that most of people are aware as Stephen Hawking’s work. For that matter, this also means that this is one of the most well written and informative chapters of this book. Starting with the actual “Black Hole” name which was introduced by John Wheeler on 1969, it moves to the incredible discoveries of Arthur Stanley Eddington, Lev Davidovich Landau and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar which lead to Robert Oppenheimer‘s work. Later on in this chapter we learn about the work that Roger Penrose along with Stephen Hawking did on this subject that eventually changed the way that black holes were defined. It’s definitely one of the very best chapters of this book.

Chapter 7: Black Holes Ain’t So Black
Continuing from the previous chapter, author discusses his work with the black hole’s singularity. From his initial observations of the black hole event horizon, to the historical “The Four Laws of Black Hole Mechanics” it goes through all the major achievements in this field. It’s a very unique chapter will a lot of background information on the discovery of numerous facts regarding black holes including radiation emission and other black hole characteristics.

Chapter 8: The Origin and Fate of the Universe
With this chapter, a new subject is introduced. Starting from A. Einstein’s theories that predicted the big bang singularity, the author discusses all the details of the steps that led to nowadays theories of expanding universe as well as all the minor achievements that helped to have this result.

Chapter 9: The Arrow of Time
From the previous chapter it is quite clear that there is no absolute time property. In this chapter, author guides us through all the related work in this area. After discussing in detail the “arrow of time“, he moves to the ordered state and its characteristics. With that being said, he concludes this chapter based on the newly acquired knowledge.

Chapter 10: Wormholes and Time Travel
In 1949, Kurt Gödel realized that general relativity theory allowed travel in time. With this discovery this chapter introduces the reader to the scientific side of time traveling. The next topics include traveling at speeds close to that of light, wrap space-time which introduces the concept of wormholes, time travel paradoxes etc. It’s another extremely well written and interesting chapter.

Chapter 11: The Unification of Physics
So, reaching the last chapter prior to conclusion of this book, we move back to the questions of the first one. That is, a complete unified theory that will explain everything in the universe. After a short introduction author moves to Grand Unified Theories and String Theory. Continuing to all the major achievements in this area this chapter ends with the facts that make such theories currently impossible.

Chapter 12: Conclusion
So, this is the final chapter of the book, as its title suggests it is a conclusion discussing the theoretical models noted in the book as well as numerous conclusions based on the information provided in the previous chapters for both the past and future of the universe. The chapter ends with the most optimistic hypothesis, of discovering a unified theory and finally finding an answer to why ourselves and the universe exist. As S. Hawking says, “for then we would know the mind of God”. Furthermore, after the conclusion we can find three separate sections which include historical information for Albert Einstein, Galileo Galilei and at last, Isaac Newton.

So, to conclude, this is one of the best, if not the best, simplified science book I have personally read. Stephen Hawking goes through all the major scientific achievements in a form of story telling. He explains complex theories using an extremely well written form that even readers with no previous knowledge of any of the discussed subjects will understand them. Definitely a great book.

Written by xorl

May 8, 2011 at 17:23

Posted in books

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