Brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time, is one of the most popular science books of all time, selling more than 10 million copies. After being published in 1988, it was translated into 35 different languages and remained on the Sunday Times' bestseller list for more than five years.
Hawking was the director of research at the University of Cambridge's Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the time of his death in March 2018, at the age of 76.
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Childhood and education
Born in Oxford in 1942, into a family considered highly intelligent, but also eccentric, his father worked at the National Institute for Medical Research and his mother was a secretary. The family lived a frugal existence in a large house and despite Hawking's father wanting him to attend the revered Westminster School at the age of 13, they couldn't afford the fees.
Initially, Hawking didn't stand out academically, but over time he developed an aptitude for scientific subjects. He began studying at University College, Oxford, at the age of 17, in October 1959, spending three years there and achieving a first-class BA (Hons) degree in physics.
During his doctorate studies, he was diagnosed as having motor neurone disease and became depressed after doctors estimated he had two years to live. On the contrary, in 1966, he attained a PhD degree in applied mathematics and theoretical physics.
He went on to carve out a hugely successful career as a brilliant theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author, with A Brief History of Time being his greatest book. He tried to explain some of his theories of the universe in a way that the mass public would understand.
The book was aimed at helping non-scientists understand the fundamentals of physics and how life on our planet began. He answered the question: Where did the universe come from? He explained how and why it began and whether it would come to an end.
He attempted to deal with these complex questions using as little technical jargon as possible. Covering topics such as gravity, the Big Bang, black holes and the nature of time, he made deep science something that everyone could begin to understand.
Readers marvelled at Hawking's ability to explain this complex subject to ordinary people who weren't familiar with theories such as alternate dimensions.
Readers and critics loved his book. It was described as "fascinating" and as "stretching the reader further than was usually expected". A must-read for anyone who was inquisitive and eager to absorb more knowledge, it opened up the field of theoretical physics to a wider audience and remains a ground-breaking book to this day.
In 1994, an interactive adventure game, A Brief History of Time, was created to be played on a personal computer. Hawking liaised with Robit Hairman and Jim Mervis to make the game available for various desktop computers with a Windows operating system.
In 1996, he released an updated, illustrated hardback edition of his famous book, with full-colour photographs and illustrations to enhance and explain the text. There were also extra topics that he hadn't covered in the first edition.
In 1998, Hawking released the tenth-anniversary edition, while in 2005, his book, A Briefer History of Time, was an abridged version of the first book. He collaborated with Leonard Mlodinow to release the shorter version, which also addressed new issues as a result of scientific developments since 1988.
When Hawking died on 14th March 2018, he had been coping with motor neurone disease for more than 50 years, defying the original doctors' diagnosis that he had only two years to live. He was indeed, a brilliant, brilliant man.
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