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My father, Frank, came from a line of tenant farmers in Yorkshire, England. His grandfather—my great-grandfather John Hawking—had been a wealthy farmer, but he had bought too many farms and had gone bankrupt in the agricultural depression at the beginning of this century. His son Robert—my grandfather—tried to help his father but went bankrupt himself. Fortunately, Robert’s wife owned a house in Boroughbridge in which she ran a school, and this brought in a small amount of income. They thus managed to send their son to Oxford, where he studied medicine.

My father won a series of scholarships and prizes, which enabled him to send money back to his parents. He then went into research in tropical medicine, and in 1937 he traveled to East Africa as part of his research. When the war began, he made an overland journey across Africa and down the Congo River to get a ship back to England, where he volunteered for military service. He was told, however, that he was more valuable in medical research.

My mother was born in Dunfermline, Scotland, the third of eight children of a family doctor. The eldest was a girl with Down syndrome, who lived separately with a caregiver until she died at the age of thirteen. The family moved south to Devon when my mother was twelve. Like my father’s family, hers was not well off. Nevertheless, they too managed to send my mother to Oxford. After Oxford, she had various jobs, including that of inspector of taxes, which she did not like. She gave that up to become a secretary, which was how she met my father in the early years of the war.

I was born on January 8, 1942, exactly three hundred years after the death of Galileo. I estimate, however, that about two hundred thousand other babies were also born that day. I don’t know whether any of them was later interested in astronomy.

I was born in Oxford, even though my parents were living in London. This was because during World War II, the Germans had an agreement that they would not bomb Oxford and Cambridge, in return for the British not bombing Heidelberg and Göttingen. It is a pity that this civilized sort of arrangement couldn’t have been extended to more cities.

We lived in Highgate, in north London. My sister Mary was born eighteen months after me, and I’m told I did not welcome her arrival. All through our childhood there was a certain tension between us, fed by the narrow difference in our ages. In our adult life, however, this tension has disappeared, as we have gone different ways. She became a doctor, which pleased my father.

My sister Philippa was born when I was nearly five and better able to understand what was happening. I can remember looking forward to her arrival so that there would be three of us to play games. She was a very intense and perceptive child, and I always respected her judgment and opinions. My brother, Edward, was adopted much later, when I was fourteen, so he hardly entered my childhood at all. He was very different from the other three children, being completely non-academic and non-intellectual, which was probably good for us. He was a rather difficult child, but one couldn’t help liking him. He died in 2004 from a cause that was never properly determined; the most likely explanation is that he was poisoned by fumes from the glue he was using for renovations in his flat.

My earliest memory is of standing in the nursery of Byron House School in Highgate and crying my head off. All around me, children were playing with what seemed like wonderful toys, and I wanted to join in. But I was only two and a half, this was the first time I had been left with people I didn’t know, and I was scared. I think my parents were rather surprised at my reaction, because I was their first child and they had been following child development textbooks that said that children ought to be ready to start making social relationships at two. But they took me away after that awful morning and didn’t send me back to Byron House for another year and a half.

At that time, during and just after the war, Highgate was an area in which a number of scientific and academic people lived. (In another country they would have been called intellectuals, but the English have never admitted to having any intellectuals.) All these parents sent their children to Byron House School, which was a very progressive school for those times.

I remember complaining to my parents that the school wasn’t teaching me anything. The educators at Byron House didn’t believe in what was then the accepted way of drilling things into you. Instead, you were supposed to learn to read without realizing you were being taught. In the end, I did learn to read, but not until the fairly late age of eight. My sister Philippa was taught to read by more conventional methods and could read by the age of four. But then, she was definitely brighter than me.

We lived in a tall, narrow Victorian house, which my parents had bought very cheaply during the war, when everyone thought London was going to be bombed flat. In fact, a V-2 rocket landed a few houses away from ours. I was away with my mother and sister at the time, but my father was in the house. Fortunately, he was not hurt, and the house was not badly damaged. But for years there was a large bomb site down the road, on which I used to play with my friend Howard, who lived three doors the other way. Howard was a revelation to me because his parents weren’t intellectuals like the parents of all the other children I knew. He went to the council school, not Byron House, and he knew about football and boxing, sports that my parents wouldn’t have dreamed of following.

Another early memory was getting my first train set. Toys were not manufactured during the war, at least not for the home market. But I had a passionate interest in model trains. My father tried making me a wooden train, but that didn’t satisfy me, as I wanted something that moved on its own. So he got a secondhand clockwork train, repaired it with a soldering iron, and gave it to me for Christmas when I was nearly three. That train didn’t work very well. But my father went to America just after the war, and when he came back on the Queen Mary he brought my mother some nylons, which were not obtainable in Britain at that time. He brought my sister Mary a doll that closed its eyes when you laid it down. And he brought me an American train, complete with a cowcatcher and a figure-eight track. I can still remember my excitement as I opened the box.

Clockwork trains, which you had to wind up, were all very well, but what I really wanted were electric trains. I used to spend hours watching a model railway club layout in Crouch End, near Highgate. I dreamed about electric trains. Finally, when both my parents were away somewhere, I took the opportunity to draw out of the Post Office bank all of the very modest amount of money that people had given me on special occasions such as my christening. I used the money to buy an electric train set, but frustratingly enough, it didn’t work very well either. I should have taken the set back and demanded that the shop or manufacturer replace it, but in those days the attitude was that it was a privilege to buy something, and it was just your bad luck if it turned out to be faulty. So I paid for the electric motor of the engine to be serviced, but it never worked very well, even then.

Later on, in my teens, I built model airplanes and boats. I was never very good with my hands, but I did this with my school friend John McClenahan, who was much better and whose father had a workshop in their house. My aim was always to build working models that I could control. I didn’t care what they looked like. I think it was the same drive that led me to invent a series of very complicated games with another school friend, Roger Ferneyhough. There was a manufacturing game, complete with factories in which units of different colors were made, roads and railways on which they were carried, and a stock market. There was a war game, played on a board of four thousand squares, and even a feudal game, in which each player was a whole dynasty, with a family tree. I think these games, as well as the trains, boats, and airplanes, came from an urge to know how systems worked and how to control them. Since I began my PhD, this need has been met by my research into cosmology. If you understand how the universe operates, you control it, in a way. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

"Stephen Hawking [has] a brain of enviable vastness, seeing and understanding things that lie way beyond most of us... His modesty is engaging" (Daily Mail)

"Hawking writes movingly... we hear his voice radiating directly from the black hole of his motor neuron disease, without the amplification and elaboration supplied by the co-authors with whom he wrote his last few books" (Financial Times)

"A concise, gleaming portrait" (Nature)

"Powerful... [his] brevity makes for a bold picture" (Guardian)

"Read it for the personal nuggets... But above all, it's worth reading for its message of hope" (Mail on Sunday)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 153 commentaires
41 internautes sur 41 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A history brief, simple and sweet 10 septembre 2013
Par A. Jogalekar - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Stephen Hawking is not only a great scientist but he is also an exemplar of grit, optimism and good humor. He is as famous for his triumph over a devastating disease and his determined survival as he is for his scientific brilliance. His book "A Brief History of Time" introduced millions of people to the wonders of the universe. This short memoir now introduces people to his own life which has not been any less wondrous. Those who have read the biographies by John Gribbin and Michael White or by Jane Hawking may not find much that is new in here, but the book definitely benefits from Hawking's simple and illuminating writing style and dry sense of humor. Suffering from an illness like ALS can definitely lead someone to express themselves with economy and clarity.

As the title indicates, the book is very short (144 pages) and is divided into even shorter chapters. Each chapter is more like a snippet that focuses on one particular topic. The earlier chapters deal with Hawking's upbringing in London as the son of caring and slightly eccentric parents, his education at Oxford and Cambridge and his initial struggles with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). Hawking gives us a good idea of the pioneering research on black holes and the Big Bang which he did with Roger Penrose and others. There are also anecdotes about other scientists like Richard Feynman and encounters with celebrities like Popes and Presidents. Hawking talks unflinchingly about his disease without a hint of self-pity, and this is a quality that continues to make him so widely admired, sometimes to the point of reverence.

The later chapters deal with his current research on quantum gravity, his various trips to different parts of the world (including a few weeks spent every year at Caltech) and his two divorces. One revealing part of the book is Hawking's description of the several occasions on which he was on the brink of death; it was only the dedication of his wives, Jane and Elaine, that saved his life. Old and new photographs (some showcasing Hawking's bawdy sense of humor) enliven the narrative. The book ends on a characteristically optimistic note. Hawking says that his devastating illness has not held him back from fully living life and he is grateful for his gifts and for the support others have given him. There's some useful advice there for all of us.
52 internautes sur 54 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
My Brief History by Stephen Hawking is a fascinating jubilee of life, love & triumph over adversity 5 octobre 2013
Par Shannon - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Told with the greatest humility, My Brief History by Stephen Hawking is a fascinating jubilee of life, love and triumph over adversity that gives its readers unprecedented access to the heart and mind of one of the most famous and loved living scientists.

The following is an excerpt of my book review published in association with and Scientific American. The full review can be read online at [...]

The autobiography revealed a great deal about Hawking, the man. Most notably, it took Hawking out of a wheelchair and showed us a vibrant, active, and youthful man. The featured image on the cover of the book, titled "The Boat Club at play," is of Hawking leaping into the air holding a white kerchief. Similarly, we see Hawking, once again defying gravity much later in life, in the last photo of the book where he is floating in "Zero-G" aboard NASA's "Vomit Comet."

Hawking's autobiography genuinely burst to life with 47 archival images, including candid family portraits with his parents and his two sisters, Philippa and Mary, affirming a happy childhood. (A photo of his adopted brother, Edward, is absent). Some of the photos exposed colorful, non-centrist, and controversial aspects of the lives and political beliefs of his parents, Frank and Isobel.The photos of Stephen's first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1965, and their children -- from eldest to youngest: Robert, Lucy, and Tim -- unveiled tender, celebratory moments depicting nearly 25 years of a happy marriage and a joyful home life. The photos, however, masked brewing marital tensions that followed a life-threatening event related to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, commonly known as "ALS" or "Lou Gehrig's disease." Hawking said his declining health led to his wife's affair. He laid bare the circumstances in more detail than expected on pages 84-88, explaining their eventual physical separation in 1990.

The narrative story revealed much about Hawking's early life and education. First, we learned that disability was not new to his family. His mother, who was Scottish and the daughter of a physician, had an older sister afflicted with Down's syndrome, a heritable disease. The experience probably imbued her with an understanding of the patience and dignity required in the process of care giving with the differently abled. While there are some instances in studies showing the heritability of ALS, the actual cause of the motor neural disease remains unknown. His father, who was academically and professionally trained in medicine, was aptly suited to raise a child who developed a medical condition. In short, Hawking could not have been born to a family that would be more capable to provide him with the love, empathy, dignity, and emotional support to pursue his dreams and become the scientist he is today.

As a fellow Cantabrigian, I found the chapters on Cambridge life to be quite relatable and I feel most alumni would enjoy reading the book for the same reason.

In addition to allowing the reader to learn about Hawking as a family man, the book conveyed some surprising stories about his professional studies and career as a cosmologist. Hawking also used his autobiography to correct some misconceptions. He revealed examples of how he felt certain incidences in his life, and his overall public image, had been distorted by the media.

The book no doubt serves as the basis of the recent movie, Hawking, released in the UK by Vertigo Films, September 2013.
28 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Very Brief History 25 septembre 2013
Par Rikki White - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle
I was one of the millions who bought a copy of A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME and read it from cover to cover. It enthused me so much that I enrolled with The Open University and did three years study of AstroPhysics, so I am a hero worshipper of Stephen Hawking and anxious to learn as much as I can about this incredible man. Therefore, I am disappointed that I can only give two stars to this book. I have read several of his books and I was wanting to find out more about the man not his music. There is little new to enlighten the reader of his fortitude with the slings and arrows that life had shot at him. It was more a record of people and places he encountered. Wonderful that he could be so positive about the advantages his disability gave him but I feel I know no more about him than I did at the start of the book. The chapters on his work I found incomprehensible, but that's probably my fault not his. This is a book for admirers of the genius who have little knowledge of his history and want to know something about him. It could appeal to a wider audience than his more scientific offerings as only a small section needs a knowledge of theoretical physics to understand it. The title is apt, it is indeed a very brief history.
15 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
At least now I can say I actually finished a book by Stephen Hawking 17 avril 2014
Par Mary Lavers (in Canada) - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I thought I knew a little bit about Stephen Hawking but after reading his brief autobiography (it really is brief, he's not just saying that as a play on his most famous book, A Brief History of Time) I realized I hadn't known anything about him. First of all, I thought he had cerebral palsy and had been wheelchair bound since childhood. Not so. He has ALS, a degenerative disorder that didn't present symptoms until he was in his early twenties. He was on the rowing team in university! (Though he was the person who does the shouting and no actual rowing. What's that called? I literally just read it. Oh I forget.)

I also learned that Stephen Hawking is twice divorced (the first divorce was particularly complicated and sad) and that he has written a series of science books for children with the help of his daughter, Lucy. I also learned that A Brief History of Time was meant to be a populist book to explain astrophysics to the everyday person. After four failed attempts at reading it, I question whether or not I qualify as an everyday person. But at least now I can say I finished a book by Stephen Hawking!
7 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Ordinary autobiography; extraordinary author !!!!!!!! 1 octobre 2013
Par JL - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Even though, the reader is advised that this autobiography is brief, I agree with some of the reviewers. The first 4 chapters (out of 13) are very general and the author does not deep enough to show himself out as the human being. The other chapters go deeper in more technical information which is not easy for someone outside of Physical Sciences. There are several paragraphs in which the author is inferring the importance he is giving to be intellectual when there are many other important characteristics as a human being (examples: page 7: He was very different from the other three children, being completely non-academic and non-intellectual,...; page 9: Howard was a revelation to me because his parents weren't intellectuals like the parents of all the other children I knew.; page 17: But it also reflected a different kind of population; certainly, none of the parents of my school friends in St. Albans could be described as intellectuals.; etc.). The author does not mention anything regarding his experience of thirty years as Professor of Mathematics, why he became atheist, the details of his two marriages, how he was developing his theoretical thinking, etc. He recognizes that he is happy with his life and doing research in theoretical physics. One of the important things we can find here is that theory was ahead of experiment on various occasions which is not the common in general terms. There must be so much information out there that this brief autobiography could have been a gem.
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