Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science
When we first saw this book published in January 1992, it coincided with Stephen Hawkingâ€™s fiftieth birthday. By that time, he was a world-renowned scientist, but he was also recognized by the public from a TV special about him that had recently been broadcast.
Neither of us imagined how successful A Life in Science would be. It became a #1 bestseller in Britain and stayed in the Sunday Times best-sellers list for three months. It was also translated into over two dozen languages and is considered by many to be the definite biography of Stephen Hawking.
And yet, even more unimaginable to us as we were researching and writing the book during 1990 and 1991 was that the hero of the story, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, would still be alive and working at the forefront of physics some quarter of a century later.
Today, Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous and immediately recognizable people in the world, a fact that has been helped enormously by the recent movie The Theory of Everything, which has been both a commercial and critical success. But, then, anything about Stephen Hawking is newsworthy. This would never have happened to any other scientist in the world. Apart from the fact that physicists are seen as somehow different from other human beings, existing outside the normal patterns of human life, there is likely no other scientist alive as famous as Stephen Hawking. But Stephen Hawking is no ordinary scientist. His book A Brief History of Time has notched up worldwide sales in the millionsâ€”publishing statistics usually associated with the likes of James Patterson or Dan Brown. What is even more astonishing is that Hawkingâ€™s book deals with a subject so far removed from normal bedtime reading that the prospect of tackling such a text would send the average person into a paroxysm of inadequacy. Yet, as the world knows, Professor Hawkingâ€™s book is a massive hit and has made his name around the world. Somehow he has managed to circumvent prejudice and to communicate his esoteric theories directly to the lay reader.
However, Stephen Hawkingâ€™s story does not begin or end with A Brief History of Time. First and foremost, he is a very fine scientist. Indeed, he was already established at the cutting edge of theoretical physics long before the general public was even aware of his existence. His career as a scientist began over fifty years ago when he embarked on cosmological research at Cambridge University.
During that half-century, he has perhaps done more than anyone to push back the boundaries of our understanding of the Universe. His theoretical work on black holes and his progress in advancing our understanding of the origin and nature of the Universe have been groundbreaking and often revolutionary.
As his career has soared, he has led a domestic life as alien to most people as his work is esoteric. At the age of twenty-one, Hawking discovered that he had the wasting disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also called motor neuron disease, and he has spent much of his life confined to a wheelchair. However, he simply has not allowed his illness to hinder his scientific development. In fact, many would argue that his liberation from the routine chores of life has enabled him to make greater progress than if he were able-bodied. He has achieved global fame as a science popularizer with his multimillion-selling book and the many TV dramas and films made about him, while maintaining a high-powered career as a physicist.
Stephen Hawking does not like to dwell too much on his disabilities, and even less on his personal life. He would rather people thought of him as a scientist first, popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams, and ambitions as the next person. In this book we have tried our best to respect his wishes and have endeavored to paint a picture of a man with talents in abundance, but nonetheless a man like any other.
In attempting to describe Professor Hawkingâ€™s work as well as the life of the man behind the science, we hope to enable the reader to see both from different perspectives. Although there are inevitable overlaps in the story, we hope this will help to place the science within the human contextâ€”indeed, to show that, for Stephen Hawking, science and life are inextricably linked.
Michael White, Perth
John Gribbin, Lewes
Preface to the New Edition
1The Day Galileo Died
4Doctors and Doctorates
5From Black Holes to the Big Bang
6Marriage and Fellowship
8The Breakthrough Years
9When Black Holes Explode
10The Foothills of Fame
11Back to the Beginning
13When the Universe Has Babies
14A Brief History of Time
15The End of Physics?
16Fame and Fortune
17A Brief History of Time Travel
18Stephen Hawking: Superstar
19God and the Multiverse
20The Topsy-Turvy Universe of a Global Icon
About the Authors
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