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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating View of the Universe
This book is a fascinating view of the universe, including our part of it. The book focuses on "black holes" those parts of the universe that are the most dense and the most energy productive. Every galaxy, including the Milky Way, our galaxy, has a black hole in the middle of it. Around the black hole, there exists the most concentrated grouping of stars which in many...
Published on August 18, 2012 by J. Groen

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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Light Weight
However I did learn a few new things. For instance, one of the reasons astronomers observe jets of x-rays and other forms of energy shooting above and below the disk of a spiral galaxy is because the super massive black hole spinning at the center warps space into an enormous eddy. The eye of the storm, so to speak, is the only channel of escape.

But I had to...
Published 16 months ago by bmbower


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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Light Weight, April 8, 2013
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bmbower (Praha, Czech Republic) - See all my reviews
However I did learn a few new things. For instance, one of the reasons astronomers observe jets of x-rays and other forms of energy shooting above and below the disk of a spiral galaxy is because the super massive black hole spinning at the center warps space into an enormous eddy. The eye of the storm, so to speak, is the only channel of escape.

But I had to wade through galaxies of fluff and silly analogies to get there. The fluff most likely arises from the maxim that you lose readers when you include equations. As a result there are none in this book. Even worse, the author strives to avoid anything that sounds too sciency. Yes we get extended descriptions about matter crashing into itself to create the energy we can see, but no scientific explanation of how that energy is actually produced and why it is not sucked in by gravity. We also learn that "[s]uper computer simulations" of baby galaxy mergers "can create enormous whirlpools of turbulence." But nothing about the simulation inputs or how they work nor the nature or extent of the turbulence.

Then there is the writing. As another reviewer says, Scharf's analogies are all over the place. Many of them are at odds with the grandiose tone he sets in the first few chapters. Galaxies are eggs. Super hot gas clouds are water in a bowl then - in the same paragraph - partially successful soufflés. Meanwhile he is inconsistent in trying to express the scale of the universe. He tells us 10 million years (or light years when referring to distance) is tiny compared to the age and size of the universe. Then he later says the time it takes to travel between two cosmological elements is greater than all recorded human history, which I guess is around 5,000 years - yet the analogy suggests he is trying to awe us with this even tinier distance.

There are other issues as well. (E.g. the histories of radio astronomy and x-ray astronomy are underdeveloped.) But the bottom line is that Scharf simply does not have the writing chops of Brian Greene or Michio Kaku or the creativity of Kip Thorne (whose spaceship-to-a-black hole conceit worked extremely well at the start of Black Holes and Time Warps). All too bad really, as I like the idea of focusing on gravity and the role of black holes in shaping the look of the universe rather than on black holes per se. This book just does not deliver on the promise.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating View of the Universe, August 18, 2012
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos (Kindle Edition)
This book is a fascinating view of the universe, including our part of it. The book focuses on "black holes" those parts of the universe that are the most dense and the most energy productive. Every galaxy, including the Milky Way, our galaxy, has a black hole in the middle of it. Around the black hole, there exists the most concentrated grouping of stars which in many instances are "buzzing around the black hole" at tremendous speeds and then circle around the black hole until they are swallowed by it, much like a drain does with water. When this happens, an explosion occurs and energy is released in the form of radioactive gas, protons and neutrons that spews out thousands of light years into the universe.

These are called black holes because they appear that way in the universe because they are so dense that no light escapes from them. They are billions of times more dense and powerful than our sun. Since there at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe with at least 100 billion stars in each (think about those numbers, they are mind boggling), there are least that number of black holes. These black holes perform a key role in the universe creating and re-creating the universe through the creation and destruction of stars and galaxies.

Most of the book is spent discussing the exploration of these monsters, both nearby (our galaxy and others within millions of light years from us) to billions of light years away. The author mentions one galaxy and black hole that he was involved in the discovery of that is 12 billion light years away from us. (The interesting thing is that they found this galaxy and black hole as it looked 12 billion years ago...) A picture is shown of these and other galaxies with their black holes in their middle.

It just happens that our galaxy and black hole are just right for life. The black hole in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy is hungry, destroying and creating a couple of stars each year, but not too destructive. This results in positive change in our galaxy that supports life on its fringes where our Sun and earth exist. The author goes into some detail on this explaining how important this is to life on earth.

At the end, the author actually gets somewhat poetic, and the prose is very uplifting and positive. The universe is a beautiful creation and these monsters, black holes, are key to the creation and continuation of this beauty. The pictures in the book just increase the value of the writing and thoughts provided. In fact, I like this book so much, that after purchasing the Kindle version, I plan on buying the hard copy (only the 2nd time this year that I have done that), so that I can offer this to others to read. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the universe and astronomy.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't get past the writer's awkward style and excessive use of analogies, February 14, 2013
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos (Kindle Edition)
There is some very interesting information on black holes in this book. Some very technical descriptions that will require more of a background in astrophysics. But the author's writing style reads likes aDiscovery channel narrative that relies on simple analogies that are more distracting than helpful. "ThIs is the beginning of the galactic axial hub. Like the distorted yolk of a Hugh fried egg.... I kept thinking I was reading an old Philip Marlowe detective novel from the '40’s.

Anyway, the author's writing style makes the book a more difficult read than the technical information in the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine book about Black Holes, for what it is., August 29, 2013
I'm a subscriber to Scientific American and have seen this book advertised there for the past few months, so since wanted to learn more about black holes, I decided to give it a try.

I found this book to be a good basic overall review of what black holes are and the part they have played and continue to play in our cosmological evolution, but now that I have finished the book, I find that did not get out of it as much as I had hoped to. True, I can explain to my co-workers what a black hole is, how they formed and where they likely are (if this topic ever comes up in our conversation), but not much else. I know that the book covers more about black holes, but none of it stuck, so I am at the point of not knowing which to blame for that, the book or myself. After I finished it, I still had to re-read the section on bubble-blowing to remember what the author wrote.

I'm a bit uneasy at the author's writing style and the overuse of colloquial references to what he was trying to get across. I felt that I was being slapped on the back and expected to smile at some of these comparisons, and that detracted from the subject material in my opinion. I know that this is not a text book, nor did I expect it to be one, but I would have rather seen a bit more Brian Greene and a little less David Sedaris.

Would I recommend this book to a friend? To my neighbor who is a retired factory manager, yes...to my neighbor who is a high school physics teacher, no. If you are reading this review to see if you should read it, well if you know little more about a black hole than its color, then yes, you should give it a try. Anything beyond that, I'd look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Short, but easy to read and enlightening., January 12, 2014
As mainstream science books go, this was a breezy and insightful read. There were some memorable passages with some great descriptions. Among them, the black holes' bubbles as the universe's most powerful subwoofer, the dissection of Einstein's field equation, and the growing kinetic energy of flower pot fall down from various heights to different object surfaces. If a writer can guide my dull old mind through Einstein's field equation without losing me, that writer is doing something right!

This book does not have the ambitious scope of other science books about astrophysics, and almost felt light because of that, but you have to keep some perspective: many of the other popular astrophysics books are inordinately ambitious with respect to other types of mainstream science publishing. Many other astrophysics and cosmology books I have read want to explain the whole universe to you, from beginning to and and from top to bottom! Scharf's book is more focused than that. He sticks with the scientific developments that serve his points, explains the aspects of black holes which he wants to get across, and leaves with just a few suggestions about where the future of that study could possibly go. This book will not overwhelm you with the entirety of the cosmos like some others could.

Scharf's main points of interest seem to be the physics AROUND black holes and their role in shaping the universe as we see it today. He does not go into what happens inside of a black hole so much. His does not attempt to describe singularities or all the strangeness that happens within the event horizon. If you want a book to explore the mystery beyond the veil of the event horizon, this is not the book for you. This is a good thing! It helps to keep his book more focused, and it explains other very interesting aspects of black holes that other writers have glossed over in their pursuit of the enigmatic singularity. Besides, there are already other books which cover that area, notably Leonard Susskind, Stephen Hawking, and Kip Thorne. Scharf's concern is what happens outside a black hole, not inside. Scharf want to talk about how black holes influence the wider universe, and he does so very eloquently.

Some other reviewers have criticized Scharf's books for a few colorful analogies, but I think these criticisms are overstated. All populist science writers use analogies, and Scharf's are no more silly than many other highly regarded science writers. He does not liken the whole universe to a loaf of bread and does not use Homer Simpson to serve his point (I'm looking at you Brian Greene!) Other reviewers dinged him for being light on detail, and I would only slightly agree with this. He uses a few homologies in the place of a measured quantity, for example in one place he describes something that lasts the 'entire recorded history of humanity' but how long is that? I appreciate the attempt to give us perspective, but I would have also preferred both the homology and also a literal quantity. This does not occur very frequently though. There is also nearly 20 pages of notes in the back of the book for those who wanted more detail. I do think those notes would have been better used as footnotes on the same page they comment on.

Anyway, I think this volume is a great addition to books about black holes for a general readership. I learned a bunch of information which is not covered by other black hole books, and I want to thank Scharf for covering this gap in an accessible manner. Gravity's Engines is a terrific companion to those books which are more concerned with the inner workings of black holes, and if you want to know the greater story about black holes you will really want to read this book as much as those focused on the interior world of black holes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Black Stars', February 10, 2013
When I was young boy Black Holes featured more in science fiction than science fact, while theory said that they existed in the Cosmos - science had yet deliver a factual premise for their existence. First visual proof of existence of black-holes came in 2012!

This book grabs you from the get go, as the author takes us on an unbelievable journey, that makes our human life span pale into insignificance, as distant star light takes billions of years to reach Earth's Observatories. The author gives us time line of black hole physics and the research that went into better understanding them.

We also hear of supermassive black holes as the largest type of black hole in a galaxy, which are on the order of hundreds of thousands to billions of solar masses. Their role in the evolution of Galaxies is thought to be `key' to the formation process. To some up then this book is both well written and relatively easy to understand. The glossary at the end is well stocked with additional information and the potential for the reader to take up further research. This book is highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars How a Popular Astronomy Book Should Not Be Written, January 26, 2014
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Gravity's Engines is about the role of supermassive black holes in shaping galaxies. Supermassive black holes have been among the most intriguing subjects for me since I first read about them in Astronomy Magazine years ago. A few years ago, I read Fulvio Melia's The Black Hole at the Center of Our Galaxy and I was quite excited that Gravity's Engines would be my second book on the subject. I thought I was in for many hours of pleasurable, mind-blowing reading.

Against all expectations, this book turned out to be a huge disappointment. Instead of being taught science, I was treated to 200 pages of super-lite material, sweeping generalizations and annoying analogies of monsters, dragons and deep, dark forests. It's almost like the author finds science embarrassing and prefers to use language that's as unscientific and generic as possible.

To be fair, I need to state that there are two good points about the book. There is no scientism at all in this book, no critiques of any extra-scientific epistemological fields that do not use the scientific method, no arrogant posturing and no religion bashing. Also, this book gives, in 4 pages, the best explanation on the extremely hot gas in galaxy clusters I have ever found. If the author had done the same for the supermassive black holes, the main subject of the book, Gravity's Engines would have been really worth reading.

As it is, the book was painful to read. It's quite impressive how whole chapters could be written with very little content to give away. Try Chapters 7 and 8 (Origins Parts 1 and 2) and you'll know what I mean.

If you want to know about supermassive black holes, just read about them in Wikipedia - you'll get a whole lot more from that wonderful resource. If you want a book treatment, read Melia's book above.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Author Blows Bubbles to Fill Pages, September 20, 2013
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos (Kindle Edition)
Way too much time spent on getting to the subject at hand. Had to skim multiple chapters of fluff dealing with the origin of everything including a detailed description of a day in the life of a 12 billion year old photon. Book might be a good choice for someone that has never read anything on the subject, but a disappointment for those with ongoing interest in cosmology.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Average, July 18, 2014
Written in single words, but maybe too many analogies.
I have learned some new things about universe and how black holes are linked with its evolution.
Maybe it would be useful to include a little introduction to scientific notation to use it instead trillions, quadrillions and terms like those.
I found this book in the British Library in Lima.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing, June 12, 2014
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos (Kindle Edition)
Scharf's writing is as mesmerizing as his subject. He takes the reader on a journey from an explanation of creation through the expanding discoveries of the cosmos. A layperson can easily appreciate Scharf's witty analogies, because in their simplicity, you are wowed. This is not a textbook, fantasy or science fiction. As you discover, you explore your own imagination. Scharf is the person you want to invite to dinner.
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