About me
About me

Review: My Brief History by Stephen Hawking


Hold up! Before you read on, please read this...

This post was published more than 5 years ago

I keep old posts on the site because I often enjoy reading old content on other people's sites. Not everything that is old is bad. It can be interesting to see how views have changed over time: for example, how my strident teenage views have mellowed and matured.

But given the age of this post, please bear in mind:

  • My views might very well have changed in the 5 years since I wrote this post. I have written some very silly things over the years, many of which I find pretty embarrassing today.
  • This post might use language in ways which I would now consider highly inappropriate or offensive.
  • Factual information might be outdated.
  • Links might be broken; embedded material might not appear properly.

Okay. Consider yourself duly warned. Read on...

My Brief History, Stephen Hawking’s autobiography, is certainly brief. It is a whistle-stop tour of anecdotes about his life, interspersed with some fairly heavy physics. The tone is upbeat throughout, and it gives some genuine insights into Hawking’s life and motivations.

However, it does feel a little like Hawking is uncomfortable writing about his life. He writes with obvious bitterness about the intrusion of the media into his personal life, and I got the sense from reading this autobiography that he found the process of talking about himself somewhat intrusive too. He rarely gives a great detail of insight into the more emotional side of her personal life. To illustrate, here is the level of detail Hawking shares about one of his weddings:

The fellowship meant Jane and I could get married, which we did in July 1965.

I don’t think this detracts from the book at all: I note it only because it differs from the prevailing tone of autobiographies published recently, and I think it gives some insight into Hawking’s personality.

There are some truly remarkable anecdotes in here, including this one:

On my way home, I and my travelling companion, Richard Chiin, were caught in the Bou’in-Zahra earthquake, a magnitude 7.1 quake that killed more than twelve thousand people. I must have been near the epicentre, but I was unaware of it because I was ill and in a bus that was bouncing around on the Iranian roads.

There are also touches of an especially wry humour:

The colleges were therefore all single-sex and the gates locked at midnight, by which time all visitors – especially those of the opposite sex – were supposed to be out. After that, if you wanted to leave, you had to climb a high wall topped with spikes. My college didn’t want its students getting injured, so it left a gap in the spikes, and it was quite easy to climb out.

All-in-all, I got the very strong impression that this book was very personal to Hawking. It feels like he has related the stories he wants to relate in the way that he wants to relate them – pushing himself a little to reveal slightly uncomfortable details, but no pushed by an editor into shaping the book in any particular way, nor driving too far into personal territory.

My highest qualification in physics is the GCSE I earned twelve years ago, and so it’s hardly surprising that I found some of the physics hard to follow. The discussions of concepts like imaginary time (which is simply at right-angles to normal time, apparently) became more dense towards the end of the book. But the fact that the discussion of wormholes left me a little behind didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book. While I didn’t follow all of the science, I appreciated the beauty of his descriptions.

This is a brief book. But I felt that it contained a good deal of insight, and I found it a thoroughly enjoyable read.

My Brief History is available now from amazon.co.uk in hardback and on Kindle. Many thanks to Bantam Press for supplying a free copy for the purpose of this review.

This 2,073rd post was filed under: Book Reviews, .

More posts worth reading

What I’ve been reading this month (published 3rd December 2018)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 3rd November 2018)

What I’ve been reading this month (published 6th October 2018)

2D: Media rigour (published 19th June 2013)

Photo-a-day 82: Another bit of the Ouseburn (published 22nd March 2012)

Benazir Bhutto has died (published 29th December 2007)

Diary for 17th July 2008 (published 17th July 2008)

Comments and responses

No comments or responses to this article have been published yet.

Compose a new comment


You may use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong> .

If you would like to display a profile picture beside your comment, sign up for Gravatar, and enter your email address above.

By submitting your comment, you confirm that it conforms to the site's comment policy. Comments are subject to both automatic and human moderation, and may take some time to appear.

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. This site uses cookies - click here for more information.