Stephen W. Hawking, the Cambridge University physicist and bestselling author "who roamed the cosmos from a wheelchair, pondering the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe and becoming an emblem of human determination and curiosity," died early this morning, the New York Times reported. He was 76.
"What a triumph his life has been," said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal of Britain and Hawking's longtime colleague. "His name will live in the annals of science; millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his bestselling books; and even more, around the world, have been inspired by a unique example of achievement against all the odds--a manifestation of amazing willpower and determination."
Hawking's landmark book, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (1988), has sold more than 10 million copies, and inspired a documentary film by Errol Morris as well as the Oscar-winning movie The Theory of Everything.
"Scientifically, Dr. Hawking will be best remembered for a discovery so strange that it might be expressed in the form of a Zen koan: When is a black hole not black? When it explodes," the Times wrote, adding that his career defied the odds in that as a graduate student in 1963, he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was given only a few years to live. Despite this, he "went on to become his generation's leader in exploring gravity and the properties of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits so deep and dense that not even light can escape them."
Dr. Hawking's other books include The Grand Design (with Leonard Mlodinow); The Universe in a Nutshell; The Nature of Space and Time (with Roger Penrose); the George's Secret Key children's book series (with Lucy Hawking); Black Holes and Baby Universes; An Illustrated Brief History of Time; A Briefer History of Time (Bantam Press, 2005); and his memoir, My Brief History.
Larry Finlay, managing director of Transworld, told the Bookseller: "It is truly our privilege to have been Stephen Hawking's publisher for the last three decades. He has increased the popular understanding of scientific theory like no-one else since Einstein. Not only was he one of the world's greatest thinkers, he was also a man with an infectious sense of mischief and wit."