Happy Christmas! Over the next twelve days, we’re bringing you competitions, extracts, short stories, activity packs and lots more to delight you. Today, we’re starting with an extract from Stephen Hawking‘s memoir, My Brief History, and a chance to win a signed copy of the book…
I first had the idea of writing a popular book about the universe in 1982. My intention was partly to earn money to pay my daughter’s school fees. (In fact, by the time the book actually appeared, she was in her last year of school.) But the main reason for writing it was that I wanted to explain how far I felt we had come in our understanding of the universe: how we might be near finding a complete theory that would describe the universe and everything in it.
If I was going to spend the time and effort to write a book, I wanted it to get to as many people as possible. My previous technical books had been published by Cambridge University Press. That publisher had done a good job, but I didn’t feel that it would really be geared to the sort of mass market that I wanted to reach. I therefore contacted a literary agent, Al Zuckerman, who had been introduced to me as the brother-in-law of a colleague. I gave him a draft of the first chapter and explained that I wanted it to be the sort of book that would sell in airport bookstores. He told me there was no chance of that. It might sell well to academics and students, but a book like that couldn’t break into Jeffrey Archer territory.
I gave Zuckerman a first draft of the book in 1984. He sent it to several publishers and recommended that I accept an offer from Norton, a fairly upmarket American book firm. But I decided instead to take an offer from Bantam Books, a publisher more oriented towards the popular market. Though Bantam had not specialized in publishing science books, its books were widely available in airport bookstores.
Bantam’s interest in the book was probably due to one of their editors, Peter Guzzardi. He took his job very seriously and made me rewrite the book so that it would be understandable to non-scientists such as himself. Each time I sent him a rewritten chapter, he sent back a long list of objections and questions he wanted me to clarify. At times I thought the process would never end. But he was right: it is a much better book as a result.
My writing of the book was interrupted by the pneumonia I caught at CERN. It would have been quite impossible to finish the book but for the computer program I was given. It was a bit slow, but then I think slowly, so it suited me quite well. With it I almost completely rewrote my first draft in response to Guzzardi’s urgings. I was helped in this revision by one of my students, Brian Whitt.
I had been very impressed by Jacob Bronowski’s television series The Ascent of Man. (Such a sexist title would not be allowed today.) It gave a feeling for the achievement of the human race in developing from primitive savages only fifteen thousand years ago to our present state. I wanted to convey a similar feeling for our progress towards a complete understanding of the laws that govern the universe. I was sure that nearly everyone is interested in how the universe operates, but most people cannot follow mathematical equations. I don’t care much for equations myself. This is partly because it is difficult for me to write them down, but mainly because I don’t have an intuitive feeling for equations. Instead, I think in pictorial terms, and my aim in the book was to describe these mental images in words, with the help of familiar analogies and a few diagrams. In this way, I hoped that most people would be able to share in the excitement and feeling of achievement in the remarkable progress that has been made in physics in the last fifty years.
You can Reserve & Collect My Brief History from your local Waterstones bookshop (http://bit.ly/1dh3Mty), buy it online at Waterstones.com (http://bit.ly/1dh3AdZ) or download it in ePub format (http://bit.ly/1dh3Ola)
Win a signed copy of Stephen Hawking’s My Brief History
We have one thumb-print signed copy of Stephen Hawking‘s memoir My Brief History to give away. Just answer the question below.
THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW CLOSED. THE WINNER WILL BE CONTACTED DIRECTLY.
Competition terms and conditions
1. No purchase necessary. Please enter your name and email address. Only one entry per person allowed. Proof of entering is not proof of receipt of entry.
2. To be eligible, entries must be received on or before the closing date of 5/01/14 at 11:59 PM. All entries shall become the property of Waterstones.com, and their directors, officers, representatives, advertising and promotional agencies are not responsible for contacting or forwarding prizes to entrants who provide unclear or incomplete information or for entries lost, misdirected, delayed or destroyed.
3. Entrants must be over 16 years old and residents of the UK or Ireland.
4. There will be 1 winner of a thumb-print signed copy of My Brief History.
5. The promoter reserves the right to amend the specification of the prize or offer an alternative prize of equal or greater value.
6. Subject to availability.
7. No cash alternative will be offered. Travel and other expenses are not included. The prize is non-transferable.
8. A random draw will take place on the morning of 8/01/14 to select the winners. The prize winner will be notified by email, and will need to respond by midnight 12/01/14 as to whether they are willing to accept the prize. If a selected entrant does not meet all of the contract conditions, another entrant will be selected from the remaining eligible entries.
9. This competition is not open to employees of Waterstones, the publisher or their immediate families.
10. By entering the contest, entrants, consent to the use of their names, city of residence, photograph and/or image for publicity purposes in all media carried out by Waterstones, without payment or compensation.
11. The decisions of the contest judges are final. The prize must be accepted as awarded.
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