“The Woodstock of the Mind” Celebrates 30 Years

By Katie Lewis

Nestled among lush-green rolling hills, just on the Welsh side of the Anglo-Welsh border, lies the beautiful sleepy town of Hay-on-Wye (or Y Gelli, to use its Welsh name). With over two dozen bookshops to serve fewer than 2000 permanent residents, Hay has long been known as “the town of books”, and by the late 1970s, became the world’s first official Book Town. A great venue, then, for Britain’s biggest and most famous literary festival. Founded around a kitchen table in 1987, Hay Festival has grown from an exciting idea to a world-class event, drawing writers, actors, artists, politicians, philosophers, scientists, comedians, musicians and crowds numbering 250,000 people, from across the globe. Called “the Woodstock of the mind” by Bill Clinton when he spoke at Hay in 2001, Hay Festival has become a highlight of the literary calendar for many; indeed, the late Tony Benn said that “in my mind it’s replaced Christmas”.

Hay Festival 2017 gets underway. Photo by Mogan Selvakannu

Hay Festival always feels special, but this year there was a buzz in the air, as Hay celebrated its 30th year with a superb line-up of speakers. These included: Bernie Sanders, Eddie Izzard, Jaqueline Wilson, Nick Clegg, Helen Fielding, Victoria Hislop, Jeremy Paxman, Stephen Fry, Peter Singer, Tom Daley, Graham Norton, Simon Schama, Nadya Tolokno (of Pussy Riot), Robert Winston, Colm Tóibín, Tom Hollander, Juliet Stevenson, Tony Robinson, Gillian Tett, Tracey Emin, Martin Rees, Harriet Harman, Tracy Chevalier, Rowan Williams, Paul Cartledge, Neil Gaiman, Richard E. Grant, Germaine Greer, Michael Parkinson, Will Young, Jeremy Bowen, George Monbiot, Will Self, A. C. Grayling, Jim Al-Khalili, Ian Rankin, Michael Sheen, Simon Armitage, John Simpson, Bill Bailey, and many more.

Princeton University Press is proud to be part of Hay Festival each year, and this year we had a wonderful group of authors speaking on a fascinating range of subjects:

Robbert Dijkgraaf, Director of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and author of The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge, spoke about one of the great paradoxes of scientific research: the search for answers to deep questions, motivated solely by curiosity and without concern for applications, often leads not only to the greatest scientific discoveries but also to the most revolutionary technological breakthroughs. Dijkgraaf’s charisma and humour shone through as he made his large audience laugh with a video of the world’s first robot and reminded us that “without Einstein’s theory, your GPS would be 7 miles out. So, I like to say that without Einstein, we would all be lost”. Dijkgraaf also recorded a special episode of BBC Radio 4’s programme “Inside Science” in front of a live audience at Hay. You can listen again here.

Speaking on a subject of macabre topicality, Gilles Kepel, author of Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West, discussed the topic of his book in relation to Europe as a whole, and the events in Manchester on 22nd May in particular.

Kevin Laland, biologist and author of Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind gave a fascinating talk highlighting the uniqueness of the human species, and what sets us apart from other animals. He argued that it was the complexity and diversity of human culture that has caused human beings to evolve, and that the success of the human species is down to a ‘whirlpool’ of evolutionary feedback and cultural processes. In other words, human beings are creatures of their own making.

Kevin N. Laland. Photo by Sam J. Peat

Alexander Todorov, author of Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions enthralled his audience of almost 2000 people with his digitally constructed images of faces showing characteristics that the human brain (often incorrectly) perceives to denote different personality traits upon first meeting. Did you know that our brains make judgements about a person’s trustworthiness, competence, dominance and other traits within 1/10th of a second? Definitely food for thought…

Roger Penrose, renowned physicist and author of Fashion, Faith, and Fantasy in the New Physics of the Universe did an ‘In Conversation’ event with Marcus du Sautoy. Marcus told us all that Roger was one of his childhood heroes and remembered having heard him lecture in his school days. Their conversation ranged across string theory, dark matter, black holes and sparked some excellent questions from the audience.

Roger Penrose. Photo by Mogan Selvakannu

Finally, Lawrence Bee, author of Britain’s Spiders: A Field Guide, delighted arachnophiles of all ages in his talk on how to recognise some of the 670 species of spiders living in your British back garden. He also brought some live spiders with him on stage, which the audience were able to get a closer look at during his book signing!

Lawrence Bee. Photo by Liam Webb

Hay Festival really is the thinking person’s paradise. Some years, the grass quads swarm with sunbathing readers or people dozing in deck chairs between talks; some years, wellington boots become not just a festival fashion item, but a necessity. But, rain or shine, Hay Festival has a certain magic that’s hard to describe. It’s a bit like the thrill of walking into a great bookshop and finding the authors of a whole host of wonderful books inside, waiting to welcome you and introduce you to the characters and ideas within their pages.

Clips and full talks from Hay Festival 2017 can be viewed on the BBC’s Hay Festival webpage.

Katie Lewis has been a publicist at Princeton University Press’s European office, near Oxford, since 2009.

PUP Publicist Colleen Boyle highlights our Fall list on C-Span

Our publicist extraordinaire Colleen Boyle recently spoke to C-Span’s Book TV about some of our lead titles, including Ken Rogoff’s The Curse of Cash, Roger Penrose’s Fashion, Faith and Fantasy, and Welcome to the Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Michael A. Strauss, and J. Richard Gott, all forthcoming this September.

Check out the full interview about these and other forthcoming PUP titles on C-SPAN!

Rogoff

Penrose

Welcome to the Universe

“A Brief History” of Stephen Hawking’s work

As we near February, and Oscars month (our calendars are marked for Feb. 22!), PUP takes a look at The Theory of Everything. The best-picture nominee, which stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, depicts the love story and life story of Stephen Hawking and Jane Wilde. The beginning of the film is set in Cambridge, where Hawking is a brilliant graduate student. For movie-goers looking for a deeper look at Hawking’s scholarly work, PUP brings you a “Brief History” of books by Stephen Hawking.

Liam Daniel / Focus Features Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

Liam Daniel / Focus Features
Eddie Redmayne stars as Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

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A Brief History of Time

“A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?

Told in language we all can understand, A Brief History of Time plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and “arrows of time,” of the big bang and a bigger God—where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. With exciting images and profound imagination, Stephen Hawking brings us closer to the ultimate secrets at the very heart of creation.”

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On the Shoulders of Giants

“In On the Shoulders of Giants, Stephen Hawking brings together the greatest works by Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein, showing how their pioneering discoveries changed the way we see the world.

From Copernicus’ revolutionary claim that the earth orbits the sun and Kepler’s development of the laws of planetary motion to Einstein’s interweaving of time and space, each scientist built on the theories of their predecessors to answer the questions that had long mystified humanity.

Hawking also provides fascinating glimpses into their lives and times – Galileo’s trial in the Papal inquisition, Newton’s bitter feuds with rivals and Einstein absent-mindedly jotting notes that would lead to his Theory of Relativity while pushing his baby son’s pram. Depicting the great challenges these men faced and the lasting contributions they made, Hawking explains how their works transformed the course of science – and gave us a better understanding of the universe and our place in it.”

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The Nature of Space and Time

Princeton University Press

By Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose

“Einstein said that the most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible. But was he right? Can the quantum theory of fields and Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the two most accurate and successful theories in all of physics, be united in a single quantum theory of gravity? Can quantum and cosmos ever be combined? On this issue, two of the world’s most famous physicists–Stephen Hawking (A Brief History of Time) and Roger Penrose (The Emperor’s New Mind and Shadows of the Mind)–disagree. Here they explain their positions in a work based on six lectures with a final debate, all originally presented at the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences at the University of Cambridge.

How could quantum gravity, a theory that could explain the earlier moments of the big bang and the physics of the enigmatic objects known as black holes, be constructed? Why does our patch of the universe look just as Einstein predicted, with no hint of quantum effects in sight? What strange quantum processes can cause black holes to evaporate, and what happens to all the information that they swallow? Why does time go forward, not backward? In this book, the two opponents touch on all these questions.”

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The Universe in a Nutshell

“In this new book Hawking takes us to the cutting edge of theoretical physics, where truth is often stranger than fiction, to explain in laymen’s terms the principles that control our universe.

Like many in the community of theoretical physicists, Professor Hawking is seeking to uncover the grail of science — the elusive Theory of Everything that lies at the heart of the cosmos. In his accessible and often playful style, he guides us on his search to uncover the secrets of the universe — from supergravity to supersymmetry, from quantum theory to M-theory, from holography to duality.

He takes us to the wild frontiers of science, where superstring theory and p-branes may hold the final clue to the puzzle. And he lets us behind the scenes of one of his most exciting intellectual adventures as he seeks ‘to combine Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Richard Feynman’s idea of multiple histories into one complete unified theory that will describe everything that happens in the universe.'”

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The Grand Design

“When and how did the universe begin? Why are we here? What is the nature of reality? Is the apparent ‘grand design’ of our universe evidence for a benevolent creator who set things in motion? Or does science offer another explanation? In The Grand Design, the most recent scientific thinking about the mysteries of the universe is presented in language marked by both brilliance and simplicity.

The Grand Design explains the latest thoughts about model-dependent realism (the idea that there is no one version of reality), and about the multiverse concept of reality in which there are many universes. There are new ideas about the top-down theory of cosmology (the idea that there is no one history of the universe, but that every possible history exists). It concludes with a riveting assessment of m-theory, and discusses whether it is the unified theory Einstein spent a lifetime searching for.”

See more books by Stephen Hawking here. Which of these have you read, and which are on your “to-read” list?