Origins Summary (Roberta Brawer, Alan Lightman)

Roberta Brawer, Alan Lightman


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

If the astonishing success of Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME can be attributed in part to Hawking’s personal charisma, it must also be credited to the mystique of his subject. “Has the universe existed forever? If not, when and how did it begin? Will it end?” There’s a fundamental fascination to questions such as these. As the interviews collected in this volume reveal, however, the day-to-day work of cosmologists is quite remote from the concerns of the average reader.

To provide continuity and a basis for comparison, the interviews follow a common pattern, beginning with questions about influential childhood experiences that led to a career in science and a preoccupation with cosmology. (Thus, the title of the volume has a double meaning.) Most, though not all, of the subjects interviewed came from families in which there was no particular interest in science; a number of them were the first in their families to pursue higher education. Indeed, the diversity of the backgrounds represented is one of the most interesting aspects of the interviews, which are largely taken up with issues of little import to the layperson. (It’s the peculiarity of cosmology, the most speculative branch of the sciences, that its practitioners can disagree so wildly on basic questions.)

The interviewees range form senior figures such as Fred Hoyle and Allen Sandage to young luminaries such as Margaret Geller (b. 1948) and Edwin Turner (b. 1949). Each interview includes a photo and a brief biographical sketch. The text is supplemented by a list of dates and places of the interviews, notes, a bibliography, and a glossary.