The Cartoon History of Time

Hawking’s “Brief History of Time” (1988) is something I read back when it was first a best-seller – bought as a present for me by a parent or family friend IIRC – long before I discovered the research topic that became “Psybertron”. Sometime late 90’s not long before I did start here, we bought Kate Charlesworth and John Gribbin “The Cartoon History of Time” (1990) possibly as a present for one of our sons (I think) and I inherited that copy over many moves of residence right up to today.

It’s still my go-to resource when relating to any new physics “evolution of the cosmos” style in the 21st C – think Krauss or Carroll or Rovelli or … so thumbed that for a few years now it’s 68 pages – full-colour / heavy-paper / card – have totally fallen apart, held together in a bulldog clip. I spent several days of effort scanning and collating an electronic copy before I noticed that Dover Publications had re-published a 2013 edition and that now included a Kindle copy. Which I have recently acquired:


Post Note:

And the problem with Hawking’s original, and so many science-inspired people since – is the arrogance of this quote:

“The eventual goal of science
is to provide a single theory
that describes the whole universe.”

Completely dismissing the “more than science” agenda of my recent post / talks / workshops. Gribbin and Charlesworth stick to the physical science.


2 thoughts on “The Cartoon History of Time”

  1. I too received the Hawking book as a present. At the time I didn’t enjoy it; as I remember, he wasn’t the clearest science writer I’d ever read. Now I often see copies at used-book shops. Maybe I’ll give him another chance someday.

    The issue of time intrigues me more and more of late. I’m finally having a go at Kant’s Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, where he presents a simplified version of the ideas about space and time in his Critique of Pure Reason. Then there is the Einsteinian shake-up of our ideas about space-time, along with the apparently non-local mysteries of quantum mechanics, and their possible relation to the philosophy of Parmenides and the paradoxes of Zeno. (This was explored in a library book I read recently, called The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality. In the end I found it a bit tenuous, but thought-provoking.)

    As I recall, Kierkegaard had some interesting things to say about time in The Concept of Dread I keep meaning to re-read them.

    The comic looks fascinating. Is it Hawking redux, or does it offer another take?

  2. Hawking’s original I wasn’t particularly moved by, but I never really analysed why in those days and I’ve never gone back to it.

    The cartoon version was clearly inspired by the original, but I don’t believe it religiously follows the same scope / story even as a redux version. I think originally author and cartoonist were part of the “New Scientist” magazine team, better at communicating with readers than Hawking. Although the visual presentation and the chicken (which came first) / cat (a la Schrodinger) character links are obviously cartoonish and humorous, the actual diagrams and words are a serious description of the ideas. I’d recommend it in its own right – quite independent of / whether people have heard of Hawking or not 🙂

    [PS – I always assumed Hawking’s original was a bit of an emperor’s suit of clothes – publicly recognised as important, but not actually that good, and since so few people actually read it and/or publicly admitted they didn’t get it, the world carried on in ignorance. And I should add that although the Amazon blurb to the 2013 Edition says it’s a version of the Hawking work, there is ZERO acknowledgement of Hawking as a source anywhere in either edition – Hawking’s only mention is as one of the many scientists involved in the story.]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.