A Brief History of Time

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For the biographical film on Stephen Hawking, see A Brief History of Time (film).
A Brief History of Time
Author Stephen Hawking
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Cosmology
Published 1988 (Bantam Dell Publishing Group)
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 256
ISBN 978-0-553-10953-5
OCLC 39256652
523.1 21
LC Class QB981 .H377 1998
Followed by Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays

A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes is a 1988 popular-science book by British physicist Stephen Hawking.[1] It became a bestseller and sold more than 10 million copies in 20 years.[2] It was also on the London Sunday Times bestseller list for more than four years and was translated into 35 languages by 2001.[3]


Stephen Hawking attempts to explain a range of subjects in cosmology, including the Big Bang, black holes and light cones, to the nonspecialist reader. His main goal is to give an overview of the subject, but he also attempts to explain some complex mathematics. In the 1996 edition of the book and subsequent editions, Hawking discusses the possibility of time travel and wormholes and explores the possibility of having a universe without a quantum singularity at the beginning of time.

Early in 1983, Hawking first approached Simon Mitton, the editor in charge of astronomy books at Cambridge University Press, with his ideas for a popular book on cosmology. Mitton was doubtful about all the equations in the draft manuscript, which he felt would put off the buyers in airport bookshops that Hawking wished to reach. With some difficulty, he persuaded Hawking to drop all but one equation.[4] The author himself notes in the book's acknowledgements that he was warned that for every equation in the book, the readership would be halved, hence it includes only a single equation: E = mc2. The book does employ a number of complex models, diagrams, and other illustrations to detail some of the concepts it explores.


  • 1988: The first edition included an introduction by Carl Sagan that tells the following story: Sagan was in London for a scientific conference in 1974, and between sessions he wandered into a different room, where a larger meeting was taking place. "I realized that I was watching an ancient ceremony: the investiture of new fellows into the Royal Society, one of the most ancient scholarly organizations on the planet. In the front row, a young man in a wheelchair was, very slowly, signing his name in a book that bore on its earliest pages the signature of Isaac Newton... Stephen Hawking was a legend even then." In his introduction, Sagan goes on to add that Hawking is the "worthy successor" to Newton and Paul Dirac, both former Lucasian Professors of Mathematics.[5]

The introduction was removed after the first edition, as it was copyrighted by Sagan, rather than by Hawking or the publisher, and the publisher did not have the right to reprint it in perpetuity. Hawking wrote his own introduction for later editions.

  • 1996, Illustrated, updated and expanded edition: This hardcover edition contained full-color illustrations and photographs to help further explain the text, as well as the addition of topics that were not included in the original book.
  • 1998, Tenth-anniversary edition: It features the same text as the one published in 1996, but was also released in paperback and has only a few diagrams included. ISBN 0553109537
  • 2005, A Briefer History of Time: a collaboration with Leonard Mlodinow of an abridged version of the original book. It was updated again to address new issues that had arisen due to further scientific development. ISBN 0-553-80436-7


In 1991, Errol Morris directed a documentary film about Hawking, but although they share a title, the film is a biographical study of Hawking, and not a filmed version of the book.


The New York's Metropolitan Opera has commissioned an opera to premiere in 2015–16 based on Hawking's book. It will be composed by Osvaldo Golijov with a libretto by Alberto Manguel in a production by Robert Lepage.[6]

See also[edit]

  • Turtles all the way down, a jocular expression of the infinite regress problem in cosmology that appears in Hawking's book.


  1. ^ A Brief History of Time is based on the scientific paper J. B. Hartle; S. W. Hawking (1983). "Wave function of the Universe". Physical Review D. 28 (12): 2960. Bibcode:1983PhRvD..28.2960H. doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.28.2960. 
  2. ^ Paris, Natalie (26 April 2007). "Hawking to experience zero gravity". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  3. ^ "Hawking's briefer history of time". news.bbc.co.uk. 15 October 2001. Retrieved 2008-08-06. 
  4. ^ White, Michael and John Gribbin (1992). Stephen Hawking: a life in science. Viking Press. ISBN 978-0670840137.
  5. ^ Hawking, Stephen (1988). A Brief History of Time. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-38016-8. 
  6. ^ A new Robert Lepage at the Met (French)

External links[edit]