The following is an excerpt from DAN FALK | March 14, 2018 | Slate.com |
Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time wasn’t the first physics book to become a best-seller. Steven Weinberg’s The First Three Minutes, about the origins of the universe, had done very well a decade earlier, and Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, chronicling physicist Richard Feynman’s own adventures, attracted a wide readership too. But if those works made a splash, A Brief History triggered a tsunami.
One can easily imagine a world in which the book never happened. For starters, Hawking, by the mid-1980s, was suffering from a debilitating disease (ALS, or motor neuron disease) that eventually rendered him almost completely immobile. (After his tracheotomy in 1985, he also had to rely on a voice synthesizer to speak.) Moreover, he had scientific research to do. Writing a book for a popular audience was not a priority.
But he also knew that he might soon need round-the-clock care and realized that every penny would be useful. Simon Mitton, who was then director of science publishing at Cambridge University Press and who had worked with Hawking on his earlier academic titles, had suggested that he try his hand at a popular work. Hawking agreed, and some time later showed Mitton a first draft. (In the movie The Theory of Everything, we see the pages of that draft slowly emerging from a dot-matrix printer.)
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