Customer Reviews: Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos
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on March 9, 2015
An excellent front to back view of black holes and their impact. It is new enough to include many recent pertinent data/discoveries/theories. There is only one equation in the book and that is for illustrative purposes.
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on June 12, 2014
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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on October 13, 2013
Even if the reader has a good deal of knowledge about black holes, this is a great summary written in understandable language. This book should be on every reading list aimed at anyone wanting to know more about the universe we live in. Well done.
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on April 29, 2013
This book is excellent. The author explains the scientific principles at issue in an understandable and engaging way.

Yet, the best aspect of the book is that the author is a good writer. He makes excellent use of analogies to help the lay reader understand his points. His writing is entertaining.

I have read many popular science novels on astronomy, astrophysics, regular physics and cosmology. Thus, I found the book easy to understand and parts of it cover material I was already familiar with, albeit in an entertaining fashion.

I raise that background just to point out that I could see how someone who has not done any reading in this area might want more background for some of the subjects the author introduces.
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on 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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on 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 star 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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on January 26, 2014
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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on September 13, 2012
Scharf has presented a colourful and readable narrative without the sacrifice of one iota of clear and logical explanation. His topic, black holes, has been done to death but Gravity's Engines is a current and broad ranging account which excels through Scharf's powers of exposition.

Scharf commences his account viewing a coarse image of galaxy 4C41.17 on his computer screen and then guides the reader through astronomical events which reveal what we have learned leading up to and from the discovery of this extremely distant and extremely young galaxy. His explanations of how black holes grow, `self regulate' and are critical to galactic and biological evolution would risk being trite ("the feeding habits of nonillion-pound gorillas") if the descriptions were less clear or accurate. Instead, he literally breathes life into a fascinating topic.

When Scharf examines the role of black holes in the evolution of life on the Earth, there may be scope for a summary to the conjecture and metaphor-laden narrative. However, a hard-nosed appraisal of the anthropic principle puts this examination into context. Scharf concludes with a review of state-of-the-art x-ray observatories, planned and wished.

Covering all aspects of black hole theory, from black hole genesis, growth, regulation, taxonomy and impact upon the universe at large, Gravity's Engines is an enjoyable lay guide to black hole theory.
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on October 6, 2012
The broad theme of `Gravity's Engine' is to develop and unpack the role that black holes play in cosmic evolution, or the creation of galaxies and all objects and in our universe. Scharf even argues that the presence and behavior of black holes may be an explanation that even sets the stage for biological evolution--origin of life. In Scharf's words, "we have found a new way for black holes to sculpt and mold the world around them . . . black holes play a crucial role in the evolution of cosmic structures across time. They regulate the production of new stars in the giant galaxies of today's universe, and have likely done so throughout cosmic time." Sharf continues by stating that "black holes are controlling the production line" making black holes cosmic regulators in the formation of stars and galaxies throughout the universe.

I have purposed to make this review short and to the point as other reviewers have already unpacked the collateral arguments throughout Scharf's book. The book reads fairly straight-forward, but it is not a page turner like Neil Turak's `The Universe Within,' or Paul Halpern's `Edge of the Universe,' both of which I would highly recommend before purchasing Gravity's Engine. This book does not require a background in cosmology, cosmogony or physics. I would classify this book as a popular level reading for science fans (14+), with the caveat that the book is focused on a very specific issue.
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on September 24, 2013
While this book may be challenging for those unfamiliar with some of the concepts presented, it may be worth exploring even for the novice (like me). I may have to read this book a few times and I wish I had gotten the hard copy edition since the Kindle images don't do the book justice.

From the exceedingly small, infinite in fact, to the extraordinarily big (still infinite!) Gravity's Engines may ask more questions than it answers. However, you may never have thought to ask the questions in the first place had you not put aside your fear of astrophysics and quantum theory (just the names might frighten some), and open your mind to the impossible made real and darned near understandable!

If a picture is worth a thousand words (or a billion trillion stars) get the hard copy instead of the Kindle.
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