Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1998 —

This book puts me in mind of the story about how a Harvard number theorist, through some malfunction of the scheduling computer, got assigned to teach an introductory course in pre-calculus.

Being one of those fortunate(?) individuals to whom math comes so easily that they cannot grasp how difficult others may find it, the professor had no clue what to cover in such a course. So, he went to the chair of the department, who told him: “You’ll want to start with the real number-line and then progress to inequalities; from there, move on to quadratic equations, then trigonometry and the wrapping function, Cartesian and polar coordinate systems, and, if time permits, conic sections.”

The professor thanked the chairperson and went off to meet with his first class. The following week, he was back.

“What should I teach them next?” he said.

A Brief History of Time is like that — Professor Hawking doesn’t seem to notice when his treatment segues from the obvious to the arcane with scarcely a speed bump to signal the transition, only to wind up with his concept of “imaginary time” (very nearly incomprehensible in this overly brief presentation).

Fun nonetheless.