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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How our universe functions, clearly explained for everyone.
Caleb Scharf has given us an up-to-date (in 2012) explanation of how Black Holes work and their essential role in the well-being of the Universe. There are no complicated mathematical equations to understand, and no esoteric quantum mechanics to ponder. We do not really need any fore-knowledge of Astrophysics to be able to appreciate his well written story about the...
Published on 7 Dec. 2012 by R. F. Stevens

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars hard going
this is one thick hard-back book, which I decided sounded interesting.
I discovered quite early on thats its pretty complicated to understand, and had to take several attempts to start it.....I gave up....im sure its a fascinating read, but just not accessible enough for me...sorry
Published 24 months ago by S. Hammond


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How our universe functions, clearly explained for everyone., 7 Dec. 2012
By 
R. F. Stevens "richard23491" (Ickenham UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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Caleb Scharf has given us an up-to-date (in 2012) explanation of how Black Holes work and their essential role in the well-being of the Universe. There are no complicated mathematical equations to understand, and no esoteric quantum mechanics to ponder. We do not really need any fore-knowledge of Astrophysics to be able to appreciate his well written story about the 'Masters of the Universe'.

It does help to have an interest in how our little island Earth came into being and its place in the grander scale of existence, because the narrative can be quite wordy and some of the examples and analogies might be worth skipping if you already have a background in Astrophysics. But then he is trying to reach a wide audience, one not necessarily academic, and so needs to cover the fundamentals before laying out all the facts before us. Part of it is also acclimatising us to the gigantic scale of things, to help us to get a grip on the mind-bogglingly big numbers involved, especially when compared with our own experience.

His use of analogy is quite clever, and he has a nice turn of phrase, and he has done the work in the relevant fields of research, so he really does know what he is talking about. He is obviously a good communicator, because SWMBO (who is not a scientist, but a keen practical philosopher) also found the book well worth reading. One of her comments was revealing, 'I often wondered how that worked, now I know.' after reading Scharf on how the black holes make their presence felt, but having been frustrated by years of exposure to the popular media, and me, also trying to explain it.

It will take most readers at least a couple of days to finish it, and I think that perhaps it is helpful to allow the new ideas time to settle before moving on to the next revelation. If you really feel the urge to dig further there are nineteen pages of notes referred to from the body text, supported by a comprehensive index to find specific instances in the text.

Astrophysics and Quantum Mechanics were parts of my degree, and when it was first published I enjoyed reading the meaty part of Hawkins' A Brief History of Time (but get the updated and illustrated 2nd edition of ABHOT) which discussed the subsequent discoveries made after I left University. Scharf is much more readable and brings us bang-up-to-date with the current thinking on Black Holes in 2012, and I would not be surprised if BBC's Horizon asked him to present a program or two on the subject. Read the book now, because the pictures in the mind are just as good, and unlike with Horizon you can skip the boring bits he had to put in to bridge the gaps in the school kids' education.

Scharf points out that the complete picture has yet to be developed, and mentions areas of speculation and future work, but I think this easily read book is a very good overview of the accepted knowledge so far.

For further more general reading and to appreciate how very far the Astronomical research has progressed in the three decades since it was written may I suggest Carl Sagan's Cosmos.

And to see the most beautiful, and big, colour illustrations of the Universe, some of the originals of which Scharf might well have used, I strongly recommend Giles Sparrow's Cosmos.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four thousand holes in Blackburn Lancashire, 14 Nov. 2012
By 
lovemurakami "tooty2" (uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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What a good read! [that is if your into this kind of stuff] - Life, The Universe and Everything - well - so far.
It's written in a [sort of] narrative/story form which begins at the present,jumps straight back to the year 1767 and starts to make it's way Back to the Future. Along the way we are told the story of Black holes; the discoveries, theories and advances made and ,what I found most enlightening, the tales of it's unsung heroes. I've read quite a few books on this sort of thing [Quantum mechanics, Schrodinger's Cat and the like] but don't remember reading of John Michell's Dark Stars or Karl Schwarzschild and his Radius [a bit of a tragic tale in the latter case] and those are just the tip of the iceberg.
There's no getting away from the fact that some of the concepts discussed in the book are `hard to get your head around' but the author uses imagery and analogy to very good effect [although I had to read and re-read the Schwarzschild Radius explanation several times before I could get a tentative grasp of the theory].Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Black Stars", 3 Feb. 2013
By 
Susman "Susman" (London Mills IL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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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 of other stars. To sum 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
4.0 out of 5 stars Death Stars that Drive the Universe, 15 May 2013
By 
G. J. Oxley "Gaz" (Tyne & Wear, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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There are a lot of things about black holes that scientists - such as the great Stephen 'Fitter, Happier' Hawking - still don't know. One question not answered in this book is how a black hole killed so many men one night in Calcutta in 1757. Ah! the mysteries of science...

If you're into theoretical physics and astronomy you should love this book, with its explanations of the Chandrasekhar Limit, event horizons, white dwarfs, quasars and the death stars that drive the universe.

A great, understandable examination of black holes and everything related, this book with its science-fictional title (it sounds like a Charles Sheffield novel!) lays bare some pretty far-out (literally) stuff.

A lucid and vivid account that belongs on any amateur astronomer's bookshelf.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 25 Jun. 2013
This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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I enjoyed this. Didn't understand much of it mind you so the author could be talking out of his....
Actually it was surprising interesting and the writing is clear, or as clear as it can be about such a subject.

I did like this book and probably learned something from it. I do keep forgetting what I learned though.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply a treat to read, 14 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
Some scientific concepts are such that they are not amenable to easy understanding. Black Hole is one of them. While the existence of Black Holes can be debated by many, others who have no objection to the proposed existence of these exotic and mysterious objects, may at most times find it hard to visualise their form, structure and function. It is precisely here that the Caleb Scharf's genius is clearly visible.

Scharf is the kind of author who I categorise into the league of writers who reach near perfection in handling of the subject. Without offering any claptrap notions about the cosmic entities he unravels the phenomenon by applying simple concepts of Physics.

After reading the book, most of us are likely to be able to visualise black holes and their function in this grand design. The non-believers may end up getting converted into believers.

The beauty of the book is Scharf's effort in holding our finger and gently helping us to understand his language. For example, he reinforces that when we look at a distant object it implies looking at a younger Universe. He lays out the ground for us to appreciate that at extremely high levels (do not underestimate the words extremely high) of mass and energy, things happen in a different way. By gently introducing concepts like 'submillimeter', he establishes credibility and a superb flow. Following Caleb Scharf's anecdotal approach, I am tempted to say that 'Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Hole' is like a dessert that melts in the mouth after you have tasted a rather hard baguette of other popular science works.

Strongly recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not a complex equation in sight, thankfully, 26 Feb. 2013
By 
John "John75222" (Leeds, Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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I really liked this book. I'm no mathematician or theoretical physicist but this book brought alive the nature and interconnectedness of our universe and the driving force behind it. Prior to reading this book I just thought of black holes as energy guzzlers; sucking in matter, allowing no escape. A cross between a plug hole and a compacter but with no other side, just matter being pressed into a smaller and smaller mass by gravity. How wrong could I have been. This book showed that black holes essentially have a purpose in regulating the formation of stars and galaxies, that rather than just taking from the surrounding space they also give out huge amounts of energy and act as cosmic referee's in galactic centres. Caleb Scharf also manages to get across the amount of head scratching, intuitive leaps of imagination and at times pure dumb luck that manages to advance our knowledge of the cosmos. The only thing I don't remember being explained is the lensing effect that can happen whereby you can use black holes as lenses to sharpen up images millions of light years behind them.

This is a book that is purely conceptual in nature. I can't remember seeing an equation listed anywhere (thankfully), but the quality of the narrative prose is such that you do go on a journey backwards and forwards in time so real that you feel that you're actually there. There's a line in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhikers Guide 1) where space is described as: "... big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen...", this book manages to show just how big and more importantly just how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. In this universe we're each just one person (of many) on one planet going around one of 200 Billion stars in our galaxy that in itself is just one of 100 Billion galaxys (that we can count so far) and black holes are probably the most important part of that universe. I'd definately fail the "Total Perspective Vortex" but managed to read this book and would recommend it wholeheartedly.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good, if slightly florid, account, 8 Feb. 2013
By 
Sid Nuncius (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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This is a good, generally readable account of the nature of black holes, recent discoveries about them and their influence on the universe. Caleb Scharf is a distinguished scientist in the field, giving him a depth of knowledge and insight which makes the content of this book very good.

Scharf takes us through the basics of gravity and relativity needed to understand these extraordinary objects and manages to do it without any mathematical equations, which will probably be a relief to the non-scientific reader. He gives a pretty clear account of the physics of the formation and evolution of the universe, of stars and galaxies and of the behaviour of black holes themselves. He manages to describe very comprehensibly the recent discoveries about black holes and the deductions which he and others are beginning to make about their role in the development of the universe and possibly of life here.

The book is generally well written but does have its flaws, chief of which is the tendency, common in US-based science writers, to overdo the florid language and metaphors in their wish to make the subject accessible. As just one example, Scharf introduces a fairly good analogy of a sack full of a representative sample of the universe, but precedes it with a rather lengthy, wholly irrelevant rigmarole about imagining a box delivered to our door which we bring in, puzzle over, open and find a sack inside... and so on. There is quite a lot of this sort of thing and while it isn't enough to spoil the book, I certainly found it rather irritating. Scharf is at his best when describing his own research and discoveries which he does with an excitement and directness which really brought it alive, and I wish the whole book could have been written in this tone.

In spite of the flaws, I can recommend this as a very interesting and up-to-date (as of February 2013) account of some of the most extraordinary and fascinating objects in the universe. Well worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating black holes, 10 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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They say that only a very small proportion of those who bought 'A brief history of time' actually read or understood it and I confess to becoming tired half way through. No offence to Hawking and to be fair it was a much bigger topic covered in fewer pages.

Scharf seemed to me to communicate his subject matter more clearly (or perhaps Black Holes are easier to cover than 'everything'). Nevertheless, this is not a book for idle reading. I doubt you are going to get very far unless you have already formed an interest in the subject because, although it is pitched at the non-expert, it demands a degree of intellectual concentration and I sometimes felt like the pupil being told 'keep up at the back there!'

I am in no position to critique Scharf's thesis and to be honest if he told me that black holes are made of treacle I would have to bow to his knowledge. I am in the 'right, well, goodness!' readership and mesmerised by the concepts let alone the detail.

It is always difficult to define one's audience - too low brow and you lose those in advanced class, too high and mere mortals are bewildered. However, it was worthwhile the effort even though I had the sense that I was a first year stumbling into a lecture aimed at third years. Just as with gazing up at the stars and trying to picture infinity, it is sometimes enough for me to be spellbound. Scharf succeeded in that and managed to captivate with the sheer awe of his subject matter.
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5.0 out of 5 stars More consistent than Brief History of Time, 23 Jun. 2013
By 
Jack Chakotay "Ender Brazil" (Northern Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (Hardcover)
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I apologise to Dr Scharf. With Professor Hawking's seminal Brief History being the seminal work all other astrophysics books for the public must be judged against, it was too difficult to evaluate wihout comparison.

Firstly, the writing is personable and his fascination in recounting the "history of discovery" very infectious. He sticks to making the topic understandable. His use of metaphor has been remarked on but it is not a weakness- it is an attempt for clarity amongst the uninitiated. I admit he waxes so lyrical that on the rare occasion Dr Scharf wanes ( "lets peel away the sack... and examine the structures within" to introduce subatomic scale) it is jarring. But you could do far worse than following the images he vividly utilises to illustrate otherwise incomprehensible phenomena.

There is no metaphysical interpretation (a la Hawking) just a personal tutor sharing a journey of discovery from the very infinitesimally small to the size of the cosmos. There are both black and white photograph plates as well as some simple drawings. A far cry from Dr Brian Cox's razzle and dazzle (sorry Dr Scharf) but there is a deeper comprehension accessible in Gravity's Engines.
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Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes
Gravity's Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes by Caleb Scharf (Hardcover - 1 Nov. 2012)
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