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A world renowned physicist, intellectual titan and a globally recognised luminary, Stephen Hawking transformed the face of popular science publishing. Described as ‘a contemporary classic’, ‘a succinct, entertaining and brilliantly lucid account of our relationship with the universe’, his major work, A Brief History of Time, was initially rejected by publishers who failed to see its popular appeal. When it finally reached print in 1988 it became a near-overnight bestseller. Translated into 40 languages and selling 10m copies, it entered the Guinness Book of Records having remained on the Sunday Times bestsellers list for an unmatched 237 weeks.
A fitting, parting gift: Brief Answers to the Big Questions rekindles that excitement we shared as booksellers when A Brief History of Time became the phenomenon it was, Hawking’s zeal and spirit undimmed to the last.
Books by Stephen Hawking
Children's Books by Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking
The book’s success made Hawking a household name and although he would go on to publish and edit other volumes – including the 1996 edition The Illustrated Brief History of Time and The Universe in a Nutshell – it remains his landmark publishing achievement. The book also opened doors to a career where he became not only the popular face of modern physics but also a feted worldwide celebrity, with the associated attention on his private life. He made a guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation, cropped up in animation in The Simpsons and, in 2014, was the subject of the award-winning biopic The Theory of Everything, based on his first wife’s memoir, Travelling to Infinity. Writing in an introduction to Hawking’s Reith Lectures in 2015 Phillip Ball commented on the contradictions of his notoriety: ‘His story is an inspiring one, but that doesn't mean we should deny him… his humanity’, he wrote. ‘We are strangely fascinated with the idea that a severely disabled person in a wheelchair can be enormously intelligent. We should not be surprised, and the fact that we are says more about us than it does about Stephen Hawking.’
Beyond its undoubted contribution to the field, Hawking’s work continues to be incalculably significant in its influence. His lifelong passion for inspiring future generations led to him collaborating with his daughter Lucy to publish a series of books about science for children, beginning with George’s Secret Key to the Universe. Lavishly illustrated with no dumbing-down, the book paved the way for a new generation of science writing for children.
His work continues to be profoundly influential; guiding and inspiring a generation of today’s scientists from Neil deGrasse Tyson to Yuval Noah Harari and opening the door to the possibility that complex ideas can and should be made interesting and accessible for everybody. Shortly after his death in 2018, the British Cosmologist Lord Martin Rees commented, ‘millions have had their cosmic horizons widened by his best-selling books’ whilst Professor Brian Cox reflected, ‘there are many more scientists because of him.’
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