The first words that Stephen Hawking’s computerised voice said when Leonard Mlodinow arrived in Cambridge were not musings about the universe or the nature of time. It wasn’t even a simple hello, although Mlodinow had flown nearly 10,000km to be there.

Hawking was sitting in his famous wheelchair. With a twitch of his cheek, which sensors in his spectacles turned into cursor movements on a computer screen, he uttered one word: “banana”...

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