Monday, September 12, 2005

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME soon to be even briefer

They're messing with one of my all-time favorite nonfiction books, and I'm a little worried. From today's Guardian:

Later this month an even more radical reworking of another important doorstop book is to be launched on the market. Bantam Press is to bring out A Briefer History of Time, a condensed version of the science classic by Stephen Hawking that became an international bestseller - shifting more than ten million copies around the world. Bantam readily admits that 'in the years since its publication, readers have repeatedly told Professor Hawking of their great difficulty in understanding some of the book's most important concepts'.

The author, Bantam claims, now wishes to make its content accessible to readers as well as to update some of the research. The new edition is quite literally 'briefer'. Gone are the purely technical concepts Hawking introduced, such as the mathematics of chaotic boundary conditions, while whole chapters are given over to more popular scientific ideas, such as relativity and quantum theory.

He's building whole chapters around "more popular scientific ideas?" When did Dr. Steve start channelling Carl Sagan? I can just see the first sentence of Chapter Five:

There are billions and billions of elementary particles . . . .

All right, I totally get his wanting to update the book. I've had my copy of A Brief History of Time since its first printing in 1988, and I'd like to see the stuff on quantum mechanics, in particular (if you're not a science geek, click on that link at your own risk), brought into this century. But why must it be "briefer"? At 182 pages (not including the glossary and index), this little hardcover book is hardly a doorstop. In fact, I seriously doubt it would function adequately as a paperweight if I were to open one of the windows here in my office. So I just hope the updated version isn't so light that it floats off my bookshelf.

Time has always been short. And now it's even shorter. I'm sorry, Dr. Steve, but this is just wrong.

My monthly Romancing the Blog column is up today. I'm asking readers to share the zingy first lines of their favorite romance novels. This should be fun, so click on over there and participate.


Jill Monroe said...

I am excited about the updating of theories. I'm in love with the String Theory myself - can't get enough of it.

BTW, have you seen the film, What the Bleep Are We Here For? Or some such title - a lot of quantum mechanics.

Brenda Coulter said...

Jill darlin', you're behind the times. ;-) It's all superstrings now.

Yes, that's the name of the film. No, I haven't seen it yet. Sounds like a real good time, though.

Jill Monroe said...

Sadly, yes, my physics education has been lacking as of late. I did watch a NOVA episode on superstrings about a year ago, and seemed to have forgotten most of it.