STEPHEN HAWKING: A Life in Science by Michael & John Gribbin White

STEPHEN HAWKING: A Life in Science

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White (Director of Science Studies/d'Overbroeck's College, Oxford) and Gribbin (Cosmic Coincidences, 1989, etc.) have produced a definitive biography of arguably the best-known cosmologist in the world. Stephen Hawking's accomplishments as theoretician on the origin and destiny of the universe are forever linked in the public mind to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)--the degenerative neurological disease that is slowly destroying the nerve cells that control Hawking's movement. At age 50, the 90-pound scientist, long confined to a wheelchair, communicates through fingertip control of a computer program that allows him to compose sentences synthesized into speech (described as sounding like someone speaking Canadian English with a Hungarian accent). It was not always so. White and Gribbin describe the early, healthy years, with prep school selected by ambitious parents: physician father Frank, a tropical-medicine expert who was frequently absent in Africa, and Isobel, whose left-wing politics left their mark on her son. Hawking's school days were marked by friendship with a bright group who flirted with religion and ESP, and built a computer. He showed marked ineptitude in sports but marked aptitude in mathematics. The diagnosis of ALS and Hawking's first creative bursts in math and physics all but coincided in his early 20s, when he had already moved to Cambridge and gotten married. He has since moved from strength to strength in the formation of ""singularity"" theory, the wedding of quantum mechanics and general relativity, and the generation of black holes in myriad changing forms. There aren't many warts in this bio, save for some comments on a colleague whose career Hawking almost destroyed, and a marriage in ruin: Hawking now lives with a new nurse/caretaker--the wife of the expert who adapted Hawking's computer to his wheelchair. A fascinating story overall, with the added plus that White and Gribbin are able to translate Hawking's bestselling A Brief History of Time for those who bought the book but found it incomprehensible.

Pub Date: June 5th, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dutton