A brief history of Stephen Hawking's best books
Remembering Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking, the famed scientist who died Wednesday at the age of 76, was renowned worldwide for his research into black holes and the origin of the universe, as well as for his lifelong battle with ALS. But Hawking was also a prolific author who wrote several books over the course of his life — some aimed at general readers, some for kids, some with illustrations, but all dedicated to explaining and clarifying his scientific theories and discoveries. Here’s our hopefully helpful guide to Hawking’s writings.
A Brief History of Time
Hawking’s most famous book was first published in 1988. It went on to sell more than a million copies in its first year, a remarkable achievement for a book about science. Yet that was Hawking’s plan — to take massive scientific questions like “where did the universe come from?” and make them accessible to everyday readers. In his own words, he wanted to take “the discoveries that have been made about the universe” and share them with “the public that paid for the research.”
A Briefer History of Time
Hawking’s most famous book tried to make quantum physics accessible, but some readers still needed help understanding the material. This book further clarified the original’s big questions, while also expanding to include new theories and developments like string theory.
The Grand Design
Over the course of the 20th century, physicists strived to find a so-called “unified field theory” that could explain everything. In this book, Hawking and co-author Leonard Mlodinow break down various contenders (such as m-theory) while also positing that a theory of everything may not exist. On top of that, they also explain why believing God isn’t necessary to understanding the workings of the universe.
Black Holes and Baby Universes
Much of Hawking’s work was based on black holes. He even gave his name to “Hawking radiation,” the term for particles that emerge from black holes (which were previously thought impenetrable). As the title suggests, this book of essays is full of information about black holes, but also includes personal pieces.
My Brief History
The Oscar-winning 2014 biopic The Theory of Everything was actually based on the memoirs of Hawking’s first wife, Jane. But readers interested in Hawking’s personal life would do well to check out his own autobiography, which ranges from his childhood to his emergence on the world stage and his struggle with ALS.
George's Secret Key to the Universe
Hawking didn’t just write about science for adults. In five children’s books written with his daughter Lucy, Hawking told the story of young George and his adventures that explained the mysteries of science while also having fun for all ages.
On the Shoulders of Giants
"If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants,” Isaac Newton once said. Hawking held Newton in high regard, and was even appointed to Newton’s old position as the Lucasian chair of mathematics at Cambridge. In this book, he continues Newton’s tradition of respecting forebears by bringing together papers by Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, and others to show how their discoveries changed the course of scientific history.
God Created the Integers
This book is like On the Shoulders of Giants but with a focus on math rather than science. Hawking assembledwhat he considers the most important mathematical works in history, ranging from Euclid to Alan Turing.
Black Holes: The BBC Reith Lectures
In 2016, Hawking gave a series of BBC lectures about black holes. After decades of studying them, Hawking explains how understanding the properties of black holes could help us understand the whole universe.