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Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved Hardcover – April 28, 2015

4.7 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“You don’t need an advanced degree to enjoy this entertaining tale of how black holes meandered their way from theoretical oddity into everyday consciousness. . . . A beautiful case study in how scientific ideas grow through inspiration, thought and, finally, observation.”—Mike Brown, Wall Street Journal
(Mike Brown Wall Street Journal)

“Astronomers took fifty years to carry the black hole from laughable concept to central importance in every galaxy. Marcia Bartusiak accomplishes the same feat here, in one irresistibly attractive read.”—Dava Sobel, author of Longitude
(Dava Sobel 2014-11-17)

“Marcia Bartusiak takes us on a fascinating ride around black holes, showing the beauty and mystery of a concept that has intrigued scientists from Einstein to Hawking.”—Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin, Einstein, and Steve Jobs
(Walter Isaacson 2014-11-21)

“An engrossing and mind-bending read . . . Bartusiak provides a front row seat as many of the most famous scientists of all time grapple with the strangest objects in the universe, black holes.”—Adam Riess, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 2011
(Adam Riess 2014-12-05)

“Captivating and authoritative, Black Hole traces a truly weird concept from its tentative conjecture to inescapable reality. Bartusiak recounts a compelling tale with quirky turns, curious revelations, intellectual rumbles and personal gambles.”—Ray Jayawardhana, author of Neutrino Hunters
(Ray Jayawardhana 2015-01-02)

“Superior science writing that eschews the usual fulsome biographies of eccentric geniuses, droll anecdotes and breathless prognostication to deliver a persistently fascinating portrait.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
(Kirkus Reviews)

“Bartusiak’s lively, accessible writing and insight into the personalities behind the science make her book an entertaining and informative read.”—Publishers Weekly
(Publishers Weekly)

"[A] Sparkling new book . . . One of the delights of this witty book is seeing the many ways physicists historically found to dismiss, deny and disdain black holes."—Washington Post
(Washington Post)

‘The irony that Einstein sought desperately for order in a universe he had so thoroughly trashed is not lost on Bartusiak, who packs a lot of learning into a deceptively light and enjoyable read.’—New Scientist
 
(New Scientist 2015-05-23)

“Bartusiak's new book is thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and full of insights about the nature of the scientific enterprise. Aficionados of black holes will love this book.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams and The Accidental Universe
(Alan Lightman 2014-07-10)

"Black Hole is engaging and lively, weaving in personal drama . . . with a clear account of the underlying science.  An acclaimed science writer."—Tom Siegfried, Science News
(Tom Siegfried Science News)

"Expertly tells the story of the emergence of black holes. . . . [Bartusiak] offers a concise but comprehensive history . . . from the 18th century ponderings of stars massive enough that light could not escape to present-day studies of these very real objects."—Jeff Foust, The Space Review
(Jeff Foust The Space Review)

"Lively and readable. . . . Read it if you want to know how the concept of black holes has changed dramatically over the past 100 years—from being an apparent mistake in the maths to the strangest and most outlandish objects that we (currently) know of."—Pippa Goldschmidt, Spectator
(Pippa Goldschmidt Spectator)

"Bartusiak's book traces the crooked path black holes took through the history of science. . . . The narrative features intriguing cameos from many of history's well-known physicists."—Scientific American, listed as a recommended book
(Scientific American)

"Tells this story with . . . an accessibility that other popular writers in the field have sometimes struggled to achieve when dealing with the subject. There’s as much history and character study as hard science, which is no bad thing, and even the most mathophobic reader will find this book a satisfying and enlightening read."—Mike Parker, Tribune magazine
(Mike Parker Tribune magazine)

"Lively and dramatic. . . . There's no danger of being bored. Bartusiak does a good job of tracing the twisted route that our understanding has followed, from Newton to Einstein and to today as we try to extend gravity to quantum scales."—Tara Shears, Times Higher Education Supplement
(Tara Shears Times Higher Education Supplement)

‘Ms. Bartusiak weaves scientific concepts to create a portrait of the scientific institution itself, showing how its norms and personalities served to shape the path taken… a considered background to a still-unfolding idea.’—The Economist.
 
(The Economist 2015-06-20)

‘[A] reliable and readable account of this amazing story.’—Andrew Crumey, Literary Review.
 
(Andrew Crumey Literary Review 2015-07-01)

Longlisted for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award given by PEN America.
(PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award PEN America 2015-12-08)

Won honorable mention for the 2016 PROSE Awards in the Cosmology & Astronomy category.
(Awards PROSE 2016-02-08)

Black Hole is informative and exceedingly well written, a brilliant introduction to the history of black holes and general relativity.”—The Common Reader
(The Common Reader)

About the Author

Marcia Bartusiak is Professor of the Practice, Graduate Program in Science Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the award-winning author of five previous books, including most recently The Day We Found the Universe. She lives in Sudbury, MA.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; First Edition edition (April 28, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030021085X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300210859
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #570,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ash Jogalekar TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Black holes are unusual objects. They are now recognized as some of the most important cosmic laboratories for studying all kinds of physics phenomena, from general relativity to quantum mechanics. And yet as science writer Marcia Bartusiak describes in this book, their road to success has been paved with a lack of interest from their own pioneers and many haphazard detours.

Bartusiak traces the conception of the idea of black holes to a Cambridge don named Joh Mitchell who asked whether an object could be so dense that even light would not escape its gravitational pull. This idea lay buried in the scientific literature until the early 20th century when astronomers began asking questions about the constitution of stars. It was a young Indian astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar who first thought about gravitational collapse on his way to graduate school in England. Bartusiak describes well Chandrasekhar's battles with the old English establishment of astronomers in getting his ideas accepted. He was so frustrated in his endeavors that he switched to studying other topics before he finally got the Nobel Prize for his work decades later.

The next actors on the stage were the volatile Fritz Zwicky and the brilliant Lev Landau and Robert Oppenheimer. Landaa and Zwicky laid out the first contours of what's called a neutron star while Oppenheimer was really the first scientist who asked what happens when a star completely collapses to a point, what was later called a singularity. Interestingly both Oppenheimer and Einstein - whose general theory relativity shines in all its glory in black holes - either refused to accept their reality or showed a complete lack of interest in them in their later years. After his pioneering work Oppenheimer never even entertained the subject.
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I am a Geophysicist/Astrophysicist and have followed Black Hole research for most of my life. Marcia's explanation was so clear and coherent that anybody can understand what the phenomenon of a Black Hole is. I learned very much from this book.
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Like most of Marcia Bartusaiak's books on Astronomy etc. this work is vwey well written and a pleasure to read. I give it only four stars, however, since it doesn't treat the most interesting part of the story, namely the recent period after the discovery that black holes really and truly exist. Here the work of Stephen Hawikng and the subsequent presentation of various different models of what black holes might actually do, for example the current controversy over whdther they have "fire walls" around them, is central. Maybe she is saving that material for a sequel?? I hope so!!
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Fascinating look at the history of the theoretical understanding and astronomical identification of "black holes". For readers who don't know what a black hole is, the book defines this without the mathematical theory that may make it difficult to understand for some readers. In fact, there is NO mathematical requirements to understand this book.

The book does an excellent of describing Newton's laws, special relativity and general relativity (Einstein), and some of the follow up concepts, e.g. Schwarzschild singularity (won't get into defining this and other concepts in this book - read the book!), and Oppenheimer's unusual finding. And, the description is very readable and understandable.

This is an excellent book for anyone with just a casual interest in the concept of a black hole and the theories and discoveries clearly identifying that these exist.
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I generally reserve 5 stars for books that will survive for years. I have no doubt that this one will live a long and fruitful life. The author's research and writing are a joy. I am not close to being well-versed in physics, but I was able to understand and enjoy the trip to black holes--their history and what is known today. The author's presentation of what is a difficult subject is truly a delight.
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The author not only has a masterful command of the subject-matter, she writes in a wonderfully captivating and entertaining way, stringing a story of momentous scientific advance with beads of individual scientists, their aspirations, their foibles. At times very funny, it is a joy to read. I am not scientifically or mathematically adept (to put it mildly), and really had the illusion, while reading the story, that I understood something of the subject matter. I shall never look at the sky as i did before.
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Excellent book that tells the historical and physics realities of 'black holes'. I found myself enjoying it very much and would recommend it to anyone - but I think you do need a smidgen of physics to get the full drift of the historical tale.
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Marcia Bartusiak is an excellent science writer and this book is no exception. She traces the history of Black Holes from John Michell, Robert Oppenhiemer, John Mitchel (Princeton) who coined the phrase Black Hole through Stephen Hawking and Hawking Radiation. Along the way Bartusiak discuses the ideas of the main characters in the history of Black Holes such as Albert Einstein, Schwarzchild, and Chandrasekhar. Basic concepts such as electron and neutron degeneracy are well explained. The book is written on a level for almost anyone.
SCS
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