cover image Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity

Hawking Hawking: The Selling of a Scientific Celebrity

Charles Seife. Basic, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5416-1837-4

Journalist Seife (Virtual Unreality) takes a convoluted look at the life of physicist and renowned science communicator Stephen Hawking (1942–2018). Seife makes the case that despite the glowing press Hawking received, he was neither the world’s preeminent physicist nor a particularly talented writer. Instead, “he was a brand.” Nodding to Hawking’s passion for theories of time travel, Seife tells his story in reverse order, beginning with Hawking’s death and rewinding to his birth. Seife covers Hawking’s education at Cambridge University, his first wife Jane’s memoirs, and tabloid coverage of his “sexual outings in California.” Unfortunately, Seife’s telling in reverse is more gimmicky than instructive, despite Seife’s claim that “the life of Stephen Hawking becomes clearer as time moves backward, as the accumulated layers of celebrity and legend are stripped away.” That Seife recognizes the problems with this approach is clear from the frequency with which he alerts readers that pertinent information will appear in later chapters, from earlier in Hawking’s life. Seife also isn’t always successful in translating high-level physics into accessible terms (“The Feynman path integral method works in a manifold that has a Euclidian geometry,” for example). Readers will gain a glimpse into the life of a larger-than-life scientist, even if Seife doesn’t bring a lot new to the table. (Apr.)