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Living with a Genius

Shobhit Mahajan

By Jane Hawking
Mehta Publishing House, Mumbai, 2012, pp. 506, Rs.550.00


Stephen Hawking, the retired Lucasian Professor at Cambridge is without doubt the most well known scientist in the world. Much like the image of the white haired Einstein with the mischievous smile came to signify the Atomic Age for most people, Hawking is the public face of high brow science in our times. There have been scientists who have possibly made more significant contributions. There have been scientists who have written better and more popular books. And there have been scientists who grapple with harder problems in science than him. But the celebrity status achieved by Hawking is unmatched. He has become an icon, not only of great intellectual achievement but also of the unconquerable human spirit in the face of adversity. In 1962, just as he was starting his PhD at Cambridge, Hawking was diagnosed with a rare and incurable motor neuron disease called Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His doctors gave him a few years to live. And yet, with a combination of a rare determination not to give up, technology and an immensely supportive family, Hawking has not only survived but has almost single handedly revolutionized cosmology. It was in 1962 that Jane Wilde met Stephen. And thus began a relationship which lasted for over a quarter of a century and which forms the basis of the book under review. Wilde, a language student was fascinated by the awe-inspiring genius which Hawking obviously possessed as also with his ability to not let the awful disease prevent him from leading a satisfying intellectual and personal life. They married in 1965 and had three children. The book is an account of the years in which Hawking went from being a relatively unknown PhD scholar at Cambridge to being a celebrity scientist, author and public figure. It is an intensely personal account written by a person who sacrificed her own intellectual ambitions to ensure that Hawking achieved the greatness in him. Marrying a person who has been told that he has only a few years to live is brave enough. But what Jane had to go through subsequently was in some senses even more trying—Stephen’s health deteriorated to a point where he required almost constant attention for eating, for locomotion and everything else. Taking care of Stephen was not just physically and emotionally exhausting for Jane but also challenging in terms of finances—academics in England were not ...

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