An unflattering yet outstanding biography of a giant of 20th-century physics.

HAWKING HAWKING

THE SELLING OF A SCIENTIFIC CELEBRITY

Stephen Hawking (1942-2018) was the world’s most famous scientist for the last 30 years of his life. This engrossing, sometimes unsettling account shows why.

NYU journalism professor Seife writes that Hawking converted cosmology from a backwater to “the most exciting field in physics, an area that was (and still is) generating Nobel Prize after Nobel Prize for transforming our understanding of how the universe came to be.” In his 1965 doctoral thesis, Hawking proved that the Big Bang, which gave birth to the universe, had to be an infinitely small point where the laws of physics don’t apply. This “singularity theorem” ignited his career. During the 1970s and ’80s, he produced spectacular, highly mathematical discoveries on black holes and the early universe that dazzled colleagues. Due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, his strength began declining in the 1960s, and by the ’80s, he was entirely paralyzed and unable to talk. Britain’s National Health Service paid basic medical expenses, but only a rich man could have afforded the army of attendants that allowed him to live at home, work, communicate, socialize, and travel the world. Fortunately, he had become an international celebrity and author of the blockbuster 1988 bestseller, A Brief History of Time. This eased his financial troubles at the time, but they persisted for the remainder of his life. Many of his subsequent books were “carelessly edited” knockoffs designed to make money, and Hawking often endorsed products in exchange for cash. As Seife demonstrates, the public and a worshipful media ignored his discoveries but obsessed about his disability, personal life, and his “pronouncements.” Any scandal, such as his “yen for strip clubs,” added to the legend. The last of many movies about him, The Theory of Everything (2014), was “a tear-jerker of a love story.” The author’s excellent explanation of Hawking’s science makes this a top-notch biography of a significant scientific figure, but Seife also produces a uniquely disturbing portrait of deliberate mythmaking.

An unflattering yet outstanding biography of a giant of 20th-century physics.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5416-1837-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

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GREENLIGHTS

All right, all right, all right: The affable, laconic actor delivers a combination of memoir and self-help book.

“This is an approach book,” writes McConaughey, adding that it contains “philosophies that can be objectively understood, and if you choose, subjectively adopted, by either changing your reality, or changing how you see it. This is a playbook, based on adventures in my life.” Some of those philosophies come in the form of apothegms: “When you can design your own weather, blow in the breeze”; “Simplify, focus, conserve to liberate.” Others come in the form of sometimes rambling stories that never take the shortest route from point A to point B, as when he recounts a dream-spurred, challenging visit to the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, who offered a significant lesson in how disagreement can be expressed politely and without rancor. Fans of McConaughey will enjoy his memories—which line up squarely with other accounts in Melissa Maerz’s recent oral history, Alright, Alright, Alright—of his debut in Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, to which he contributed not just that signature phrase, but also a kind of too-cool-for-school hipness that dissolves a bit upon realizing that he’s an older guy on the prowl for teenage girls. McConaughey’s prep to settle into the role of Wooderson involved inhabiting the mind of a dude who digs cars, rock ’n’ roll, and “chicks,” and he ran with it, reminding readers that the film originally had only three scripted scenes for his character. The lesson: “Do one thing well, then another. Once, then once more.” It’s clear that the author is a thoughtful man, even an intellectual of sorts, though without the earnestness of Ethan Hawke or James Franco. Though some of the sentiments are greeting card–ish, this book is entertaining and full of good lessons.

A conversational, pleasurable look into McConaughey’s life and thought.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-13913-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Fans will blissfully revel in the intimate if restlessly delivered details in this perceptive memoir.

THE BEAUTY OF LIVING TWICE

The celebrated actor reflects on a life of success, activism, and cleansing self-discovery.

Stone (b. 1958) begins in the hospital in 2001, when a severe brain injury nearly ended her life. She then backtracks to her youth growing up with three siblings in the “snowbelt” of northwestern Pennsylvania. She excelled at school but distanced herself from an aloof, damaged mother, a woman who never had a chance “to imagine a life where she could be whatever she chose.” As a teenager, Stone waited tables while entering local beauty pageants, which led to Manhattan modeling jobs and a move to Hollywood in the early 1980s. The author breaks down her iconic roles in Basic Instinct and Casino. Regarding the controversial interrogation scene in the former, she writes, “there have been many points of view…but since I’m the one with the vagina in question, let me say: the other points of view are bullshit.” While sharing a host of madcap episodes throughout an eventful life, she also proudly describes her impressive “life of service,” her Buddhist faith, and the adoptions of three sons. She also contributes juicier stories about co-hosting the 2008 Cannes Film Festival with Madonna and the controversy that erupted following a stray comment to reporters. Stone then moves on to her “second life,” when she endured “the loss of all things we call dear,” including her father, marriage, health, and financial security. Though the memoir is unevenly, frenetically narrated, that will only deter readers unfamiliar with Stone’s persona. Delivering a barrage of self-reflective anecdotes, she is consistently candid, alternatingly tender and feisty, and always witty. In conclusion, Stone offers thoughts on wisdom, modesty, and vulnerability as well as some startling admissions about “being sexually abused throughout my life.” Encouragingly, Stone has reconciled with her mother. “Today,” she writes, “my mother and I are at the beginning of our relationship.”

Fans will blissfully revel in the intimate if restlessly delivered details in this perceptive memoir.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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