Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Annoying Critics' Tricks: NY Times Review of Stephen Hawking's “The Grand Design”

I wrote a while ago about the annoying habit some critics have of saying that a work of art would have been better had the writer/singer/director/etc. had only changed it in a way that the critic approves of. In other words, "I would have liked it more if it were more like I like it." In his NY Times review of Stephen Hawking's "The Grand Design," Dwight Garner uses another trick critics use that I think is unfair. He writes:
The real news about “The Grand Design,” however, isn’t Mr. Hawking’s supposed jettisoning of God, information that will surprise no one who has followed his work closely. The real news about “The Grand Design” is how disappointingly tinny and inelegant it is. The spare and earnest voice that Mr. Hawking employed with such appeal in “A Brief History of Time” has been replaced here by one that is alternately condescending, as if he were Mr. Rogers explaining rain clouds to toddlers, and impenetrable.

“The Grand Design” is packed with grating yuks. “If you think it is hard to get humans to follow traffic laws,” we read, “imagine convincing an asteroid to move along an ellipse.” (Oh, my.)

What I find unfair is that he says the book is "packed with grating yuks" and then gives us one example that isn't particularly grating. I find his commentary, "oh, my" (don't leave out that comma, smart guy!) much more grating than the joke itself. I understand that the there is limited room in the review for other examples, but if you are going to assert that something is "packed" with something awful you need to provide more evidence for the reader. Otherwise leave out the assertion.

1 comment:

Steven said...

Hawking has tried admirably to bring complex and erudite theories of cosmology to the masses who we are consistently reminded, especially in the US, are completely illiterate in science and mathematics! To criticize Hawking for this effort simply serves to criticize those whose mathematical background is lacking through no fault of their own! Anyone wishing a more robust treatment of Hawking's theories could simply read his "Large Scale Structure of Space-Time" instead of chastising him for trying to explain these esoteric yet fundamental concepts of our universe in a way that doesn't require a doctorate in physics or mathematics!!