The Universe In A Nutshell

Version: Unabridged
Author: Stephen Hawking
Narrator: Simon Prebble
Genres: Science & Technology, Astronomy & Physics
Publisher: Random House Audio Publishing Group
Published In: November 2001
# of Units: 4 CDs
Length: 4 hours
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Stephen Hawking’s phenomenal, multimillion-copy bestseller, A Brief History of Time, introduced the ideas of this brilliant theoretical physicist to readers all over the world.

Now, in a major publishing event, Hawking returns with a lavishly illustrated sequel that unravels the mysteries of the major breakthroughs that have occurred in the years since the release of his acclaimed first book.

The Universe in a Nutshell

• Quantum mechanics
• M-theory
• General relativity
• 11-dimensional supergravity
• 10-dimensional membranes
• Superstrings
• P-branes
• Black holes

One of the most influential thinkers of our time, Stephen Hawking is an intellectual icon, known not only for the adventurousness of his ideas but for the clarity and wit with which he expresses them. In this new book Hawking takes us to the cutting edge of theoretical physics, where truth is often stranger than fiction, to explain in laymen’s terms the principles that control our universe.

Like many in the community of theoretical physicists, Professor Hawking is seeking to uncover the grail of science — the elusive Theory of Everything that lies at the heart of the cosmos. In his accessible and often playful style, he guides us on his search to uncover the secrets of the universe — from supergravity to supersymmetry, from quantum theory to M-theory, from holography to duality.

He takes us to the wild frontiers of science, where superstring theory and p-branes may hold the final clue to the puzzle. And he lets us behind the scenes of one of his most exciting intellectual adventures as he seeks “to combine Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Richard Feynman’s idea of multiple histories into one complete unified theory that will describe everything that happens in the universe.”

With characteristic exuberance, Professor Hawking invites us to be fellow travelers on this extraordinary voyage through space-time. Copious four-color illustrations help clarify this journey into a surreal wonderland where particles, sheets, and strings move in eleven dimensions; where black holes evaporate and disappear, taking their secret with them; and where the original cosmic seed from which our own universe sprang was a tiny nut.

The Universe in a Nutshell is essential reading for all of us who want to understand the universe in which we live. Like its companion volume, A Brief History of Time, it conveys the excitement felt within the scientific community as the secrets of the cosmos reveal themselves.

From the Hardcover edition.

Reviews (7)


Written by Anonymous from Windham, CT on December 7th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 2/5

As several people have said, "I following the larger picture he was trying to paint and tying it all together."

Interesting Listen

Written by Anonymous on December 4th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 3/5

This was an interesting listen for me but I can image if you are not a big fan of physics you might not get past CD 1. I learned a few new things.

Hard to Believe

Written by JeffB on May 9th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 3/5

The book is well narrated and for the most part flows well. One needs to be very open and accepting of the science presented in order to stay interested. The first topic explains that the speed of light is the same for all observers. Hawking states that even though this seems strange, it has been observed by many experiments and is well accepted in the science community. Well, it seems more than a little strange to me and I am just not so willing to accept it. Out of this premise, the science then leads to the curvature of space and time. Again I am not prepared to accept that time is curved. I like to think of time as linear and essentially orthogonal to all the science presented. Curved time leads to discussing if there is a beginning of time. From here the topics proceed to get more and more "out there". I eventually lost interest. If I could be more accepting of the initial premises, then this might be a great book.

A Brief History of Time

Written by Anonymous on April 12th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 2/5

I liked the first book a lot better. This book was a lot of theory and concepts beyond my interests. Didn't learn much.

Fantastic overview, good reader

Written by Anonymous from Santa Monica, CA on October 26th, 2006

  • Book Rating: 4/5

A very engaging reader, and a well written book made me welcome the traffic jams for extra "reading time".

Universe in a Nutshell

Written by Anonymous on July 2nd, 2005

  • Book Rating: 2/5

Interesting in any one moment of listening, but I had trouble following the larger picture he was trying to paint and tying it all together. I certainly do not at this point remember any of the details he was trying to convey.

Universe In A Nutshell [uab]

Written by Anonymous on February 16th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 4/5

Is a very informative tape concerning many aspects of physics....mostly black hole stuff....was a little too much all in one series. I am in a college integrated science class and I have listened to it in the beginning of the course. I would like to hear it again when I am done with the course. It's a lot of information.

Author Details

Author Details

Hawking, Stephen

Stephen William Hawking was born on January 8, 1942, in Oxford, England. His father, a well-known researcher in tropical medicine, urged his son to seek a career in medicine, but Stephen found biology and medicine were not exact enough. Therefore, he turned to the study of mathematics and physics.

Hawking was not an outstanding student at St. Alban's School, nor later at Oxford University, which he entered in 1959. He was a social young man who did little schoolwork because he was able to grasp the essentials of a mathematics or physics problem quickly. At home he reports, "I would take things apart to see how they worked, but they didn't often go back together." His early school years were marked by unhappiness at school, with his peers and on the playing field. While at Oxford he became increasingly interested in physics (study of matter and energy), eventually graduating with a first class honors in physics (1962). He immediately began postgraduate studies at Cambridge University.

The onset of Hawking's graduate education at Cambridge marked a turning point in his life. It was then that he embarked upon the formal study of cosmology, which focused his study. And it was then that he was first stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease, a weakening disease of the nervous and muscular system that eventually led to his total confinement in a wheelchair. At Cambridge his talents were recognized, and he was encouraged to carry on his studies despite his growing physical disabilities. His marriage in 1965 was an important step in his emotional life. Marriage gave him, he recalled, the determination to live and make professional progress in the world of science. Hawking received his doctorate degree in 1966. He then began his lifelong research and teaching association with Cambridge University.

Hawking made his first major contribution to science with his idea of singularity, a work that grew out of his collaboration (working relationship) with Roger Penrose. A singularity is a place in either space or time at which some quantity becomes infinite (without an end). Such a place is found in a black hole, the final stage of a collapsed star, where the gravitational field has infinite strength. Penrose proved that a singularity could exist in the space-time of a real universe.

Drawing upon the work of both Penrose and Albert Einstein (1879–1955), Hawking demonstrated that our universe had its origins in a singularity. In the beginning all of the matter in the universe was concentrated in a single point, making a very small but tremendously dense body. Ten to twenty billion years ago that body exploded in a big bang that initiated time and the universe. Hawking was able to produce current astrophysical (having to do with the study of stars and the events that occur around them) research to support the big bang theory of the origin of the universe and oppose the competing steady-state theory.

Hawking's research led him to study the characteristics of the best-known singularity: the black hole. A black hole's edges, called the event horizon, can be detected. Hawking proved that the surface area (measurement of the surface) of the event horizon could only increase, not decrease, and that when two black holes merged the surface area of the new hole was larger than the sum of the two original.

Hawking's continuing examination of the nature of black holes led to two important discoveries. The first, that black holes can give off heat, opposed the claim that nothing could escape from a black hole. The second concerned the size of black holes. As originally conceived, black holes were immense in size because they were the end result of the collapse of gigantic stars. Hawking suggested the existence of millions of mini-black holes formed by the force of the original big bang explosion.

In the 1980s Hawking answered one of Einstein's unanswered theories, the famous unified field theory. A complete unified theory includes the four main interactions known to modern physics. The unified theory explains the conditions that were present at the beginning of the universe as well as the features of the physical laws of nature. When humans develop the unified field theory, said Hawking, they will "know the mind of God."

As Hawking's physical condition grew worse his intellectual achievements increased. He wrote down his ideas in A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes. It sold over a million copies and was listed as the best-selling nonfiction book for over a year.

In 1993 Hawking wrote Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, which, in addition to his scientific thoughts, contains chapters about Hawking's personal life. He coauthored a book in 1996 with Sir Roger Penrose titled The Nature of Space and Time. Issues discussed in this book include whether the universe has boundaries and if it will continue to expand forever. Hawking says yes to the first question and no to the second, while Penrose argues the opposite. Hawking joined Penrose again the following year in the creation of another book, The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (1997). In 2002 he was likewise celebrating the publication of The Universe in a Nutshell. Despite decreasing health, Hawking traveled on the traditional book release circuit. People with disabilities look to him as a hero.

Hawking's work in modern cosmology and in theoretical astronomy and physics is widely recognized. He became a fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1974 and five years later was named to a professorial chair at Cambridge University that was once held by Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). Beyond these honors he has earned a host of honorary degrees, awards, prizes, and lectureships from the major universities and scientific societies of Europe and America. By the end of the twentieth century Stephen Hawking had become one of the best-known scientists in the world. His popularity includes endorsing a wireless Internet connection and speaking to wheelchair-bound youth. He also had a special appearance on the television series Star Trek.

Though very private, it is generally known that Stephen's first marriage ended in 1991. He has three children from that marriage.

When asked about his objectives, Hawking told Zygon in a 1995 interview, "My goal is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all."