on March 18, 2000
I thought not. I was wrong. The reason: Kip Thorne. I really enjoyed the reading of this book because it offers the theoretical face of the so-called "Black Holes Mechanics" and a very important and delightful part, the history behind the theorems. The book begins with several chapters dedicated almost exclusively to the bases of the Special Theory of Relativity and the General Theory of Relativity, which describes the gravitation field in almost any place of our universe (if you get the book you will see why I say "almost"). Thereafter, the text covers the most important aspects of stellar implosion, which, in fact, brings Black Holes into existence. Once you are immersed in the very topic of the holes, the author studied profoundly their properties with informative boxes, spacetime diagrams, lots of references about discoveries, people and, the great difference with others books, an outstanding and thorough historical background. By the end, the author presents the most excitement predictions about the future use of Black Holes and the yet ill-understood Quantum Gravity Theory (predictions like backward time travel and wormholes). Finally, Kip Thorne closed the book with an excellent glossary of exotic terms and a list of principal characters that appeared throughout the text. I can say, without any doubt, that this is one of the most illustrative and complete books I have ever read, and in my opinion, is a book that every "Black Hole serious student" might have in his/her shelve. If you are looking for a less technical book, I suggest you "Black Holes: A Traveler's Guide" by Clifford Pickover. Nevertheless, if you want a higher challenge, get the book "Gravitation" by Thorne, Wheeler and Misner.
on May 23, 2001
WHO WROTE IT: Kip Thorne is the Feynman Professor of Theoritical Physics at CalTech. He wrote several other books, including such a classic as GRAVITATION (withJ. Wheeler, C.Misner). This rich combination (plus an obvious talent as a communicator and an apparently fun loving personnality) makes him both a knowlegeable and understandable writer.
WHAT YOU GET: Many books have been written about black holes. Some are really simple. They make for a good introduction but are somewhat too basic for my taste. Some aim at staying intellectually affordable but they describe more than they explain. You are left frustrated: you don't understand what you are shown (see among others, John Gribbin's Unveiling the Edge of Time ). Some are too technical and took me out of my depth. K. Thorne gives explanations wich are complete enough to give you a coherent understanding while still being aimed at a non specialist public.
HOW IT IS DONE: The theoritical concepts involved are exposed along an historical structure . This way, the necessity of each element of the theory is made more obvious. Also, one gets briefly acquainted with the circumstance of the discoveries, the personnality of the involved researchers and the prevalent questionning as our knowledge evolved.
WHAT YOU NEED: The book contains very little mathematics. A college level should suffice. There are no equations (still rigourous; quite a challenge). Thorne illustrates his text with schematic illustrations, diagrams and simple mathematical curves. Being acquainted with the theory of relativity is probably a prerequisite. Thorne's explanation's of Einstein's space-time appears too short to bring you up to speed if you have no notion on the subject. Many good books with varying level of maths exist on the subject, including the original monography by A.Einstein himself (Relativity, by A. Einstein). I personnaly read Banesh Hoffmann's: Albert Einstein Creator and Rebel .
THE RESULT: This book is pleasant to read yet does not shy away from in dept explanations. It is intellectually rigourous without being austere. As an eagerly curious non specialist, I was very satisfied with that book.
Addendum, Jan 2005
The more I read, the more I realize that this book stands above the crowd. It really deserve 5 stars
Don't be too swayed by the word "outrageous" in the title of this book. That may be there to attract attention, but needless to say, physicist Kip Thorne does a good job of explaining the more bizarre aspects of the universe in this book. Thorne's writing style is very accessible and down to earth, as he explains relativity, black holes, quantum mechanics, and even time warps. However, you'll still need to be really on the ball to understand many of these extremely complicated topics. I was impressed by Thorne's ability to explain bizarre concepts like gravitational time dilation and Einstein's theory of relativity to non-eggheads. But some of the more arcane aspects of quantum gravity or unified field theories will be beyond even the most well tuned laymen who read this book. Thorne also keeps the mood light by giving us the human side of advanced physics research, focusing on the friendships, rivalries, and personalities of the world's leading minds. This extends from Einstein in the beginning to Hawking in the present, and dozens of other less famous but almost as brilliant minds in between.
Watch out for some inconsistency in this book however, as Thorne sometimes gets into too much sentimental detail about the scientists' social lives (including his own), while the middle of the book sags as it digresses into the mechanical specs of radio telescopes and gravitational wave detectors. Also, beware of Thorne's suspiciously enthusiastic endorsements of gravitational wave research in chapter 10, as this is his own field of research, and I suspect he's trying to promote the need for funding. There's also a little intellectual arrogance here, as several times Thorne proclaims that the laws of quantum mechanics, as they are currently understood (which isn't much), are "indisputable" or "incontrovertible." Scientists used to say the same thing about Newton's laws until they were weakened by Einstein. Then the theories of Einstein (worshipped by every physicist in this book) were weakened by quantum mechanics. You never know, the knowledge presented in this book may someday be overthrown as well. But in the meantime, Thorne does a great job of explaining it to those of us who are interested but don't have multiple PhD's.
on June 9, 2000
Mr. Thorne has managed to write a book that while going into a lot of detail in explaning the history, the people involved and the science behind Black Holes, Wormholes, and Time Travel, he DOES NOT lose the reader [assuming that Astrophysics is of interest to the reader] due to the amount of detail. The illustrations in the book are superb. Mr. Thorne explains the science in such a way that is not intimidating, but doesn't skimp on the details. I found this to be a better book than "The History of Time". It is a complete package. The glossary at the back of the book is VERY helpfull.
I cannot stress enough how well Kip Thorne explicates on this subject. The amount of technical and mathematical detail instead of being a deterrent was the strenth and potency of this book. Even the history dimension of the book I found interesting. There is a sense of awe, to a person interesting in Astrophysics, in finding out how these people came to be the best in their field and their contribution as well as an understanding of thier contributions.
If I had to recommend one book for someone interested in Black Holes, Time Travel and the like, it would definately be this book! A Cosmic tour-de-force!
HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
on January 17, 2001
The true secrets of universe can only be understood by a deep understanding of highly complicated mathematical and physical concepts. For mere mortals like me, books like these offer a good taste of such pleasures. Kip Thorne, a relativist of very high caliber (coauthor of the classic textbook "Gravitation"), takes the reader through a exciting journey through the history of modern cosmology starting with Einstein's Field Equation.
Unlike most popular physics books dealing with such a topic, he actually spends (relatively) little time dwelling on Einstein's work itself (just a couple of chapters) -- there are several books that deal with relativity itself (I'm talking books for the layperson). Instead he quickly starts talking about the "Legacy" of Einstein's great theory. We are led through drama of 20th century cosmology as different solutions were found for the Field Equations which challenged human reason and intuition, ultimately leading to the great crisis: the black hole.
As the author himself is a very active and very highly respected member of the scientic community, the book is full of very interesting (and sometime illuminating) anecdotes about various luminories (I love the one about his bet with Stephen Hawking about the existence of Cygnus X-1 black hole).
If you are a layperson (as far as modern astrophysics is concerned, probably most are lay people) interested in science in general and astronomy in particular, I'd strongly recommend this book (heck, I'd recommend it for any one who's even mildly curious). This is one of the best books in its field (if not the best) that caters to the lay readers (not unlike Richard Dawkins's "Blind Watch Maker" for evolution).
on October 18, 2002
Kip Thorne's excellent book should be updated every year and kept in national archives for future generations of scientists and historians.
It is as much historical as popular scientific masterpiece, teaching us about life of many important mathematicians, theoretical and experimental physicists and astrophysicists, trying to solve the mystery of imploding stars and created later black holes. The author chronicles every character, their successes and failures- with precision, meticulously and painstakingly. Each and everybody is scrutinized , weaknesses and strong sides are exposed. It is a great and often humorous analysis of personalities, for example: "Zel'dovitch, who knew hardly any relativity, had demonstrated it using deep physical inside and crude calculations".
I have not had any problem accepting this mixture of science and history, since I like both.
Book starts with Einstein and GR (which book of this type would not?), but then continues through almost 90 years of many top relativists' work, John Wheeler's being the most important.
Thorne writes with passion and honesty about his predecessors, mentors, team players, colleagues and students.
I have never learned so much about scientists, exception perhaps being Guth's book "The Inflationary Universe", how they calculate, develop ideas, announce discoveries, and how they compete, confront each other and make mistakes.
For example, you will find that Einstein even at age 33 did not have a clue how to express his theory mathematically and managed to do it only with the help of mathematician Marcel Grossman! Also surprisingly, famous Subrahmanyan Chadrasekhar wrote an excellent summary science book " The Mathematical Theory of Black Holes" when he was 73 years old.
Especially interesting and dramatic are parts of the book where author writes about ingenious Soviet scientists developing nuclear bombs and at the same time suffering in isolation during the communism in former USSR. The author shows respect and gives them all credits they deserve.
His knowledge about life behind the "iron curtain" is impressive and he presents very open minded and unbiased descriptions. When comparing both political systems where cosmology science thrived, he understands his friends in Moscow, who contemplate that (quote): "one (system) is terrorized by KGB and miserable because of the power of incompetent officials and another (in America) is barbaric because of the way they treat poor and lack of medical care for everyone".
The author always tried to keep in touch with his colleagues in USSR and was able to travel there in many occasions. This benefited all of them, large group of Russian and American scientists. Book reads often like action packed sensational story where lots is at stake and tensions are high.
Kip Thorne immerges as a very colorful, free spirited and amicable person. He describes personal life and achievements with modesty - top notch, "super" scientists are as much humans as we "normal guys" are - this is his message.
As a scientific book, Black Holes" excels as well. Drawings and explanations in separate boxes are great and make everything easy to understand. Particle physics is hardly present (except where hole's radiation is explained) making concept of the book clear and digestible.
Text leads us from classic introduction to GR (the best I have ever read) through the physics of collapsing stars and speculations about creation of giant black holes arising from binary systems.
Consecutive chapters explain how scientists developed and created radio and X-ray instruments searching for radiating black holes.
Eventually we arrive at gravitational waves and quantum theory. These waves generated by black holes might revolutionize our understanding of the Universe even more than did radio and X-rays. In early 80s gravitational wave physicists, including influential Kip Thorne, started to develop interferometric detectors to confirm existence of waves. Gravitational waves when detected will teach us about black holes' properties, and knowledge about black holes will help to solve singularities dilemma. Consequently we will better understand beginning and evolution of the Universe.
Final chapters introduce Stephen Hawking and how he managed to partially unify GR with quantum mechanism and announce that black holes evaporate keeping entropy of the Universe in balance. We meet Roger Penrose and his concept of solving singularity by application of topology calculations.
Later author introduces law of quantum gravity: "One task of the laws of quantum gravity is to govern the probabilities for the various curvatures and topologies within a black hole's singularity. We do not really understand at all well the laws of quantum gravity and their consequences," he writes. This statement reminds actual today, 10 years after. Book ends with description of quantum foam and with fascinating speculations about wormholes and traveling in time.
Crazy science fiction physics about matricide paradox and time machines (close time curves) had got Kip almost insane, but he survived this "crisis".
Overall: what a spectacular book and voyage through its pages !...
on October 23, 1999
When I first received the book, I said to myself, "Whoa, 619 pages! It'll take me a while to read this!"...I honestly could not put the book down! Overall, it took me about a week to finish the book. Every page had something interesting on it! Thorne even threw in some neat equations, which were easy enough for a 15-year-old high-school genius to figure out. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to be blasted with information about our universe...and others!
on November 25, 2001
Let's start off by saying that this book is not for everyone. This is, however, a beautifully written book that should be read by anyone that intends to go into relativity physics.
Professor Thorne wonderfully combined the history development of Black Holes, along with enough ancedotes to satisfy science seekers. There are tons of diagrams, background stories, and enough to keep the reader going.
However, it may be too complex of a book for the layman. It is very hardcore, and may be a little slow for casual readers, with enough details to confuse a reader the first time through.
The book also demonstrates the futuristic predictions and applications of Black Holes, from being a power plant, to wormholes in space. It was easily understood.
Bottom Line: If you're into physics, or have a lot of time, go out and buy this book, because it's worth every penny. This gives a good background history on the slow progress of Black Holes, and includes ancedotes from Hawkings to Landau. It is highly recommended if you want to learn more than just "What is a Black Hole?" As others have suggested, "Gravitation" by Thorne, Wheeler and Misner would be a more complex book if you have the background for it.
on April 28, 2003
Sorry doomsayer & Larry you are way off. This is a fabulous book. I am a BscHons Engineer and closet physicist/astronomer, and fascinated by most things. I've followed Hawking for many years, and loved his moves to make his fascination more accessible. I read "Big Bang" and "Nutshell" but felt I was left hanging with much unexplained. So I looked around for something else. I was put off by Kips' book in that it was some years old but that has been shown to be a mere non-comprehension of the history of astro-physics and quantum physics.
At first I was a little disappointed that Kip spends much time presenting the history of discovery, particularly with respect tot the understanding of Einsteins' theories and of black holes. What I in fact found was a very thorough, knowledgible and fascinating recount of the history of research since the 2nd WW. It opened my eyes to the fact that my perception that most revelations to do with relativity, space-time and black holes were recent events of the 1970'2 & 1980's was wrong, and in fact they have been on-going since Einsteins day, post 1905, and in fact, in the 1950's many of the issues still discussed today were being aired and investigated.
So in fact I very much appreciated Kips' ability to put the history in perspective, and to tell the story of many of the main protagonists. He spends some time telling how the history of the development of the atomic bomb was intertwined with research into the beginnings of the universe. This becomes a very poignant part of the book which only sinks in after a while, and leaves you with a sense of awe at how men have been able to deduce so much about our universal beginnings and how it has danced on the brink of being something both beautiful and devastating at the same time.
But this is not just a history lesson, though I do appreciate being informed of the lives of the people who have made such startling discoveries. What I most like is Kips' ability to explain to me "how it all works" by using analogy and simple entertaining language. He shows a sense of humour, and a considerable talent for understanding that people like me still desperately wish to understand as much as we can even though we couldn't begin to approach the Maths that his colleagues deal with.
For me, he tackles the subjects that Hawking tended to only tantalise us with his often ambiguous manner. I feel far more satisfied having read this book; I feel I have learned some incredible history whilst also being given a far more understandable insight into the wonders of the universe. I also have to credit Roger Penrose for one of his books which did much to fill in the gaps and cliff hanger's that Hawking left.
So, I disagree; I think this is a book for the layman who has a sense of wonder. It IS very palatable and takes more time to explain. You will feel that you have been told a very great story, a great story of the tenacity of men to ask the question "why?"
The universe is filled with fascinating stuff: quasars, neutron stars, white dwarfs, etc. and the most fascinating one of all - black holes. This book is primarily about this fascinating stuff and especially black holes with only chapter dedicated to wormholes and time traveling which I consider to be science fiction. It the process of unveiling this fascinating stuff, the book provides some other items of fascination some of which I will share to wet your appetite.
This all started with Einstein's Theory of Relativity. At the time, one hundred years ago (November, 1915), no one recognized how important Einstein's discovery was, and the uncovering of these gems from Einstein's discovering many years to recognize, as theorists classified this as a interesting field of advanced mathematics. Kip Thorne goes the history of this discovery of the years until 1993 when this book was published and especially the period of the late 1960's and early 1970's, the important period of black holes. Within this discovery, he doesn't spend too much time on the mathematics of it, thereby making it of interest to folks who aren't very mathematically inclined.
Some of the fascinating stuff uncovered is how time changes based upon the speed that an individual is traveling. For example, if a spacecraft could travel almost the speed of light (nothing can go faster according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity), how long would it take him to travel 2 billion light years? (On earth, it would take him more than 2 billion years - at which time, the earth will probably not be here). Answer is: 40 years. Also, although no one knows what really happens inside a black hole, Einstein's Theory of Relativity predicts that time stands still because of gravity. There are many other interesting things in this book for you discovery and I highly recommend taking the time to do so.