• The Universe in a Nutshell

  • By: Stephen Hawking
  • Narrated by: Simon Prebble
  • Length: 3 hrs and 27 mins
  • 4.3 out of 5 stars (1,153 ratings)

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The Universe in a Nutshell

By: Stephen Hawking
Narrated by: Simon Prebble
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Publisher's Summary

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 work, Hawking brings us to the cutting edge of theoretical physics, where truth is often stranger than fiction, to explain in layman's terms the principles that control our universe.

Like many in the community of theoretical physics, 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 accessable 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. 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 spacetime. The Universe in a Nutshell is essential listening for all of us who want to understand the universe in which we live.

©2001 Stephen Hawking (P)2001 Random House Inc., Random House Audio, a Division of Random House Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Hawking clearly possesses a natural teacher's gifts...and an ability to illustrate highly complex propositions with analogies plucked from daily life." (The New York Times)

What listeners say about The Universe in a Nutshell

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

This stuff is *hard*

I have always been amazed that Stephen Hawkings' books have been so popular, as his subject is so difficult. There is no easy way to get to concepts like Yang Mills fields, multidimensional space-time, and quantum theories of gravitation. Hawkings is a brilliant and informal guide, but there is no way around that fact that the concepts of 20th century physics are very difficult (let alone 21st century physics). In part because these concepts are so familiar to Hawkings himself, he does not do a very good job of connecting them with things that might be more familiar. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that he does his best, but the concepts remain very complex and remote.

In general, this is an engaging book, but I was hanging on by my fingernails trying to keep up.

55 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Nutty Professor Hawking

I walk away from this book realizing three things. First, that Hawking, "the world's smartest man" (according to The Simpsons), has a limited if not naive understanding of the philosophy, history, and sociology of science. In spite of his lip service to scientific positivism, he seems very much to believe that the supposedly imminent Theory of Everything will describe how the universe actually works, instead of being just one way (out of many) to explain incomplete observations. Hawking believes in scientific progress. Second, I realize that the standard model of the universe, if indeed we could indentify just one, is utterly absurd. Hawking is supposedly describing the universe on the smallest and largest scale, but this is not the world in which we LIVE, i.e., make our own observations and ratiocinations. When it comes to the very large and the very small (and even the very fast), we rely on scientists to elucidate us, and what a tale they tell: relative time, 10-11 dimensions, real time travel. Why do we listen? Hawking's writing is sometimes quite enjoyable but rarely cogent per se. Do we need to believe? Third, I see that science is always a language of metaphors, with all their aptness and distortions. "Strings," "wormholes," and apparently even "dimension," are all just linguistic shorthands for concepts with which we have no experience to even justify such labelings. A fascinating book to be sure, not because it explains any secrets of the universe, but because we think it might.

51 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Very good

This book was full of really great concepts and ideas that got me thinking and inspired. Although I was lost a couple times throughout the book, most of the time the ideas where very simply put using everyday metaphors anyone would understand.

26 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Educational and yet fun.

I truly enjoyed this book. I love how as he speaks on a subject, Stephen throws in little tid-bits about his life (like where someone has sat in his chair at cambridge, or funny things about his daughter's birth).

I imagine the science and math would be hard to follow for people not previously "in" on some of the lingo and concepts, but he seems to break it down well enough though.

He repeats himself sometimes, I'm not sure if thats the reader making a mistake, or a typographical thing, but I noticed it more than once. Also, he reviews concepts he's already illustrated earlier, as if this book were written for students and under the assumtion only individual chapters will be read.

I love how he gives credit, even to scientists that differ in opinion from him. He breaks down to the almost stupid level some concepts to help you understand why they will work, or not work. I also love how he dives into the risky waters of time travel and religion as he talks, and explains. I'm sure many out there will have arguements with his logic on a thing or two, but who can argue with his courage to discuss the previously undiscussable (well, outside of sci-fi).

A great read, and it covers such a broad spectrum of space-science. I recommend it to anyone who craves to understand anything about the universe from black-holes to parallel dimensions.

25 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Bertrand Russell was Right.

The English mathematician/philospher Bertrand Russell once claimed that popular books on relativity become unintelligible just when they begin to discuss something of real substance. One cannot help feeling that this is once again the case with Stephen Hawking's audiobook. I bought this book and I have been moving the narrator "back in forth in time" with my replay button, listening and relistening to what Hawking writes. The naration is outstanding. However, the organization seems higgly-piggly. We are given tastes of general relativity, particle spins, string theory, multiple quantum histories, black holes, etc. But,there is never any pause to fully explicate what is going on. I for one would prefer listening to Professor Hawking tell us how he visualizes the electro-magnetic field, as well as how light propagates within it. What is the difference between an electron (which is intimately tied up with electricity) and a photon of light (which is apparently created by undulations in the electro-magnetic field)? I wish Audible would offer audiobooks by Paul Davies. Professor Davies is somewhat more experienced at explaining things to us students in the back of the class. Then again, perhaps that's the nature of books which give us the universe in a nutshell. The nut is too hard to crack.

21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The Universe For Dummies

Dr. Hawkins did it right this time (no pun intended) with this book. If your eyes glazed over in an attempt to follow along and wrap your head around the physics theories in his first book, your are going to love this one. As he explains in the book's introduction, in the first book the chapters (or ideas) built upon each successive chapter. If you didn't understand after chapter two, you could not hope to understand chapter 3,4,5, etc. With this book, he builds the foundation in chapters 1 & 2. So if chapter 3 fizzes your gray matter, you can skip it because the remaining chapters stand on their own.

If you are a space time junkie that is fascinated by space time and quantum mechanics you are in for a very special treat. This man's mind is as special as the theories he explains. This is a great book. Buy it.

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Tough going, but well worth the listen

After completing this book, I was amazed that Hawking would claim in the introduction that it was meant to be "easier to understand" than "A brief history of time". It has been several years since I have read the latter book, but I wouldn't rate "The universe in a nutshell" as easier. It was tough going. It was, however, fascinating, and what I enjoyed most were some of Hawking's less inaccessible comments on the future of scientific progress and human existence in the later chapters. The narration was reasonably good. This was well worth the purchase.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

I could be bounded in a nutshell

Stephen Hawking book "The Universe in a Nutshell" is a sequel to his famous "Brief History of Time" and brings to our attention some discoveries and findings in the theories of the universe that happened in almost 15 years since the first, book was published.
I'm not going to review the scientific content of this popular book - there are so many good reviews, that it does not make any sense. However, I want to mention that, as always, Hawking is the great teacher and science advocate, and when he speaks of the most difficult concepts like p-branes, singularities or time travels.

I want to stress some important things. It is admirable how he positions since in the framework of human knowledge. As a person who touches, in his research the great mysteries of the Universe, he had temptation to tend to religious, or, anti-religious interpretations of his research. However, with Stephen - it is not to happen. He says of himself as of positivist from the good school of Carl Popper.

In the past I was also scientist, and I must say - this is the only approach to science we can have and preserve science objectivity and truth searching power!

What is more important, if one is truly religious, he or she will find in Stephen Hawking thoughts, the deep confirmation of spiritual message we get from science - but it is not so simple and not straightforward, as many would expect.

It is amazing when you read, close in time about sages of Kabalah and their thoughts on many worlds G-d COULD create, and suddenly you jump into Hawkings and read about "parallel worlds" of modern theory of Universe...

The book is also great for the large dose of good humour. As for author suffering so much from incurable illness - this is just great and elevating ...

I will finish my review, with incredible connection of the book to Shakespeare Hamlet:
"O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself asking of infinite space..."

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Why are we here?

The author makes an attempt to explain the various universal laws governing things that happen. It's a valiant effort but I am not sure how accurate it is at times. Some of it is speculation and guesses. This would be an excellent book to read in conjunction with the Bible and books of that sort. The three basic laws of Newton seem to hold more water than some of the recent theories.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Great book.

If you could sum up The Universe in a Nutshell in three words, what would they be?

Interesting concise funny

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

Hawking does a great job in summing up a bunch of physics questions and theories in this book. He also reveals that he has a sense of humor reminiscent of Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers Guide.

Have you listened to any of Simon Prebble’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I am still perplexed by the chapter on the histories of the universe but the way he explained time travel and other theories was very straightforward and interesting.

3 people found this helpful