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The image of wheelchair-bound Stephen Hawking expounding on the exotic realities of a vast universe has become so indelibly etched into popular culture that it's easy to forget that Hawking achieved a spot in the ranks of history's great thinkers long before he became a scientific icon. It isn't every day that you get to read a book whose author helped to shape his field in a fundamental way. Even though he is considered the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein, Hawking has managed to produce an accessible and enjoyable book that can be understood by laymen as well as scientists. getAbstract recommends this classic not only for its masterly explanation of the workings of the universe, but also for its studied examination of what new discoveries mean for common man, philosophy and religion.


The Turtle Theory

During one long exposition on the nature of the universe, a little old lady arose at the back of the lecture hall. "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise," she declared.

The don who was speaking smiled and replied, "But what is the tortoise standing on?" Not to be dissuaded, she shot back, "You're a very clever young man, very clever. But it's turtles all the way down!"

As much as her perspective might be at variance with the facts, the little old lady had one thing going for her: She had a picture of the universe. Where did the universe come from? What was it made of? How old was it? The picture of the universe envisioned by our greatest thinkers has changed over time.

"Our Picture of the Universe"

In 340 B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that the Earth was probably round, as opposed to the commonly held view that it was flat. He also believed that the Earth was fixed in the cosmos, with the sun and planets orbiting it. It took almost 1,800 years for a Polish priest named Nicholas Copernicus to suggest that the sun was actually at the center of things...

About the Author

It is one of the ironic footnotes to history that Stephen Hawking, who has done so much to popularize the physical sciences, was born in 1942 on the anniversary of the death of Galileo Galilei. He held the Isaac Newton chair as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge and was generally considered to be the most brilliant theoretical physicist since Albert Einstein. Hawking passed away on March 14, 2018.

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