'The Grand Design', by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow (a physicist at Caltech and sometime writer for Star Trek, in case you were wondering), promises much. Specifically the blurb proudly announces new answers to the ultimate questions of life.
Hmm. OK. Well, leaving aside the fact that I'm no nearer to understanding women after reading this - which for me is one of the ultimate questions of life - I'm also still somewhat in the Dark Matter on other stuff too. Maybe this is not surprising. Professor Hawking's first foray into popular science writing was 'A Brief History of Time', an international phenomenon, which tons of people bought, some read, and maybe a few understood. I personally found the experience of reading ABHOT like fishing - my line was out there, but I only caught sprats, not the big ones. They all got away.
However, inspired by the author's cameo appearances on the US sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory', I thought I'd give the wheelchair-bound genius another go.
TGD is certainly written in a more accessible style. Maybe Hawking's Star Trek co-writer had something to do with this. In fact, it was a wee bit too accessible; too many weak puns and asides, and a rather superficial skim over the profundities of quantum mechanics for my taste. Hey, I'm no genius (except at making excuses maybe), but like Oliver Twist I wanted ... well ... more. For me, it read like 'Quarks for Dummies'.
The book kicked off with the three major questions troubling humanity, or at least those of us who aren't worrying about where our next meal is coming from or whether we're going to get short or blown up today.
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why do we exist?
Why this particular set of laws and not some other?
Here's the answer to the first two questions: "Because there is a law like gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing [in the manner described in Chapter 6]. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist." Are you convinced yet? You'd better be because that's all the authors have to say.
As to the third question, the answer is that that there is an infinite number of universes, each with different laws and we just happen to live in this one. (This is just a theory, by the way, as impossible to prove as the existence of God)
Perhaps I'm doing the authors something of a disservice. The mathematics sitting behind much of today's theoretical postulates is hideously complicated, and certainly well outside the scope of a book of this nature.
I'm just left with an unsatisfactory feeling, like I'd expected to go out with the Prom Queen and instead ended up with her rather plain friend who wasn't much of a talker. Not only that, but we didn't even go to the Prom. We just ate pizza and watched a couple of science fiction movies.
Don't misunderstand me. There are some excellent popular science books out there that will leave you in awe. This, alas, isn't one of them.
Now where shall I put this pizza box?