Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity

In his brilliantly titled Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity, science writer Charles Seife (Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea) deconstructs physicist Stephen Hawking's (1942-2018) celebrity, separating the complicated human being and the scientific problems that fascinated him from the popular image of Hawking as a towering genius. Seife focuses on Hawking as a scientist, arguing that in his later years Hawking had trended toward scientific irrelevance. In adopting an unusual reverse-chronological approach to biography--Hawking Hawking opens with Hawking's funeral and proceeds backward from there--Seife is able to show Hawking's celebrity fade away as his scientific achievements come to the fore.

Late in Hawking's life, there was a tendency to turn him into a symbol of intellect transcending earthly circumstances--namely, his almost miraculously long life with ALS. Hawking's illness did play an enormous role in his life and his work, putting strain on his relationship with his first wife, for example, and making communication more and more difficult. However, Hawking always resisted being defined by his illness, and Seife likewise places the greatest emphasis on the remarkable scientific achievements that brought him notice in the first place. Here, Seife demonstrates his own gift at explaining seemingly arcane theoretical problems and solutions to a lay audience, succeeding in communicating the magnitude of Hawking's breakthroughs. In examining Hawking's work on black holes, the nature of the early universe and much more, Seife is able to give Hawking's sweeping ideas the pride of place they have long deserved. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

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