Once upon a time

Jan 05, 2019, 07:00 IST | Dalreen Ramos

In the last book published in his name, Stephen Hawking addresses ten big questions

Once upon a time
Eddie Redmayne and Stephen Hawking

A year ago, we remember reading legendary British physicist Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time while waiting for the 200-year-old musical clock at Salar Jung museum to strike 12. Back then, we thought that maybe the universe conspired for this to happen (we didn't know what we were in for when we entered the museum).

Hawking's debut was aimed at drawing the attention of the non-scientist — and he even joked about it in the acknowledgements. Someone had once told him that his book sales would be halved with each equation he planned on including. So, there were none except Einstein's E = mc2. "I hope that this will not scare off half of my potential readers," Hawking quipped. It turned out to be a bestseller and won us over. For, here we are again, reading his last work.

Hawking passed away in March last year. Brief Answers to the Big Questions (John Murray) was released in October. It contains a moving foreword by Eddie Redmayne who played the physicist and won an Academy Award for The Theory of Everything (2014), an introduction by professor Kip S Thorne — Hawking's dear friend and Caltech theoretical physicist — and an afterword by Hawking's daughter Lucy. The book is a collection of answers to 10 big questions posed to Hawking throughout his career.

Reading Thorne's introduction is immersive alone, detailing his journey with Hawking from his PhD days to delivering his eulogy. If anxiety has ever got to you before a physics exam, like it has with us, we wish you a professor like Thorne, who introduces the concept of gravitational waves and black holes with the ease of describing mac and cheese. So, when you proceed to read Hawking's notes, it really doesn't matter if you've forgotten your 10th grade science lessons. Yes, Hawking answers big questions that have raised hell in religious and cultural institutions for years — Is there a God? Can we predict the future? Is time travel possible? — but he does more than just present his theory.

He encourages you to ask questions. And every chapter brings out his stark humour that is sometimes his defence. Like the time he held a party for time travellers at Cambridge and no one came, because he proved that time travel wouldn't be possible if general relativity is correct and energy density is positive. "I would have been delighted if one of my assumptions turned out to be wrong," is the only thing Hawking says, negating the stereotype of the preachy scientist, and simply being a physicist the world loved.

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