Stephen Hawking, the most revered scientist since Einstein, is a formidable mathematician and a formidable salesman. “I want my books sold on airport bookstalls”, he has impishly declared, and he’s learned how to put them there.
Mr. Hawking’s Brief History of Time, published in 1988, sold some nine million copies. (A typical science best seller will move a tiny fraction of that number.) It did so partly by leaning on his preoccupying personal story. Mr. Hawking’s body has been wasted by Lou Gehrig’s disease, while his mind is utterly intact, a pinging black box amid the physical wreckage. It was no accident that Mr. Hawking’s wheelchair and elfin face appeared on that book’s cover a rarity for a book of serious intellect rather than on its back flap.