Stephen Hawking

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Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Collection (Essays)


This remarkable collection of essays, both personal and scientific, is written by a remarkable man, Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University (a chair once held by Isaac Newton). Unlike Hawking's earlier bestseller, A Brief History of Time, which was written for the lay public to explain current theories of the universe, this book is a mix of essays, speeches, and even a radio show transcript that were originally produced from 1976 to 1992 and whose intended audiences were varied, although none of the works are purely technical.

Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in the USA, motor neuron disease in the UK) at the age of 21 during his first year of graduate school at Cambridge, though he had already noticed weakness the prior year at Oxford. As he describes in "My Experience with ALS," Hawking experienced a rapid deterioration of function and hence depression.

However, during his hospitalization, he also saw a boy die of leukemia, which made him realize that things could be worse. Hawking married, finished his dissertation, fathered children, and went on to develop innovative theories in physics, such as thermal emission by black holes.

The book begins and ends with personal topics-–the first two essays concern his childhood and education, and the last is a transcript of the BBC radio show, "Desert Island Discs," in which the celebrity is asked to name and describe 8 musical selections and one book he or she would choose to have if stranded on a desert island. Hawking describes how important communication is to him, and the computer program designed by Walt Woltosz, which enables him to have an artificial voice (albeit with an American accent), since he lost his natural ability to speak due to the tracheostomy that was required in 1985. Hawking's incredible will to live and his sense of humor come through in this broadcast, as they do in the scientific curiosity so evident in the essays about physics.

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