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Documentary Review - A Brief History of Time - Stephen Hawking's Life (1991)

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Although this documentary has the same name as Stephen Hawking’s famous work, it is not an explanation of his work.  Rather, it is a series of interviews of family and friends who know Stephen on a personal basis, and give us an insight into the life of this great mind.  There are references to his theories about the universe, but unless one is familiar with Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, and the Black Hole, it is impossible to decode the jargon that pops up regarding these topics.


Stephen Hawking

                                                          Stephen Hawking - Wikimedia


Stephen Hawking was born in 1942 in Oxford, England which would make him 74 years old at the present time.  His birth date was exactly 300 years after the death of Galileo.  The documentary relates much information about his personal life.  An interview with his mother recounts that as a child, he was greatly interested in astronomy, and his body was never still.  The family loved to play board games which Stephen enjoyed because he loved solving complicated problems.  At one point in his school year, he was third from the bottom in his class.  His attitude was that he had found nothing worth making an effort.  Even so, he was recognized as being very bright.  He did receive the Divinity prize one year because his father had read bible stories to him at an early age.  His mother is a charming woman and, of course, delights in the fame of her son. 

When asked about his future plans when he was a teenager, Stephen said if he received a “first,” he would go to Cambridge.  If he only received a “second,” he would stay in Oxford.  He received a first.


Black Hole

                                                                Black Hole - Wikimedia

Early Symptoms of His Disease

Early on, there were symptoms of the disease that would debilitate him.  Once, when he was ice skating on a pond, he fell and could not get up.  Another time, he climbed a tree but found that his hands were less useful than they used to be.  He managed to get himself down, but told nobody about it at the time.  When Stephen was in college, he fell down the stairs and lost his memory.  He was taken to a friend’s room where he asked twice “Who am I?”  He then remembered, and his memory came back gradually.  After two hours, he remembered everything.  He decided to test himself by taking the Mensa Test, and he passed it, thankfully.

The Final Diagnosis

After his 21st birthday, he was given some tests with electrodes and then fluid in his spine.  He was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which is a motor neuron disease for which there is no cure.  He was given 2 1/2 years to live.    

One friend from his early days was interviewed, and stated that the entire Hawking family was very eccentric, highly intelligent, very clever, but a bit odd.  When someone was invited to dinner, family members would be reading a book at the table.  Stephen seemed like the only normal member of the house.  You could have a conversation with Stephen.



                                                             Albert Einstein - Wikimedia

Stephen’s College Days

A college classmate related that the students were given the homework to read three chapters on the subject of electrical magnetism and answer the 13 questions at the end.  The classmate said he could not answer any of them; another classmate could only answer 1 1/2 of the questions.  Stephen worked three hours on the assignment, and when asked about it, he said he only had time to answer the first ten questions.  The interviewee said “We were not on the same street; we weren’t even on the same planet."

Stephen never kept his notes; he just threw them in the Prof’s waste basket.  His friends saw that and were horrified.  He stated that he got through exams by taking questions that did not require factual knowledge, but chose to answer problems in theoretical physics.  His main interest was in Cosmology.

One friend related that they were having a conversation on the spontaneous generation of life.  He bet another friend that Stephen would turn out to be very capable.  The other friend disagreed.  They made a bet of a bag of sweets.  The first friend felt that he had won the bet but hasn’t received the payment yet.


Math Tables

                                                   Mathematical Equation - Wikimedia

Stephen Marries Jane Wilde

Stephen was just 21 when he met Jane Wilde.  Almost immediately after they got together, he discovered that he was seriously ill.  Jane was devoted to Stephen; however he would never mention his illness.  It was as if it did not exist.  They had three children.  After 26 years of marriage, Stephen left Jane to live with his nurse Elaine Mason, and he and Jane were divorced. 

Jane stated “for many years I put every spoon of food into his mouth, dressed him and bathed him. You do not forget that experience.”  She reasoned that the publicity that Stephen received after the publication of “A Brief History of Time” had taken him away from his family life.  Stephen was an atheist, and Jane believed in God.  It is unclear if their beliefs contributed to the decline of their marriage.  Stephen and his caregiver, Elaine, also divorced in 2006 after eleven years of marriage.

Stephen’s Main Interests

The many questions that Stephen pondered included “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Did the universe have a beginning?  What happened before then?  Where did the universe come from, and where is it going?  How real is time?  Will it ever come to an end?  Where does the distance between the past and the future come from?  Why do we remember the past, but not the future?”  So many of Stephen’s explanations and theories are so arcane in this film that the average person does not have the ability to understand his thinking.  There is no need to repeat any of the jargon in this review.

Stephen was adamant, however, that he did not believe that the universe was expanding.  A static universe seemed more natural to him.  The expansion of the universe suggests that it had a beginning sometime in the past.  This became known as the “Big Bang Theory.”  An expanding universe would not preclude a creator.

The Stature of Stephen Hawking

Enough of this!  Stephen is recognized as one of the greatest minds of the century, and stands with Galileo, Einstein, and Isaac Newton as contributors to our knowledge of the universe.  For thirty years, Stephen was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, the same chair once held by Isaac Newton.



A Brief History of Time
Amazon Price: $18.00 $6.57 Buy Now
(price as of Feb 14, 2016)


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  1. "Stephen Hawking." The Official Website. 14/02/2016. 14/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "Jane Hawking: Brief history of a first wife." The Guardian. 14/02/2016. 14/02/2016 <Web >

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