“It’s been a remarkable journey!”
With this understatement I often describe my thirty years of acquaintance with and writing about Stephen Hawking. Since his death March 14, 2018, I’ve brought my chronicle of his life to a close in the fifth edition of his biography, newly titled Stephen Hawking: A Life Well Lived.
Here is the story of his stunning scientific adventures and his turbulent personal life, as well as my own experience knowing him since December 1988, when he first agreed that I should write his biography and gave me childhood pictures and private memoirs. At his insistence my first editor allowed me to produce a book that was not only top-notch science but also fun to read.
Stephen particularly liked my ability to translate the jargon of his physics into plain English. Through the years, for succeeding editions, I have had help and suggestions from him, but he never controlled this biography. I wrote independently, free to criticize him and mention his flaws.
This year I have written for the first time without his input – knowing that he will never read this final edition himself. However, also for the first time I have been able to talk at length with life-long friends and former staff who knew him well, who hadn’t felt free to discuss their memories or feelings about him while he was alive. I’ve conversed with scientific colleagues and collaborators who were working with him until the week before he died.
New to this book is the story of the rather nail-biting behind-the-scenes struggle that he and a special team of experts from Intel were engaged in, beginning in January 2012, to keep him able to communicate as his control of his speech program deteriorated. He insisted that everything they developed for him be made “open source,” available at no cost to others who need it.
I’ve woven all this fresh material into the existing chapters of my book and written two completely new chapters, relating all the interesting and sometimes controversial activities he was busy with during the last years and months before his death. I’ve also given detailed first person descriptions of his funeral in Cambridge and the interment of his ashes in Westminster Abbey, when thousands crowded the streets to pay tribute to a life well lived. The book ends with my tribute to Stephen and my own thoughtful assessment of his legacy both in and out of science.
It has been an incredible privilege to help the world know him better.