A Brief History of Time and 3 Minute Stephen Hawking

When I wake up at night, I try to avoid using my phone. Instead, if sleep eludes me for a bit, I will read paper books. As the hour is late, and I am tired, I’ll often grab the first book on the shelf that looks reasonable.

A long time ago, out with my wife, I picked up 3 Minute Stephen Hawking. The 3-Minute series is perfect for reading myself to sleep, with its structure on “3 minute morsels”.

What I didn’t like was that, as expected, the book was a bit more disabled inspiration porn than I wanted. It was also less focused on the theories than on the man and the gossip.

Nevertheless, I waded through. There were some genuinely interesting bits. One of the fascinating, if horrifying, bits was the context for how A Brief History of Time was written. This was Hawking trying to translate, as quickly as possible, his fame into money in order to fund appropriate care for his condition.

The book referred to “A Brief History of Time” as a book that many people bought, but few have read. Especially after the book shallow treatment of Hawking’s math, I was ready to disprove the statement.

I have, like many, previously have bought “A Brief History of Time” and, of course, never read it. This was my chance. It was to be my next night-time reading book.

It was then that I was glad to have had the context of “3 minute”. Hawking, sadly, is not a good writer. The book was a rush job. It had no co-author since Hawking wanted to keep the royalties.

In short, the book is not a good one. Hawking meanders from one subject to the next, goes off on tangents, and the narrative has neither rhyme nor reason.

Hawking also opines on matters far out of his specialty. Though he was a fervent atheist, and had little to know religious studies background, he brings up “God” as a weird metaphor every now and again. Though he was famously dismissive of philosophy, he tries to do philosophy, badly. His physics metaphors are also lacking, often confusing more than illuminating.

But the most fascinating thing about the book is that Hawking nearly admits to having no intuition about physics. Oh, he has done impressive mathematical work. He solved complicated problems, found solutions to difficult differential equations.

But whenever it was time to figure out which direction the evidence leads, how the world works, he consistently bets on the wrong horse. He is not even embarassed by it: though his bets are public, and he publicly recounts them, there is no sense that he is aware that being that often confident and wrong is a problem. It does not reduce his confidence, not even a little bit.

I was glad I read both books, but even happier to have put them behind me.