Mr. Hawking’s new book, “The Grand Design,” published yesterday, has already made headlines and been a trending topic on Twitter, thanks to a different sort of God-mongering. This time Mr. Hawking has, we’re told, declared God pretty much dead.
His search for an answer to the question “How did the universe begin?” has led him to suggest that the creation of our universe and others simply “does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god.” It’s another canny move. Books about the God wars are easier to argue about than those that parse the finer points of quantum physics. As I’m typing this, “The Grand Design” is the No. 1 book on Amazon, one spot above “Freedom,” the heavily hyped new Jonathan Franzen novel.
The real news about “The Grand Design,” however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about “The Grand Design” is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in “A Brief History of Time” has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.
“The Grand Design” is packed with grating yuks. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” (Oh, my.) This is the sort of book that introduces the legendary physicist Richard Feynman as “a colorful character who worked at the California Institute of Technology and played the bongo drums at a strip joint down the road.” Mr. Hawking has written “The Grand Design” with Leonard Mlodinow, a fellow physicist who has also worked on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” They’re an awkward pair, part “A Beautiful Mind,” part Borscht Belt. This book is provocative pop science, an exploration of the latest thinking about the origins of our universe. But the air inside this literary biosphere is not especially pleasant to breathe.