The Grand Design  . By StephenHawking and LeonardMlodinow . New York : Bantam Books , 2010 . 208 pages. $28.00 .

This slender volume with the name of a world‐famous physicist as the first author is delightful reading. A good chunk of the book incorporates standard physics course material, minus the mathematics, somewhat like a vegetarian meat loaf. Interwoven are popular expositions of M‐theory and Feynman physics. The authors’ goal is to disabuse the reader of the God‐concept as an explanation for the world, and to prove that ex nihilo emergence, contrary to common sense and Lucretius, is not impossible.

The book starts with the tenet: “WE EACH EXIST FOR BUT A SHORT TIME” (5). It reminds us of how we are intrigued by our appearance from nowhere, and promises to dispel that mystery. It says, “Just as there is no flat map that is a good representation of the Earth's entire surface, there is no single theory that is a good representation of observations in all situations” (8). This quote sounds like an echo of an ancient Hindu sage‐poet of 3,500 years ago: the truth about it all is one, but described in countless ways.

Then the concept and history of nature's laws are discussed. By declaring that “Ignorance of nature's ways led people in ancient times to invent gods to lord it over every aspect of human life” (17), revelations and messages from archangels are ruled out. Next follows an account of reality and reality models: a grand sweep covering a handful of Western philosophers from Ptolemy to the moderns. Ultimately, as M‐theory tells us, “The universe does not have just a single existence or history, but rather every possible version of the universe exists simultaneously in what is called a quantum superposition” (58–59). This idea is expounded with commendable clarity, with no mathematics, but with color pictures. The point is, what Feynman said about electrons hitting the double slit is applicable to the whole universe: “the universe doesn't have just a single history, but every possible history, each with its own probability…” Next we get in a nutshell the Theory of Everything (TOE). Here, we get glimpses of Maxwell's equations, the Michelson‐Morley experiment, QED, renormalization, quarks, and more, all without one algebraic symbol. One wonders how many of the millions who buy the book will form even a nebulous notion of any of this material, though they may be amused to learn that Feynman was good at bongo. This chapter concludes with another reference to M‐theory, with the admission that “No one seems to know what the M stands for, but it may be master, miracle, or mystery. It seems to be all the three” (117). The M‐for‐membrane origin is not even mentioned. We are told in passing that “M‐theory allows for some 100500 sets of apparent laws” (119). Thus, anything is possible, so why not existence?

The no‐God‐needed refrain is what prompted headlines in the popular press, though this is implicit in every theory and textbook in physics. In a chapter entitled Apparent Miracle, one learns about stellar evolution and the anthropic principle, weak and strong, and recognizes that “Our very existence imposes rules determining from where and at what time it is possible for us to observe the universe” (153).

The word design in The Grand Design may not be the best choice for an atheistic treatise. The book is good because even those who experience mirth and music, joy and jubilance, compassion and consolation, and spirituality from religions may like to know about the visions formed in rational minds when they peer through the scientific lens. People beyond the ivory tower get some idea of how the universe appears through the scientific spyglass.