Monday, June 23, 2008

Who reads popular books on cosmology? Well, almost everyone who actually reads, it seems

But it can be hard to convince publishers of that fact. Says Lucy Hawking (yes, daughter of Stephen) in the Sunday Times (June 14, 2008), reflecting on the popularity of good science writing with the book-buying public:
Possibilities for disaster were clearly on the mind of the publishers who offered my father Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, a contract without an advance for his first popular book, A Brief History of Time. Published in the end by a different house, the book went on to defy all those who thought the public would not be interested in a work explaining the advances of modern physics in terms anyone could understand.

A Brief History of Time became a runaway bestseller in more than 40 languages, spent 224 weeks on the bestseller list and celebrates its 20th anniversary - still in print - this week. It is another great work in which a scientist's imagination has played a key role.
Meanwhile, Lucy Hawking and her father have written a book, George's Secret Key to the Universe, aimed primarily at children. An excerpt is available at the site.

So who cares abut cosmology?
Lots of people do not read much of anything. Recently, someone solemnly apprised me that he thought that Mario Beauregard's and my book, The Spiritual Brain would be "difficult" and he had warned a bunch of people about that. Gee, thanks, fella.

Actually, The Spiritual Brain is pitched to the reading level of a typical Canadian daily newspaper, so it was all I could do to keep from snapping,
Yes, it's difficult - if your regular reading is the bubble gum funnies.
Fortunately, I kept my mouth shut ...

But many people do read, and as Lucy Hawking's article shows, cosmology - well written - is a perennial favourite. Adults who read popular science should not be presumed to have only the level of sophistication of the last year in which they formally studied science. Many people learn a lot on the job or through private reading, and those who do enjoy a challenge.