Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Book Review: Hawking by Jim Ottaviani with illustrations by Leland Myrick

As an English major, I have gaps in my knowledge of the world. I did take physics in high school but a lot of it went over my head. I still feel I have a stronger grasp on science than a lot of my fellow English majors, but certainly much less than my younger sister who was a physics major. I went into this book thinking it would either be a light overview of Hawking's life for the English-major set, or a graphic novelization of the movie from a few years ago. Neither is at all the case. It is a deep dive into his life, fully covering all of the physics, astrophysics, and cosmology.

Most of you probably know the back story. He was a super-smart but slightly bratty teen at college when he started having some issues with walking and balance and was eventually diagnosed with ALS. He was given just a year or two to live, and then lived another 50+, changing the face of these scientific arenas along the way. He was a brilliant scientist but perhaps trying to live with, eventually marrying a couple of times. He didn't take himself super-seriously, sometimes tweaking fellow scientists, and even appearing in pop culture TV shows late in life.

The science is well done and accessible for lay people, but it does make the book very dense (haha--I don't mean in a physical way although I bet given the length and the type of paper used that it also is heavy. I read a digital version.) I very much enjoyed it, but it wasn't a book I could plot through in just a couple of hours. It took several days as I'd read for a while and then have to take a mental break to absorb. That said, I do think I understood 70% of the science which is way better than I did in my actual physics class, and the visualizations of a lot of his theories really helped immensely. You might not think that a man who was more or less all mind and useless body for most of his life, would present itself well for a very graphic format, but the illustrations of his theories went a long way towards my understanding. I'm sure I'll lose this pretty soon, but immediately after reading it, I feel smarter!

This book is published by First Second, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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