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The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics Hardcover – July 7, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookmarks Magazine

Cosmology has been sexy since Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking stormed onto the scene three decades ago, popularizing science for the masses. In The Black Hole War, Susskind plays on our insatiable appetite for the gee-whiz moment, combining lucid explanations for some complex ideas with stories that tend to confirm the eccentricities of the highly intelligent. In fact, it’s the author’s knack for teaching and his conversational prose that make the book accessible and therefore appealing to a wide audience. And, of course, it’s never a bad idea to drop Hawking’s name in a book’s title. “Susskind explains this dizzying notion about as clearly as is probably possible,” George Johnson writes of the author’s theory—even if, in the end, we need “a lot more data” (New York Times Book Review).
Copyright 2008 Bookmarks Publishing LLC


'Entertaining...both lucid and enjoyable...Like the best teachers, Susskind makes it fun to learn. With a deft use of analogy and a flair for language, he tames the most ferocious concepts...He has come up with the best visual metaphor for the multidimensinality of string theory that I've yet come across, one that alone is worth the price of the book' - Los Angeles Times 'Susskind is very down to earth, an easy-going and entertaining guide through the most exciting frontiers of theoretical physics' - New Scientist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (July 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316016403
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316016407
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (106 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #391,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

166 of 171 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Seel on July 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Susskind describes the decades-long battle between the quantum mechanics community and the general relativists as to whether information is lost when objects pass through the event horizon of a black hole and the hole eventually evaporates. According to Prof. Hawking and the GR community, as nothing can ever reappear from inside an event horizon, the information is indeed totally lost.

Susskind and Gerard 't Hooft begged to differ. Loss of information would violate the basic time-reversibility of QM: Hawking's ideas would lead to universe-destroying phenomena (p. 23). Somehow, the information locked the wrong side of the event horizon must leak out via Hawking radiation. But how?

The resolution of this dilemma took many years of conjectures and refutations. Susskind takes us on a tour of entropy, holographic principles and physics at the Planck scale. And the adversarial plot keeps the reader turning the pages.

I am normally very dubious about popularisations. They proceed by raking up endless analogies which never quite fit together, so that by the end of the book, your mind is like that jig-saw puzzle you bought and could never fit together.

This book was never going to be the exception - the mathematics of quantum field theory, general relativity and string theory are just too arcane for popular culture concepts to cohere around. However, there are wonderful insights all the way through this book and we do end up learning something about the large scale map of the territory. Apparently even the experts find it hard to get the whole thing into one focus.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Eebers on March 22, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I find the material covered by Leonard Susskind in The Black Hole War intrinsically interesting, and Mr. Susskind does a creditable job of laying it out. The problem with this book is not the subject matter, but rather the writing and, even more so, the editing. The editor should have reigned in Mr. Susskind's penchant for rambling, tangential explanations. Covering this material without mathematics is a daunting task, and Mr. Susskind gives it a reasonable shot. But I was often left with the feeling that I should have had a better understanding than I did. For instance, his treatment of "horizon atoms" left me scratching my head.

One other aspect bothered me, and that was the overly blunt assessment of Stephen Hawking's current cognitive abilities. It was speculative and not particularly nice. A scientist search for truth needs to be bounded by a respect for the personal (as opposed to professional) privacy of living fellow scientists.

Finally, the whole premise of a "war" is really labored. Scientific theories change over time as new facts arrive. War is something else. The Catholic Church went to war against Galileo. Mr. Susskind participated in a, at-best, spirited debate.
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50 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Regnal on July 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is absolutely the greatest example of what popular science book about theoretical physics/cosmology should be !! Writing is so brilliant, witty, straightforward, direct and succinct, that regardless of education level, anybody can enjoy interesting content (history of science as well as author's personal story) of "The Black Hole War". Author uses analogies in the best possible way, comparable only to Brian Greene and Michio Kaku. Drawings are frequent, well selected, informative and easy to understand. He writes: "The real tools for understanding the quantum universe are abstract mathematics: infinite dimensional Hilbert spaces, projection operators, unitary matrices and a lot of other advanced principles that take a few years to learn. But let's see how we do in just a few pages". AND HE DELIVERES !! While this book could be a starter for anybody, I recommend it to all who know Kip Thorne's famous work. For reason unknown to me, important black hole "war" is not mentioned in "Black Holes & Time Warps" at all, therefore Susskind's work becomes great extension to BH history of science. Professor Susskind created a true masterpiece where he even acknowledges coexistence of science and faith by writing: "The British intellectual world seems to be big enough for both Dawkins and Polkinghorne". Nothing but big applaud for the author and his effort !!
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95 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Sanford Aranoff on November 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book discusses a problem. According to Hawking, when an object falls down a black hole (BH), all information is lost. The problem is that this violates a principle of physics that information is never lost. The future cannot lose track of the past, for then the past would cease to exist, as the only meaning to the past is present observations and records. Susskind proposes a solution that took him a decade to resolve, and he discusses this in the book. The solution is the Holographic Principle, which is that all the information inside the 3-dimensional sphere of the BH resides on the 2-dimensional surface. An object falling down a BH never crosses the surface, and so the information is not lost. There is a "dual description" that does not refer to the inside.

Susskind makes heavy use of String Theory to establish the theory. Actually, one can arrive at the same conclusion without the use of String Theory or quantum mechanics, by simply focusing on basic principles of physics and general relativity (GR). According to GR, it takes an object forever to reach the BH, and so it never gets inside. We therefore cannot speak about the inside. Everything falling down a BH is eternally falling, and so the information is not lost. We cannot speak about the inside of the BH. This then is exactly Susskind's Holographic Principle, where all information is outside the BH.

Science, and in particular physics, is a collection of theories. A theory is a mathematical system along with observational and experimental agreement. If it is impossible in principle to perform an observation, the theory cannot speak about that situation. Science also includes guesses, research proposals, and hypotheses, not all of which are theories.
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