Just in Time to Learn About a Brief History of Time

So … as I was driving home from work a few weeks ago, the radio program Science Friday happened to be talking about the book A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Specifically, how in remembrance of Hawking, their SciFri book club plans to read Hawking’s book—which turned 30 years old this past April.

Pocket watch half covered by the sands of time, photograph by annca at https://pixabay.com/en/pocket-watch-time-of-sand-time-3156771/
Pocket watch half covered by the sands of time, photograph by annca at https://pixabay.com/en/pocket-watch-time-of-sand-time-3156771/

I have to admit, A Brief History of Time is one of those books in my to-be-read-someday pile, thinking I should read it, but admittedly, a little scared that it will be a bit over my head. …Although, the Science Friday folks sure made it sound as if Hawking’s book is understandable to almost everyone. (But aren’t they all like brainy scientists???) Regardless, I decided to take that challenge and finally read A Brief History of Time this summer.

I’m not saying I will be able to understand it, but I’m going to try—and I promise to let y’all know if I find anything interesting in it. For instance, from the Science Friday conversation, I’ve already gathered that the phrase “turtles all the way down” is closely tied to Stephen Hawking’s work. (Hmm—it seems John Green has probably already read A Brief History of Time. :\ Sigh :/ There’s another book (Turtles All the Way Down) also waiting in my to-be-read pile…)

Land on top a turtle's back, image by Imagine_Images on https://pixabay.com/en/water-sea-nature-summer-ocean-3184711/
Land on top a turtle’s back, image by Imagine_Images on https://pixabay.com/en/water-sea-nature-summer-ocean-3184711/

Spoiler alert! Curiosity forced me to look up the phrase “turtles all the way down” to find out that it’s an anecdote basically meant to illustrate infinite regress, or something that will endlessly loop forever. (I think the turtles are what hooked me into deciding to finally read Hawking’s famous book, btw…)

And for those of you who may not have heard of Stephen Hawking and his A Brief History of Time, here’s an overview:

Stephen Hawking, image by GDJ at https://pixabay.com/en/stephen-hawking-scientist-physicist-3244215/
Stephen Hawking, image from GDJ at https://pixabay.com/en/stephen-hawking-scientist-physicist-3244215/

Stephen Hawking—reportedly proud of the fact he was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo‘s death (January 8, 1942)—was a British physicist and cosmologist diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease)—which is why he was confined to a wheelchair, and in later years, spoke through a computerized voice after a tracheotomy took away his ability to speak. (The synthesized voice was made possible by a California computer programmer who created a speaking program that could be controlled using eye and head movements.)

In addition to writing A Brief History of Time, Hawking is known for his pioneering work with black holes and relativity. Because of his contributions to science and great knowledge, he became the Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University, a post he held from 1979-2009. (Just FYI, Isaac Newton held the same post in 1663…)

Throughout his life, Stephen Hawking attained numerous scientific honors and awards; for instance, he was a fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Science. Many people believe he was the greatest theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein.

Although it was only one of many books Hawking wrote, A Brief History of Time, is by far the most famous. Published in April 1988 and meant to be an overview of space and time for the masses, as well as posing theories about the future and the existence of God, A Brief History of Time became an instant success, spending over 4 years at the top of the London Times’ best-seller list.

Pismis 24 Open Sternhaufen Star Clusters image from WikiImages at https://pixabay.com/en/pismis-24-open-sternhaufen-11186/
Pismis 24 Open Sternhaufen Star Clusters image from WikiImages at https://pixabay.com/en/pismis-24-open-sternhaufen-11186/

Hawking died earlier this year—March 14, 2018—about 50 years after doctors originally thought he would succumb to ALS. His ashes now lie in Westminster Abbey in London, England, along with other scientific greats such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton.

Hmm, I suppose now it’s time to crack open that book … or walk outside when night falls to look up at the stars as I ponder all of space and time …