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This “vivid and compelling account” (The Wall Street Journal) opens not only the inner workings of one of physics’ greatest minds, but also a view into an extraordinary friendship and the human capacity to overcome insurmountable challenges.
A BEST SCIENCE BOOK OF 2020 (The Telegraph, The Guardian)
A BEST BOOK OF 2020 (New Statesmen)
One of the most influential physicists of our time, Stephen Hawking touched the lives of millions. Recalling his nearly two decades as Hawking’s collaborator and friends, Leonard Mlodinow brings this complex man into focus in a unique and deeply personal portrayal. We meet Hawking the genius, who pours his mind into uncovering the mysteries of the universe—ultimately formulating a pathbreaking theory of black holes that reignites the discipline of cosmology and paves the way for physicists to investigate the origins of the universe in completely new ways. We meet Hawking the colleague, a man whose illness leaves him able to communicate at only six words per minute but who expends the effort to punctuate his conversations with humor. And we meet Hawking the friend, who can convey volumes with a frown, a smile, or simply a raised eyebrow.
Mlodinow puts us in the room as Hawking indulges his passion for wine and curry; shares his feelings on love, death, and disability; and grapples with deep questions of philosophy and physics. Whether depicting Hawking’s devotion to his work or demonstrating how he would make spur of the moment choices, such as punting on the River Cam (despite the risk the jaunt posed), or spinning tales of Hawking defiantly urinating in the hedges outside a restaurant that doesn’t have a wheelchair accessible toilet, Mlodinow captures his indomitable spirit. This moving account of a friendship offers us invaluable lessons from one of physics’ greatest practitioners about life, the universe, and the ability to overcome daunting obstacles.
Mixing remembrance and popular science into a pleasing memoir, physicist Mlodinow (Elastic) writes about his collaboration and friendship with Stephen Hawking, beginning in 2003 and continuing until Hawking's death in 2018, during which time they co-wrote A Briefer History of Time and The Grand Design. While relating trips to Cambridge to meet with Hawking, Mlodinow tells of Hawking's battle with ALS and his two marriages and 40-year career, and outlines Hawking's contributions to physics, particularly cosmology and general relativity. Candidly reflecting on Hawking's paralysis, he muses that his collaborator's experience with contradictions in his own life, as a man "both powerful and powerless," fed into one of his greatest gifts as a scientist, a knack for "reconciling contradictory theories and ideas." Mlodinow also recalls their arguments (Hawking would use the volume control on his computer voice to express his frustration) and their philosophical discussions over wine (despite Hawking being able to communicate only six words per minute with the help of a computer and a sensor in his eyeglasses to detect face muscle movements). This memorable book allows readers to see the human side of a figure who might otherwise seem intimidatingly remote.