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Descriptions du produit


Chapter One

Thinking About the Universe

WE LIVE IN A STRANGE AND wonderful universe. Its age, size, violence, and beauty require extraordinary imagination to appreciate. The place we humans hold within this vast cosmos can seem pretty insignificant. And so we try to make sense of it all and to see how we fit in. Some decades ago, a well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the turtle standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

Most people nowadays would find the picture of our universe as an infinite tower of turtles rather ridiculous. But why should we think we know better? Forget for a minute what you know-or think you know-about space. Then gaze upward at the night sky. What would you make of all those points of light? Are they tiny fires? It can be hard to imagine what they really are, for what they really are is far beyond our ordinary experience. If you are a regular stargazer, you have probably seen an elusive light hovering near the horizon at twilight. It is a planet, Mercury, but it is nothing like our own planet. A day on Mercury lasts for two-thirds of the planet's year. Its surface reaches temperatures of over 400 degrees Celsius when the sun is out, then falls to almost -200 degrees Celsius in the dead of night. Yet as different as Mercury is from our own planet, it is not nearly as hard to imagine as a typical star, which is a huge furnace that burns billions of pounds of matter each second and reaches temperatures of tens of millions of degrees at its core.

Another thing that is hard to imagine is how far away the planets and stars really are. The ancient Chinese built stone towers so they could have a closer look at the stars. It's natural to think the stars and planets are much closer than they really are-after all, in everyday life we have no experience of the huge distances of space. Those distances are so large that it doesn't even make sense to measure them in feet or miles, the way we measure most lengths. Instead we use the light-year, which is the distance light travels in a year. In one second, a beam of light will travel 186,000 miles, so a light-year is a very long distance. The nearest star, other than our sun, is called Proxima Centauri (also known as Alpha Centauri C), which is about four light-years away. That is so far that even with the fastest spaceship on the drawing boards today, a trip to it would take about ten thousand years.

Ancient people tried hard to understand the universe, but they hadn't yet developed our mathematics and science. Today we have powerful tools: mental tools such as mathematics and the scientific method, and technological tools like computers and telescopes. With the help of these tools, scientists have pieced together a lot of knowledge about space. But what do we really know about the universe, and how do we know it? Where did the universe come from? Where is it going? Did the universe have a beginning, and if so, what happened before then? What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end? Can we go backward in time? Recent breakthroughs in physics, made possible in part by new technology, suggest answers to some of these long-standing questions. Someday these answers may seem as obvious to us as the earth orbiting the sun-or perhaps as ridiculous as a tower of turtles. Only time (whatever that may be) will tell.

Chapter Two

Our Evolving Picture of the Universe

ALTHOUGH AS LATE AS THE TIME of Christopher Columbus it was common to find people who thought the earth was flat (and you can even find a few such people today), we can trace the roots of modern astronomy back to the ancient Greeks. Around 340 B.C., the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote a book called On the Heavens. In that book, Aristotle made good arguments for believing that the earth was a sphere rather than flat like a plate.

One argument was based on eclipses of the moon. Aristotle realized that these eclipses were caused by the earth coming between the sun and the moon. When that happened, the earth would cast its shadow on the moon, causing the eclipse. Aristotle noticed that the earth's shadow was always round. This is what you would expect if the earth was a sphere, but not if it was a flat disk. If the earth were a flat disk, its shadow would be round only if the eclipse happened at a time when the sun was directly under the center of the disk. At other times the shadow would be elongated-in the shape of an ellipse (an ellipse is an elongated circle).

The Greeks had another argument for the earth being round. If the earth were flat, you would expect a ship approaching from the horizon to appear first as a tiny, featureless dot. Then, as it sailed closer, you would gradually be able to make out more detail, such as its sails and hull. But that is not what happens. When a ship appears on the horizon, the first things you see are the ship's sails. Only later do you see its hull. The fact that a ship's masts, rising high above the hull, are the first part of the ship to poke up over the horizon is evidence that the earth is a ball.

The Greeks also paid a lot of attention to the night sky. By Aristotle's time, people had for centuries been recording how the lights in the night sky moved. They noticed that although almost all of the thousands of lights they saw seemed to move together across the sky, five of them (not counting the moon) did not. They would sometimes wander off from a regular east-west path and then double back. These lights were named planets-the Greek word for "wanderer." The Greeks observed only five planets because five are all we can see with the naked eye: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Today we know why the planets take such unusual paths across the sky: though the stars hardly move at all in comparison to our solar system, the planets orbit the sun, so their motion in the night sky is much more complicated than the motion of the distant stars.

Aristotle thought that the earth was stationary and that the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars moved in circular orbits about the earth. He believed this because he felt, for mystical reasons, that the earth was the center of the universe and that circular motion was the most perfect. In the second century a.d. another Greek, Ptolemy, turned this idea into a complete model of the heavens. Ptolemy was passionate about his studies. "When I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course," he wrote, "my feet no longer touch the earth."

In Ptolemy's model, eight rotating spheres surrounded the earth. Each sphere was successively larger than the one before it, something like a Russian nesting doll. The earth was at the center of the spheres. What lay beyond the last sphere was never made very clear, but it certainly was not part of mankind's observable universe. Thus the outermost sphere was a kind of boundary, or container, for the universe. The stars occupied fixed positions on that sphere, so when it rotated, the stars stayed in the same positions relative to each other and rotated together, as a group, across the sky, just as we observe. The inner spheres carried the planets. These were not fixed to their respective spheres as the stars were, but moved upon their spheres in small circles called epicycles. As the planetary spheres rotated and the planets themselves moved upon their spheres, the paths they took relative to the earth were complex ones. In this way, Ptolemy was able to account for the fact that the observed paths of the planets were much more complicated than simple circles across the sky.

Ptolemy's model provided a fairly accurate system for predicting the positions of heavenly bodies in the sky. But in order to predict these positions correctly, Ptolemy had to make an assumption that the moon followed a path that sometimes brought it twice as close to the earth as at other times. And that meant that the moon ought sometimes to appear twice as big as at other times! Ptolemy recognized this flaw, but nevertheless his model was generally, although not universally, accepted. It was adopted by the Christian church as the picture of the universe that was in accordance with scripture, for it had the great advantage that it left lots of room outside the sphere of fixed stars for heaven and hell.

Another model, however, was proposed in 1514 by a Polish priest, Nicolaus Copernicus. (At first, perhaps for fear of being branded a heretic by his church, Copernicus circulated his model anonymously.) Copernicus had the revolutionary idea that not all heavenly bodies must orbit the earth. In fact, his idea was that the sun was stationary at the center of the solar system and that the earth and planets moved in circular orbits around the sun. Like Ptolemy's model, Copernicus's model worked well, but it did not perfectly match observation. Since it was much simpler than Ptolemy's model, though, one might have expected people to embrace it. Yet nearly a century passed before this idea was taken seriously. Then two astronomers-the German Johannes Kepler and the Italian Galileo Galilei-started publicly to support the Copernican theory.

In 1609, Galileo started observing the night sky with a telescope, which had just been invented. When he looked at the planet Jupiter, Galileo found that it was accompanied by several small satellites or moons that orbited around it. This implied that everything did not have to orbit directly around the earth, as Aristotle and Ptolemy had thought. At the same time, Kepler improved Copernicus's theory, suggesting that the planets moved not in circles but in ellipses. With this change the predictions of the theory suddenly matched the observations. These events were the death blows to Ptolemy's model.

Though elliptical orbits improved Copernicus's model, as far as Kepler was concerned they were merely a makeshift hypothesis. That is because Kepler had preconceived ideas about nature that were not based on any observation: like Aristotle, he simply believed that ellipses were less perfect than circles. The idea that planets would move along such imperfect paths struck him as too ugly to be the final truth. Another thing that bothered Kepler was that he could not make elliptical orbits consistent with his idea that the planets were made to orbit the sun by magnetic forces. Although he was wrong about magnetic forces being the reason for the planets' orbits, we have to give him credit for realizing that there must be a force responsible for the motion. The true explanation for why the planets orbit the sun was provided only much later, in 1687, when Sir Isaac Newton published his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, probably the most important single work ever published in the physical sciences.

In Principia, Newton presented a law stating that all objects at rest naturally stay at rest unless a force acts upon them, and described how the effects of force cause an object to move or change an object's motion. So why do the planets move in ellipses around the sun? Newton said that a particular force was responsible, and claimed that it was the same force that made objects fall to the earth rather than remain at rest when you let go of them. He named that force gravity (before Newton the word gravity meant only either a serious mood or a quality of heaviness). He also invented the mathematics that showed numerically how objects react when a force such as gravity pulls on them, and he solved the resulting equations. In this way he was able to show that due to the gravity of the sun, the earth and other planets should move in an ellipse-just as Kepler had predicted! Newton claimed that his laws applied to everything in the universe, from a falling apple to the stars and planets. It was the first time in history anybody had explained the motion of the planets in terms of laws that also determine motion on earth, and it was the beginning of both modern physics and modern astronomy.

Without the concept of Ptolemy's spheres, there was no longer any reason to assume the universe had a natural boundary, the outermost sphere. Moreover, since stars did not appear to change their positions apart from a rotation across the sky caused by the earth spinning on its axis, it became natural to suppose that the stars were objects like our sun but very much farther away. We had given up not only the idea that the earth is the center of the universe but even the idea that our sun, and perhaps our solar system, were unique features of the cosmos. This change in worldview represented a profound transition in human thought: the beginning of our modern scientific understanding of the universe.

Chapter Three

The Nature of a Scientific Theory

IN ORDER TO TALK ABOUT THE nature of the universe and to discuss such questions as whether it has a beginning or an end, you have to be clear about what a scientific theory is. We shall take the simpleminded view that a theory is just a model of the universe, or a restricted part of it, and a set of rules that relate quantities in the model to observations that we make. It exists only in our minds and does not have any other reality (whatever that might mean). A theory is a good theory if it satisfies two requirements. It must accurately describe a large class of observations on the basis of a model that contains only a few arbitrary elements, and it must make definite predictions about the results of future observations. For example, Aristotle believed Empedocles's theory that everything was made out of four elements: earth, air, fire, and water. This was simple enough but did not make any definite predictions. On the other hand, Newton's theory of gravity was based on an even simpler model, in which bodies attracted each other with a force that was proportional to a quantity called their mass and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Yet it predicts the motions of the sun, the moon, and the planets to a high degree of accuracy.

From the Hardcover edition. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“Hawking and Mlodinow provide one of the most lucid discussions of this complex topic ever written for a general audience. . . . [They] maintain the same wry, lively tone that made A Brief History of Time such a delight.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“May be the clearest introduction to physics ever . . . An utterly engrossing read.”—Booklist --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 176 pages
  • Editeur : Bantam Press (11 septembre 2008)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0593056973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0593056974
  • Dimensions du produit: 15,4 x 1,7 x 22,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.7 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 24.531 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Compréhensible pour peu que l'on ait un niveau suffisant en Anglais, le livre explique avec un ton frais et moderne les bases de la physique classique, la physique quantique, réussissant à rendre accessible ce que mes malheureux professeurs n'avaient jamais pu inculquer à une nulle comme moi.

Parfait pour rattraper en autodidacte ses lacunes et commencer à comprendre un peu le monde qui nous entoure.
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Par Ivan le 5 janvier 2014
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
La nouvelle édition de ce livre de référence est vraiment très bien écrite : on comprend tout et facilement. C'est même tellement bien, qu'au final, c'est un peu trop court !
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1 internautes sur 13 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par L. Julien le 26 août 2007
Format: Broché
La date de parution laisse rêveur quant au contenu du bouquin :D Stephen Hawking a du encore perdre un pari ;) ...Espérons que le camion de livraison croise un pont d'Einstein-Rosen
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339 internautes sur 353 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Gets somewhat caught in the switches 4 novembre 2005
Par A Reader - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I do not have a science background, and I did not read a Brief History of Time when it was originally published or thereafter. So this review is written to a fairly small category of potential readers -- those like me with an interest in modern physics but without much background.

I thought the book was exceptionally well written, and it was outstanding in places. It was certainly a very fun read, and I think it achieves a very lofty goal -- making liberal arts grads like me understand both the desirability and potential implications of reconciling general relativity and quantum physics. But, overall, I thought it tried to walk too fine a tightrope between discussing complex subjects and at the same time attempting to be as conversational and accessible as possible. That is a lofty goal -- hard to achieve I think. The reality is that some of these concepts are very very difficult to the uninitiated, so the cursory treatment the authors sometimes give them, in their attempt to make the book accessible and to live up to the "briefER" in the title, actually at times makes the book harder to understand, not easier. It is most acute in the book's introduction to uncertainty, quantum physics, and understanding the implications of interference experiments. More detail, not less, was needed here to reach the authors' goal of accessibility. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't seeking a text heavily laden with mathematics or equations. I just think the overriding editorial doctrine with this book was to condense wherever possible, and that is just not always possible or desirable.

All that said, the book achieves it purpose: To take some of the amazing intelligence and insight of one of the world's most important thinkers, squeeze it into understandable packets, and give us ordinary folk some insight into the exciting times in which anyone interested in the Universe and its fundamental questions live. But to steal a little from Einstein, I thought the authors didn't quite follow the second half of his famous exhortation to make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler.
156 internautes sur 161 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Science Classic Now made Accessible to Everyone!! 9 décembre 2005
Par Stephen Pletko - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié

"In this book are lucid revelations on the frontiers of physics, astronomy, cosmology [the study of the universe as a whole], and courage [Dr. Stephen Hawking has ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease or motor neuron disease contracted when he was young and now is wheelchair bound]. This is also a book about God...or perhaps about the absence of God. The word God fills these pages. Hawking embarks on a quest to answer Einstein's famous question about whether God had any choice in creating the universe. Hawking is attempting, as he explicitly states, to understand the mind of God. And this makes all the more unexpected the conclusion of the effort, at least so far: a universe with no edge in space, no beginning or end in time, and nothing for a Creator to do."

These are the words in the last paragraph of the introduction to Hawking's very first or original book "A Brief History of Time" (1988). These words were written by the late, great Dr. Carl Sagan. (In his introduction, Sagan calls Hawking a "legend.")

Nothing has changed with this new book with respect to what Sagan says above. But as a reader of Hawking's first book, I did notice welcome changes.

First, this new book is more concise. This does not mean this book is drastically shorter than the original. This new book is about twenty pages less than the original. Also this new book contains one more chapter than the original! What this book does is cut out extraneous technical detail from the original and focuses only on the most important concepts but still maintains the essence of the original. Thus, the book seems much more concise.

Next, and this is very important, this book is more accessible. The important concepts mentioned above, I found, are explained much more clearly thus increasing this book's readability in order to achieve Hawking's (and collaborator Leonard Mlodinow's) goal: "to share some of the excitement of...[scientific] discoveries, and the new picture of reality that is emerging as a result."

Third, this book is illustrated throughout with color illustrations. Actually, the original book was also illustrated but the new illustrations are, I feel, more easier to grasp. (I only have a complaint with the first illustration in this new book because it doesn't illustrate the point it's trying to make.)

Finally, this book is actually updated with respect to the latest theoretical and observational results! For example, this book describes recent progress that's been made in finding a complete unified theory of all the forces of physics and describes the progress made in string theory (technically called superstring theory). Observational material comes from the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite and by the Hubble Space Telescope. Thus, even though I read the original book, I still learned much from this book.

As with the original book, this book contains a helpful glossary and an appendix briefly outlining the lives of Albert Einstein (1879 to 1955), Galileo (1564 to 1642), and Sir Isaac Newton (1642 to 1727). (Notice that Newton was born in the same year Galileo died. Hawking was born in 1942, three hundred years after the death of Galileo.)

Here are the names of the chapter titles:

(1) Thinking about the universe.

(2) Our evolving picture of the universe (Discussion of Galileo starts here.)

(3) The nature of scientific theory.

(4) Newton's universe.

(5) Relativity. (Discussion of Einstein starts here.)

(6) Curved space.

(7) The expanding universe.

(8) The Big Bang, black holes, and the evolution of the universe. (It is thought that the Big Bang is how the universe began. A black hole is a region of space or more correctly space-time, where nothing, not even light can escape, because gravity is so strong.)

(9) Quantum Gravity. (This is a theory that merges quantum mechanics that is a theory that deals with the very small with general relativity that is a theory of the very large and that incorporates gravity.)

(10) Wormholes and time travel. (A wormhole is theoretically a thin tube of space or space-time connecting distant regions of the universe.)

(11) The forces of nature and the unification of gravity. (The forces of nature are electromagnetism, the weak force of radioactivity, the strong force that binds the atomic nucleus together, and gravity. The first three forces can be combined or unified but gravity seems to stand on its own.)

(12) Conclusion. (Last words in this chapter: "then we would know the mind of God.")

Finally, this book is not referenced. However since Hawking is Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a post once held by Newton and Sagan witnessed his accepting this position in 1974, I think I can safely take Hawking at his word.

In conclusion, this book is a reorganized version of a science classic that is now more accessible, more concise, better illustrated, and updated with the latest research. It is not to be missed!!

(first published 2005; acknowledgements; forward; 12 chapters; main narrative 160 pages; appendix; glossary; index)

92 internautes sur 102 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
rather like plumbing 17 juin 2006
Par David A. Baer - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
When I mentioned to my friend Carver Yu that I was reading this book, he scrunched up his face in the way that only a man who knows the field well can do and commented, `Well, of course, that book contains a fair bit of metaphysical speculation.'


That is what makes Hawking's attempt to simplify his original one-syllable-less A Brief History of Time such a beguiling reader for a non-specialist like me. Call it metaphysical speculation or call it a daring attempt to translate the astrophysicists' language into yours and mine without losing the power of asking us to imagine a world nearly completely different than the one we thought we lived in. Call it what you want, it's still a read well worth the effort it requires.

Don't shy away from finishing this book if you don't understand it all. Allow it the chance to paint an impressionistic portrait of what physicists--many of them justly awe-struck by the object of their inquiry--believe that they see `out there' when some of humanity's best minds ask the fundamental questions and follow the theories (theirs is a theory-rich pursuit) where they lead. Many of those theories, as Hawking describes them, will sound like nonsense. Unless sense is different than we thought.

When I was at Cambridge, I used to bicycle past the severely disabled Stephen Hawking in his wheelchair, followed by his personal nurse, as he wheeled between home and office, his mind no doubt drifting far from the concrete course of his wheelchair across the Commons. One wonders whether paragraphs of Briefer History and other of his works were taking shape as our paths crossed.

Metaphysical speculation for those who dare to imagine things they may not fully understand. Things like wormholes, peabrains, and a universe curved so severely that words almost fail in the explaing of it.

If that sounds provocative enough to justify the effort, this book is for you.
97 internautes sur 111 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Too Brief 1 août 2006
Par Michael Gunther - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
"A Briefer History of Time" is a graceful summary of spacetime physics, written entirely for non-scientific readers; it contains no formulas, and can be understood by any bright teenager. Before you run out and buy a copy, though, you should know that - due to the book's very short length and intended readership for a general audience - it is very elementary and covers its field in only the briefest of ways. If the reader has read any other popular treatment of this subject in the last few years, there will not be anything new in the "Briefer History."

Given Hawking's stature in the field, most readers would hope to get some kind of unique perspective or approach from this book. Unfortunately, as it is, the book offers little more than an incomplete run-through of a few basic ideas.
21 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Great Starting Point on Theoretical Physics 19 mai 2007
Par R. Silva - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Hawking's landmark bestseller, A Brief History of Time, was published in 1988, and an updated edition was released ten years later. It introduced readers around the world to the large-scale (and very small scale) questions that are central to astronomy, physics, and to our understanding of the universe at the most basic levels.

This new book (co-writtin with Leonard Mlodinow; nerds out there will be interested to know that Mlodinow wrote for Star Trek: The Next Generation) serves two purposes. First, it presents much of the material from Hawking's original book into a more accessible format, with less emphasis on mathematics and fewer technical details.

The second purpose is to update the reader on new discoveries made since the updated A Brief History of Time was published in the late 1990's, with string theory getting particular attention.

Making a book on theoretical physics that can be considered a "light read" is a daunting task, but Hawking's voice comes through with a clear, conversational tone and an easy confidence that inspires the reader to wrap their mind around the paradoxes of quantum mechanics and general relativity.

There are a few places where the book seems a bit too watered down. Discussions of FTL travel and time travel seem to be reluctantly thrown in because the authors knew there would be demand for these topics. Neither is addressed with much depth or enthusiasm.

The historical aspects of the book, on the other hand, are exceptionally well written, including brief biographical appendices on the lives of Einstein, Newton, and Galileo. Science has a rich history, and the team of Hawking and Mlodinow do a nice job of telling the stories behind the discoveries and theories.

The book is illustrated with computer-generated full-color graphics, which are a bit of a mixed bag. Some do a great job of illustrating a concept, while others seem to be thrown in just to break up the text.

Interestingly, while Hawking and Mlodinow do not specifically set forth their own religious viewpoints in this book, the spend a good deal of time acknowledging the possibility of the existence of God, and discussing the interplay between theoretical physics and the concept of a creator.

As a science teacher who is not specifically teaching physics (I teach chemistry), I found that A Briefer History of Time really raised my interest and enthusiasm while summarizing some concepts that I was out of practice with. I found myself discussing ideas from this book with my students the day after I started reading it.

In general, this is a great starting point or refresher for anyone with an interest in physics. If you are already familiar with the subject matter, you may still enjoy the historical details and the narrative voice, although there is not a great deal of technical depth.
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