My Brief History

Stephen Hawking

Why I looked at this book

This book is a contender for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books, but I'm also interested in how Stephen's account of his life tallies with what I read in Music to Move the Stars: A Life with Stephen by his first wife Jane.

First impressions

This is a short book, (it is a Brief History after all), so the sample is too short to get an idea of the rest of the book.

Main review

The first few chapters of the book are interesting - we find out about Hawking's life as a child, and see how his brilliance became recognised. After that I'm not so sure - this book is very short and describes the various academic positions he had and about odd episodes in his life, but it doesn't seem to add up to what you would expect from a biography. Added to that he explains some of the work he has done, but the book is definitely too short to do this justice. Things like 'Cauchy Horizons' appear in the text without much of an explanation as to what these words mean.

Regarding the break up of his first marriage, the impression I get from this book is that Jane felt she should prepare for the seemingly inevitable time when Stephen would no longer be there. So after a while he was no longer there - just not in the way that had been expected. We have published accounts from Stephen and from Jane - it would be interesting to read what his children felt about this time.

In summary I would say that the book is worthwhile in that Hawking tells about his life in his own words, but those just wanting a biography would be advised to look elsewhere for a longer work. Hence I think that it's reasonable that the book didn't make it to the shortlist of the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize.

Reviews Elsewhere

Lots of reviews for this book, especially at Goodreads with a fair number of Amazon Reviews . They are generally positive, but some think that it's too brief, that Hawking doesn't tell enough about his life. See also Alice Burns in The Gryphon for a positive view of the book.