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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars keeps the motor running
Scharf achieves his objective here: to give the reader who lacks much by way of scientific background access to the fascinating world of astro physics.

If you tried, but failed to finish a brief history of time, this is definitely worth a go. His mastery of the subject comes across in an easy way, and his use of analogy is great.

Very, very good.
Published 15 months ago by Don Panik

versus
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Into the unknown
This book is quiet hard to understand, I found myself re-reading parts to get an understanding,
I got this book as I have always had an interest into the cosmos and the universe in general and thought I would enjoy it.

Now I have enjoyed this book and have found that I couldn't stop myself reading it, as the author wrote in detail how we came to understand...
Published 14 months ago by Mr. R. Hamper


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars keeps the motor running, 16 April 2013
By 
Don Panik (Cambridge 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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Scharf achieves his objective here: to give the reader who lacks much by way of scientific background access to the fascinating world of astro physics.

If you tried, but failed to finish a brief history of time, this is definitely worth a go. His mastery of the subject comes across in an easy way, and his use of analogy is great.

Very, very good.
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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 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
3.0 out of 5 stars Into the unknown, 4 Jun 2013
By 
Mr. R. Hamper "Duke Dudeston" (Surrey) - 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 book is quiet hard to understand, I found myself re-reading parts to get an understanding,
I got this book as I have always had an interest into the cosmos and the universe in general and thought I would enjoy it.

Now I have enjoyed this book and have found that I couldn't stop myself reading it, as the author wrote in detail how we came to understand black holes, and it amazes me that the theory behind them was thought of years before science really showed they existed.
I say this book is a great read for anyone who has an interest in space and black holes, the way the author explains stuff is great and I did enjoy this book, however if you are just getting into the whole space thing, maybe try something a little easier to understand, still a great book and have recommended it to others to read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex But Rewarding, 6 April 2013
By 
Brett H "pentangle" (Brighton) - 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 complex subject to attempt to explain to an audience, most of whom will not have any sort of background in astrophysics. The author does a very good job in not dumbing down the subject, but in explaining the issues whilst using appropriate metaphors which his readers can relate to. For example, when discussing the very dense matter of white dwarfs, he states that a 13 foot cube of the matter they are composed of would be equivalent to the mass of the entire human race. Suddenly the mind boggling statistics involved begin to mean something to the layman as there is a point of reference.

Scharf is clearly enthusiastic about the subject matter which helps to make, what could be quite dry, into a fascinating read. The history and evolution of the theories on black holes are described and one comes to appreciate some of the enormous conceptual leaps which have led to current thinking on black holes and how they have been so causal in creating the universe and possibly in the creation of life itself.

This is certainly not a read to be taken lightly or something to skip through picking out the odd gem. However, it is well worth persevering with and most readers will be caught up in, and fascinated with the sheer enormity of the concepts involved even if they have no scientific background.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 25 Jun 2013
By 
The Emperor (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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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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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
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Black Stars', 3 Feb 2013
By 
Sussman "Sussman" (London CA) - 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. 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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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 42, 2 Dec 2012
By 
FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland) - 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 I'd like you to take away from Gravity's Engines is both a sense of the cosmic grandeur we have discovered and a feel for the great scope and ingenuity of human ideas at play.' So says Caleb Scharf in his introduction to this very accessible account of the current thinking on black holes, how they formed and the effect they have on the universe.

Scharf starts with the stirring story of photons journeying across space and time bringing with them the information that scientists are using to reveal the answers to the questions of how the universe works. He then takes us back to the earliest days of scientific enquiry describing some of the people, experiments and discoveries that have led, stage by stage, to our current understanding of the impact that black holes have on the formation of galaxies, stars and perhaps even of life on earth itself.

As someone with zero scientific education and knowledge, I found on the whole that Scharf's use of analogy made the complex concepts relatively(!) easy to follow, while his style of writing and boundless enthusiasm made this a fascinating and enjoyable read. There were parts where he nearly lost me, when he explained some of the science around the more difficult theories, but without in any way 'dumbing down' he managed to clarify and simplify things enough to allow me to follow him on this exhilarating journey.

Perhaps not the complete answer to life, the universe and everything but a pretty good stab at it; and, as Scharf intended, I am left in awe of these massive and mysterious 'dark stars' and of the scientists who have gone so far towards understanding and explaining them. Highly recommended.
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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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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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