Tag Archive: Stephen Hawking

Review by C.J. Bunce

Lists, and by extension, books with lists, are the stuff that sprout conversation.  Sometimes good conversation, sometimes knock-down-drag-outs, but always something to talk about.  We saw that last month in our look at Must-See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies that Are Out of This World, and it applies to Scott Christianson and Colin Salter’s new audacious work, 100 Books that Changed the World This book is not merely a list of books, but an argument supporting why the authors think each book merits recognition.  After all, with more than 2 million new books published each year (300,000 per year in the U.S. alone) and documented writings going back thousands of years, whittling them all down to 100 is a bit daunting at a minimum.  Grade schoolers, college liberal arts and sciences majors, and everyone else has probably encountered a list like this before, usually styled the “greatest,” “most influential,” or “most significant” books ever written.  Ultimately, readers may find the compilation of 100 books that “changed the world” results in a very similar set of books.

What would make your list?  You can probably list 20 included without much work.  The authors state in their preface that there are 50 books everyone would agree should be included.  Think religion and myths (the Torah, the Bible, the Quran), math and science (Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Newton’s Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica), philosophy and politics (Plato’s The Republic, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man), works of fiction (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings), classic children’s books (Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s Fairy Tales), works of the often-disputed literary greats (I’m looking at you, James Joyce), and works of long undisputed literary masters like Homer and Shakespeare.  Yes, these are all “givens” for a list like this.  But noteworthy great additions I don’t recall seeing on a list like this before include Louis Braille’s Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong in Dots, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of TimeAnd no author made the list more than once, except the writers of the Bible, which appears on the list twice: for the Gutenberg Bible and the King James version.

The authors hope their book “makes you question your own choices or ours, or introduces you to a book.”  Criticisms of 100 Books that Changed the World aren’t going to be all that dire as much as simply topics for discussion.  They’re the same critiques of any list or book like this.  Thirty-seven books on the list were written by authors from England, removing the inclusion of any books from some countries.  The list is heavily back loaded, with 26 books from the 19th century and 35 books from the 20th century–explainable in part since the authors didn’t have a lot to select from the first 3,000 years covered.  The oldest book included is the I Ching, roughly 4,800 years old, and the most recent, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein, only four years old.  The late history scholar Robert E. Schofield postulated that historians cannot accurately assess the influence of a historical period unless at least 50 years has transpired, and consistent with that theory, nine books shouldn’t have made the cut, removing books like Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel Maus, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  

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Zoolander 2

Look for a nice trick while you watch the first trailer for the sequel to Ben Stiller’s cult comedy hit Zoolander–Zoolander II or 200lander, if you prefer.  At two minutes we’d normally call the trailer full-length, but you’ll soon see why this is barely a teaser.  We all like Ben Stiller, who seems to compete back and forth in the cinemas with the latest and greatest from Adam Sandler.  Zoolander was certainly one of his stranger, if not the strangest pursuits, he’s provided.

The teaser is a fairly well done Cosmos-esque narration by none other than Stephen Hawking himself.  Right?  Yet this is comedy.  Parody even.  And the teaser clearly reveals at the end that the marketeers used only the same computer platform Hawking uses–DECTalk–to fake the very Hawking-like preview.

Sure, it would be that much funnier if this was really Hawking behind the lambasting of Zoolander.  And you must ask:  At what point should Hawking get some kind of compensation for this unique use of his likeness?  It’s definitely a unique analysis–how often is someone so closely affiliated with a computer voice that it becomes synonymous with the celebrity best known for using it?  The answer is that this is that guy, and that use.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Math?  When am I going to use that in the real world?

Not every mathematician is eccentric like Alan Turing was.  Yet the standout math wizards that make it to the screen have included the likes of math geniuses John Nash (A Beautiful Mind), and Stephen Hawking (The Theory of Everything), making you think a pattern exists–that quirky is a pre-requisite to mathematical genius.  We discussed before here at borg.com Andrew Wiles, the modern-day problem solving genius who solved Fermat’s Theorem.  Wiles seemed teetering on the edge of sanity as he locked himself away to solve a seemingly impossible math riddle, as documented in the brilliant NOVA film, The Proof.

The common tie between Nash, Hawking, and Wiles is the pursuit of the theoretical.  Fermat’s Theorem was merely a puzzle, sitting untouched for hundreds of years with no real-world application.  The average person doesn’t want to take the time to understand the practical significance of math theory, of solving math problems, and theorizing about scientific answers to the many ways we ask the question “why?”  The story of Alan Turing is different, and his story may be a key to spread understanding of what mathematicians can do to a wider reach, as explored in the holiday weekend release The Imitation Game. 

Mark Strong Benedict Cumberbatch

If you’ve studied World War II or seen the Gregory Peck World War II film Twelve O’Clock High, you’ll recall the unrelenting pounding Allied forces were taking in the middle of the war, losing bombers day after day, flying missions with no end in sight to keep up the momentum against Germany.  It was a job that had to succeed–failure was not an option.  While politicians strategized, generals planned raids, and soldiers fought and died, Alan Turing was trying to build a machine that would break the code machine called Enigma that the Nazis were using to communicate.  Hidden in the open, in front of the world, over encrypted radio waves, were instructions between German commanders and field forces on all their movements.  It’s the practical nature of what Turing accomplished that might sell some on the potential relevance of math.  The fact that his “Turing machine” was the predecessor to the modern computer should attract anyone to this fascinating story.

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