The Grand DesignThe Grand Design by Stephen W. Hawking

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a good explanation of general relativity and quantum theory for the layman. However, I can see it becoming the standard recommended text for a bunch of fuzzy-thinking newage religions accompanied by their misleading interpretations to show how "scientific" they are. Also, it may not be clear that Hawking in fact represents particular 'sides' of a few approaches and theories that remain in dispute.

I find myself wondering how much of the style is Hawking's and how much Mlodinow's. The cynical rule is that most of the work was done by the less-famous author. Still, it's kind of fun to imagine the text as being all in Hawking's computer-voice.

As I said, the explanations of gravity, quantum theory, and the standard model are very good, including curvature of space, multiple quantum histories contributing to measured results, and particle bestiaries, but M-Theory, the purported theme of the whole book that's supposed to unite them all, gets fairly brisk and vague explanation. They compare it to a set of overlapping maps that all agree where they overlap, but none of which could ever be extended to a single accurate map of the whole globe. They speak of 10^500 possible universes in quantum superstate, one of which we experience, and take the reader through the anthropomorphic principle to show the fact of our existence places restrictions/selections on which possible universes we can experience.

Unfortunately, that M-Theory is the final theory comes across more as a final assertion than as the logical conclusion of the whole book. As does the idea (however interesting) that the universe can emerge from nothing because on a universal scale, the negative energy of gravity precisely balances the positive energy of matter so that the whole energy of the universe is zero, which is also abruptly dropped on the reader at the end.

I'd recommend this as one of several layman's introductions to science, but not as one to stand alone for physics and cosmology.

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1 comment:

Sra said...

I like this book review. It almost -- ALMOST -- makes me want to read the book just so I can imagine Hawking's mechanical voice.

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