Book review: The Grand Design31 Dec 2010
I just finished reading Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow's 'The Grand Design' (wikipedia link; Amazon link here). It's a great book to get up to speed on where physics stands as of today in our understanding of the universe.
Physicists come up with theories to explain why the world behaves the way it does. Those which show promise continue to be tested with new observations. Some of the theories stand the test of a few real-life situations, some don't. Some make sense in particular settings, some don't. Some are easily understandable by the layperson, some are not. All this doesn't mean that the theories which don't make sense or which don't stand up to real-world tests or observations are wrong. They just make sense in a particular setting and we use them to accurately model our world in that setting. We use other theories to explain other facets of our world. Or even the same ones, when put under a magnifying glass. If you think this doesn't make sense, the book will make it understandable. If you think it sounds crazy, it is, and the book will tell you why. If you think physicists are going mad, well, I don't think they are, unless you mean they're going mad in the search of the one true answer to life, the universe and everything that's beyond "42". (Yes, the authors are cool enough to include the Hitchhiker's reference (Amazon link) as well.)
The writing is very clear. The first two chapters can be read and understood by people who have not taken advanced courses in science. They're very clearly written and explained. These chapters lay the foundation for the details in the next six chapters.
Things start getting interesting and slightly complicated progressively in each chapter from chapter 3 onwards. Obviously, since the concept of quantum theory starts getting introduced.
The authors use great everyday analogies in explaining complex phenomena. They also make good use of humour to keep the readers engaged and the tone light. There are no equations used in the book, so they don't alienate people who have studied science back in their school and college years but have lost touch of it since. (Stephen Hawking mentions an editor telling him that for each equation he uses in 'A Brief History of Time' (Amazon link), he'll lose half the readership. I think that's a brilliant way to make the text easily accessible and understandable.)
I read about physics after a really long time. I don't even remember reading or studying the quantum theory. But I guess I would have. However, at many points while reading the book, I felt if I had such a resource by my side while studying for my engineering classes, it would have done a much better job at arousing and sustaining my interest in classical and theoretical sciences. I came up with a few questions while going through the text only to be explained later on in some cases, or the topics not broached upon by the authors for want of simplicity. I'm sure I can get the answers to some of the questions I have by poking around in very detailed literature on the topics. I'm glad I've retained my inquisitive nature when it comes to the sciences and also that I can raise questions that aren't answered in simple terms.
To conclude, this is a great book for people without science background wanting to learn about our universe, how it was formed, how it came into being by reading the first two or three chapters and glossing over the rest. It's a great book for people who have studied physics but lost touch with it to recollect some theory and understand the current understanding of the physicists on how the universe formed and why things are the way they are.
I haven't read 'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawking nor the updated 'A Briefer History of Time' (Amazon link) by Stephen Hawking and Leondard Mlodinow, the authors of 'The Grand Design'. I guess that book would be the right starting point before one reads this book, but I didn't find myself getting lost too much. Perhaps it helps others. I intend to read 'A Brief History of Time', which I own for quite a while now, in the near future.
It's difficult being a genius and figuring out how the universe works and trying to put together its past and determining the future. It's doubly difficult to write about it in a way that laypersons can understand. Kudos to the Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and the team behind 'The Grand Design' for doing just that.
PS: I'm running an experiment again, this time with links to amazon product pages. I'm putting the amazon links separately so you know you'll go to a company's site. Let me know how this works -- does the '(Amazon link)' text hurt the flow? Do you want links to Amazon product pages at all? Should I make the Amazon link the default?