You well-informed bod. You can spot a blue-period Picasso a mile off. You've heard of Jaques Derrida. You once even ploughed through the first chapter of Franz Kafka's The Trial. But there's still something missing from your intellectual armoury. That's right. Quantum physics. Which is where Stephen Hawking for Beginners comes in. The same people who brought you Fascism for Beginners now give you life, the universe and everything in 170-odd pages. Hawking, the theoretical physicist who took up where Einstein left off by giving credibility to the Big Bang theory and describing the likely nature of black holes, has produced some of the most influential scientific theories ever about the beginnings of the universe. Hawking for Beginners is simply written, intercutting plenty of cartoons with lucid explanations of the physics (and metaphysics) behind Hawking's main ideas. It provides an ideal introduction for people who wish to limber up before embarking on the physicist's own (highly readable) A Brief History of Time but is easily within the grasp of a bright 12-year-old. However, truth be told, bluffing cosmology is easy (95 per cent of people who bought Hawking's book never bothered to read it). Simply claim to have been au fait with Hawking's ideas since about 1974 and mention that you always thought Hoyle's steady-state theory to be a dead duck. You might also point out that you've never been convinced by the anthropic principle, anyway. And if you get cornered by somebody who knows what they're talking about, you can always say: "You know, I always feel sorry for people who get really into science as a substitute for not having a personality. Anybody coming to the pub?"
`Stephen Hawking for Beginners' (Icon Books) by JP McEvoy and Oscar Zarate £7.99.
Stephen Hawking's `A Brief History of Time' (Bantam) is now available in paperback £6.99