Thursday, September 21, 2006

Brief, briefer, briefest...

One of the comments on the post below asks, has anyone mentioned Hawking? So, should we mention him? Lots of copies sold, but are they good books? And are there reasons to prefer A Brief History of Time (killer title, poorly explained text), Briefer History (which I haven't read) or Universe in a Nutshell, which I recall reviewing unfavourably when it came out - and the wonders of the Guardian archive will still tell you why.

There was another round up of comment on the book from other folks a little later.

I reckon Hawking has been more of an inspiration to other writers - and publishers - to try and crack the market, rather than an example of how to do it.


Blogger MK said...

You have probably heard this before, but I managed to lose Penguin millions.

They asked me to read an early draft of Hawking. I told them that it was unreadable and incomprehensible. They turned it down.

In my defence, I heard later that the draft I saw had been heavily reworked, with the help of a writer or two sworn to secrecy.

So, if the published version is as bad as you hint, and it is, imagine what the first draft was like.

By the way, you have now lost all of your links.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Philip Ball said...

I think you're right on the money Jon. There is nothing in A Brief History of Time that many of the excellent writers on things cosmic (of which I am not one) could not have said with considerably more panache and clarity. Hawking's book is by no means bad, but it lacks the sparkle, breadth and incisiveness that marks out a Dawkins, Jones or Gould (let alone a Feynman or a Medawar).

It would be interesting, in fact, if this project opened up the issue of why BHOT doesn't warrant a place on the list. I sometimes think I surely can't be alone in experiencing considerable discomfort at the Hawking phenomenon, which is undoubtedly tinged with difficult questions about how culturally we still find it hard to reconcile great intelligence with physical disability. This fabulous creature called Stephen Hawking that the media has created, which seems to share a name and even a body with a gifted Cambridge astrophysicist, is a rather disturbing thing. I can't quite figure out if the literary types who have created him are being collusive or are just poorly informed. In any event, it is good to see that this project apparently won't be colluding in that itself.

1:58 PM  
Blogger Jon Turney said...

Yes, there are one or two academic treatments of the creation of "Stephen Hawking", the media figure - don't have the details to hand.
As for the book, I still think its main flaw (lack of sparkling prose aside) is unclear explanation. And that's a pretty big problem with this material...

4:00 AM  

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