Stephen Hawking's The Grand Design - A Review

Being an avid science reader, I have been following Dr. Hawking’s work for over a decade and enjoyed his earlier books including Universe in a nutshell, Theory of Everything and a Brief history of time. I started reading his latest work, Grand Design with great expectations and enjoyed Hawking’s typical style of building up the explanations, progression towards a particular discovery and the occasional, witty scientific humor. The book does a fine job in explaining, for a scientifically minded reader, the key principles and ideas behind quantum physics, model-dependent realism, Feynman’s sum over histories, the thought process behind string theory and its respective shortcomings as well as the ultimate lead-in to M-Theory. However, I was relatively disenchanted by the shielding Gott ist tot theme of the manuscript.

It’s fairly evident that Dr. Hawking has outdone everyone including Carl Sagan and Brain Greene in explaining our scientific legacy on the shoulders of giants. His succinct and clear explanation of Einstein’s outrageous legacy of is marvelous. Unfortunately, it is disappointing to see that the grand design does not follow the same knowledge-driven paradigm as seen in Hawking’s earlier writings; rather than keeping the emphasis on scientific process and elucidation of ever so elusive M-theory, the book starts engaging into philosophical first cause arguments, fine-tuning quandaries and meta-physical squabbles without providing sufficient background or scientific justification to whichever. This theme is evident throughout the book where impertinent mythological allegories are repeatedly used as slighting argument; naturally resulting in discourteous hand waving which is a blatant digression from etiquettes of great scientific minds. Dr. Lennox’s response to Grand Design is definitely worth reading to further discover these facets of discourse.

Another challenge which has clearly defied the authors of Grand Design was how to stop regurgitating information which has been discussed in the earlier books as prefaces and keep repetition to a minimum. A significant amount of conversation in the Grand Design leading up to theory of unification was already preamble in Hawking’s earlier writings. Nevertheless the book is a noteworthy reading in modern physics with clarity and defining illustrations.

I probably would have enjoyed it more if instead of making broader disparaging claims like “philosophy is dead”, the grand design would have surfaced as an exemplar of how scientific process is alive and well.