A Brief History of Time (Magill's Literary Annual 1989)
Two of twentieth century physics’ greatest achievements are the general theory of relativity and the theory of quantum mechanics. The former, conceived by Albert Einstein, explains the force of gravity in terms of the curvature of four-dimensional space-time and deals with the large-scale structure of the universe. The latter is based on the concept of energy as bundles or quanta and Werner Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and is concerned with phenomena on the subatomic level. Both theories have been enormously successful in explaining phenomena at their respective scales. Physicists have also developed grand unified theories which have unified three of the four forces in the universe: the electromagnetic, which holds atoms together; the strong, which binds the components of the nucleus of the atom; and the weak, which is involved in radioactive decay. They have failed, however, to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics or to unify the force of gravity with the other three fundamental forces. There is no place in general relativity for the uncertainty principle. Physicists are seeking a new theory which will successfully integrate general relativity and quantum mechanics into a quantum theory of gravitation.
The search for that unified theory of relativity and quantum mechanics is the primary theme of A Brief History of Time:...
(The entire section is 1507 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Stephen Hawking’s popularization of modern cosmology, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, made publishing history (and the Guinness Book of Records) when it remained on the London Times’ best-seller list for more than four years, much longer than any previous book. It was also extraordinarily successful in the United States and other countries and was translated into more than sixty languages. For a work dealing with abstruse astrophysical concepts to sell more than nine million copies was surprising, even to its author. Variously characterized as a landmark in scientific writing and the most popular scientific text of all time, it was also chosen as one of the one hundred most important books of the twentieth century, and a Cambridge University poll ranked it as the book “most likely” to have the same influence as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859).
Because of the phenomenal success of A Brief History of Time, Hawking published a series of corrected, updated, and expanded editions, including a tenth-anniversary edition and an illustrated edition with more than 240 photographs, diagrams, and computer-generated images. An abridged and simplified version was published in 2005. American film director Steven Spielberg, who had met Hawking, produced Errol Morris’s successful...
(The entire section is 1870 words.)