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on 18 June 2016
A wonderful introduction

A wonderful introduction to Cosmology told at least partly through the many physicists and astronomers that are behind current theories. It helps that the author, Mr Thorne, is one of the participants.
The book arrived quickly and in good condition. The high quality of this used product and the range of their books makes me feel that they are a company I want to know more about
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on 17 December 2014
Its a great book. It's a long book. The intermingling of science with the scientists personal lives and ambitions across the globe makes it a much more animated read. Clearly some of the science is a little out of date now but not much I don't believe.
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on 8 January 1999
Kip Thorne worked long on this book (originaly published in 1993), but the result is worth his and the readers effort. Both history of science and popular science - written by someone who participated in some of the discoveries it describes - this tells the tale of the mathematical discovery of black holes, the opposition to the idea of a lot of eminent scientists (Einstein among them), and the gradual realisation that black holes do realy exist. Thorne ponders on several of the ramifications black holes have on our understanding of the universe, not in the least the possibility of time travel. However, science fiction readers will be disapointed to learn why time travel through black holes probably is scientificaly impossible. A very enjoyable and thoughtprovoking text; as with all good books, you loath the moment when you reach the last page. A pity Thorne is a careful, slow writer. An update that brings the subject to the present would be most welcome. (The science in this book is not too difficult, especialy if your interested in this sort of subject. I myself studied history and my physics and mathematics background is poor to say the least. The reader with a physics or mathematics background will find lots of technical detail in the many notes.)
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on 29 September 2015
Given as a present, very happy
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on 23 February 2017
good book
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on 28 May 2012
One of my favourite books and also one of the most influential. I read this in my teens, about 12 years ago, in the same summer that I read Hawking's Brief History of Time. Although I skimmed through the book again before writing this review. ;-) This book is perhaps easier to read and like Hawking's book is full of diagrams to aid understanding. Some relativity is covered, including the idea of lightcones and how they relate to causality. This was actually one of the trickier concepts, in that I tried to fully understand what the lightcone diagram meant and what the consequences are of the information displayed upon one. They are key to understanding black holes and how they distort space-time.

There is a fair amount of overlap between this book and Hawking's book. Both cover some of the history of black holes and of cosmology. Both the history of the physical concepts but of the people too. The content is aimed a general audience but with the understanding that some effort is required to grasp some of the difficult concepts. This book did however contain a lot of new material that I eventually met again at university: such as the life cycle of a star, and how these eventually lead to white dwarves / supernovae / black holes etc. It was the first book where I encountered electron degeneracy and at the age of 16 (or so) it was certainly very understandable.

The author is an expert in the field of gravitation and of black holes so there is barely anyone more appropriate to present such a book. While the author is clearly an authority on the subject matter and no point does he condescend the reader but rather makes every effort to explain difficult concepts, combined with his humour and anecdotes about Hawking and of Zel'dovich, this book should be counted as a classic science book for the layman. The anecdotes of the author's interactions with Zel'dovich, a soviet era scientist, are something which are unique to this book. There cannot be too many other westerners that had access to a soviet researcher in the same way, the insight to the conversations are interesting and quite illuminating of the world at that time.

This book covers many topics such as how to generate electrical energy from a spinning black hole, the life-cycle of stars, the concept of space-time as non-absolute entity, black holes, spin foams and, of course, time travel. I cannot name a book that betters this one with regards to the subject matter.
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on 15 November 2007
Kip Thorne is an eccentric author who reveals scientific enterprise of quantum gravity and black holes research in a simple language. This book is rich in history, and classical (Newtonian physics and theory of relativity) and modern physics (quantum mechanics) are presented in non mathematical form. We get rare first hand insights of scientific styles and temperament, and his personal involvement in various aspects of black holes research and his interaction with scientists all over the world especially those from former Soviet Union and the impact of communism on black hole research. The first part of the book describes theory of relativity, concept of spacetime fabric of the universe and curvature of spacetime in presence of matter (stars, galaxies, etc.) to generate gravity. The author gives us a good historical background to build his case for black hole concept. Theory of relativity predicts the existence of black holes but Einstein refused to accept it and so is Arthur Eddington another leading exponent of theory of relativity. The idea of black holes remained in academic obscurity among few who believed in it and it progressively became clear that dying giant stars undergo implosions in which nuclear force the strongest of all four forces of cosmos buckles under gravitational force creating a blackholes. Black holes have been discovered in the center of dying giant stars and in centers of galaxies, and efforts are underway to detect the black hole gravitational waves carried to earth from distant parts of the universe and to seek the secret of what is inside a black hole: a route to another universe? The author warps up the second part by discussing the possibility of constructing wormholes with exotic matter (tunnels in space connecting two widely separated locations in the universe) through hyperspace for interstellar travel and back to the future. He is one of the leaders in proposing interstellar travel. Physicists and academics are too conservative to get involved in space travel research as it is traditionally linked to science fiction and Star Trek junkies. The author can mesmerize the reader with his incredible knowledge and ease with which he can communicate to the reader; at the same time he is eccentric enough to work in one of his laboratory (Palomar Mountains) nude and draw criticisms from peers. He is also crazy enough to take bet with peers for things such as Penthouse magazine and annoy his wife and family with Mormon heritage. This book is free of marketing strategies of the publisher as the author shares his knowledge with the reader to his best of abilities to make everyone understands it even by offering few simple calculations and formulas. Do not be discouraged by the size of the book (619 pages). The text flows well and it is deeply engrossing. Anyone interested in black hole and space travel must have this book.
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on 19 January 2014
Kip S.Thorne is one of the three physicists who at 1970 wrote the legendary textbook Gravitation (Physics Series). This was the first book introducing General Relativity with the most modern form of Differential Geometry. He played a major role in most of the scientific discoveries concerning the research on Black Holes and as such he is one of the most eligible and knowledgeable scientist to write a book on this difficult subject.

The writer's depth of knowledge is reviled through his style of writing. He has the pen of a great physicist who dare to successfully popularize some of the most abstract theories of physics and transfer the reader to the magnificent eerie corners of reality which most people ignore. His easygoing style resembles a lot with that of Richard Feynman, one of the greatest physicist and teachers of the 20th century.

This book is a popularized tour through the history, the discoveries, the ideas and the multitude of scientists involved in the research on Black Holes. The first chapter begins with a futuristic expedition of a spaceship with scientists whose aim was the research and close approach study of Black Holes residing inside and far away from our galaxy. This sci-fi introduction is used to ignite the interest of the reader for the strange world and physics of the Black Holes and gives him courage for the long journey and the battles with the abstract ideas lying ahead. The mentality of this introduction is the same with the monumental Lectures on Physics: Complete Set v. 1-3 whose purpose was to keep alive the interest of beginner physics students till they would have acquired the necessary mathematical skills needed for the study of real physics.

The next two chapters present the very basic principles of the physics theories which are prerequisites for the understanding of the main topic of Black Holes. These two theories are of course the Special and the General Theories of Relativity, the last of which has been characterized as the "Jewel of Human Thinking". Usually, at least for a physicist, the presentation of such abstract theories without the aid of the proper mathematical formalism seems a futile and arid necessity. Kip Thorne as a true theoretical physicist, manages to convey the very essence of Special Relativity without using any mathematical formula at all. The quintessence of Special Relativity is the unavoidable unity of the notions of Space and Time and their unison to the new concept of space-time continuum. Mathematics are indispensable for the development and foundation of physics theories but physics never stop being the product of human intuition and belief that underneath the complex phenomena lie the symmetry and the simplicity of necessity. If a physicist adheres to the mathematical formalism without striving to understand the notions hidden behind the symbols then he loses the opportunity to see the Great Picture.

Having presented the principles of the Special Relativity, he proceeds with the more difficult task of General Relativity presentation. The exemplification of this theory's principles is done very naturally through the exposition of the mental processes that lead Einstein build his magnificent edifice. In most General Relativity textbooks the significance of the gravitational tidal forces for the cognitive foundation of the theory is ignored. Even Einstein in his books Relativity: The Special and General Theory and the The Meaning of Relativity (Routledge Classics), never mentions how the tidal forces of gravitation lead him to the connection of gravity with space-time curvature. The writer uses an intuitive way where Equivalence Principle when combined with the notions of geodesics in curved continuums, inertia, time delay in a gravitational field and the observable phenomenon of tidal forces, lead to the description of gravity not as a force but as a manifestation of space-time curvature.

The actual journey begins with the third chapter describing the birth and the sudden death of the Black Hole idea. It is explained that the existence of such bizarre objects was hypothesized a long time ago by an English physicist few decades after Newton's death. In the beginning of the 20th century, a special solution of Einstein's field equations called Schwarzschild anomalies, indicated that General Relativity foresee the existence of Black Holes. Despite this discovery Einstein and Sir Arthur Eddington, the leading experts on General Relativity, concluded that even though Black Holes were compatible with General Relativity they couldn't exist because they were not compatible with the rest of the physics theories. If physics aspire to be a model of Reality then one of its most profound characteristic must be consistency. A phenomenon occurs only if it is compatible with all contemporary theories of physics. For instance the time inversion is fully compatible with Classical Mechanics but it's against the second law of Thermodynamics so, in Classical Physics, traveling back in time is impossible.

It was the discovery of such a possibility for compatibility that gave again birth to the idea of Black Holes as realizable objects. This possibility is described in the fourth and the fifth chapters which mainly deal with astrophysics and the struggle of scientists to understand the evolution of stars and the final act of their death. It was only through the detailed knowledge of all possible stellar death scenarios that physicists could answer the questions as to if the birth of a Black Hole is sometimes inevitable.

Now that the Black Holes were proved to be the necessary outcome of some cases of stellar evolution where gravitational collapse can't be stopped from any physical process, the next question searching for answer is what remains after the inevitable gravitational collapse. The answer to these questions is the description of Black Holes characteristics in the 6th chapter. Physicists are confronted with seemingly contradictory phenomena occuring during the graviational collapse and the birth of the Back Hole. While the surface of the collapsing star passes the event horizon for an observer seating on the surface of the star, an observer outside the Black Hole notices that the surface of the star freezes just while passing the critical point of the event horizon and from then on time stends still on the frozen surface! This chapter also describes the intricate relationship between technology, science and War. The pressure for new technological achievements concerning the building of H-Bombs during the Cold War gave birth to elaborate software which was subsequently used for the simulation of the conditions in a stellar core during the gravitational collapse. The dialectics of scientific evolution is evident from this historical presentation from which it is also obvious that science and social events are not as independent as considered in the past.

Chapter 7 under the title "The Golden Era" is indeed the golden era of Black Hole research. Physicists started exploring and revealing the most peculiar characteristics of these eerie creatures. Black Holes were found to be very simple because all of their characteristics could be inferred from just the knowledge of their mass, their angular momentum and their charge. A humoristic expression claiming that "Black Holes have no hairs" meant that following its creation, a Black Hole has no characteristics to reveal its past and the details of the gravitational collapse which gave way to its birth. All the new findings lead to a picture where Black Holes are not dead static objects but creatures full of life which pulsate, rotate and drift the space itself along their frantic dance.

The next three chapters are devoted to the experimental physicists who are the detectives of physics. The accumulation of knowledge on the behavior of Black Holes made it possible to pass from speculation to searching for the existence of these objects on the night sky. Chapter 9 presents the attempts to explain the machine behind high intensity X-ray sources, like Cygnus X1, and presents the birth of X Ray Astronomy. Evidence for the existence of Black Holes was also searched at the other side of the electromagnetic spectrum, the radio waves. Here the explanations for active core radio galaxies, quasars and giant interstellar radio lobes excited by huge jets, lead directly to the picture of rotating Black Holes whose immense rotational energy is coupled through its magnetic field with the interstellar medium. The macabre dance of two Black Holes which are due to join in a single Hole is revealed through the space-time ripples they produce just before their coupling. These ripples are the gravitational waves whose proposed methods for detection are presented in the 10th chapter. Human ingenuity is most profound in the discovery of methods capable for "Measurement without Quantum Disturbance". The physicists while trying to invent devices to measure gravitational waves came face to face with the ultimate measurement barrier of Uncertainty Principle. With outmost ingenuity they devised method to overcome this barrier and measure vibrations with amplitude less than 100.000 times the diameter of the atom.

A great theoretical physicist is impossible not to make a reference to the epistemological aspect of his field of interest. Chapter 11 is small but extremely interesting chapter dealing with the way human brain builds models and through them understands Reality. Kip Thorne elaborate on an epistemological issue which for sure tantalize many physicists on their first contact with General Relativity. Is the space-time curved or the measurement rods contract and the clocks rate decrease under the influence of gravity? With the use of the notion of Paradigm presented from Thomas Kuhn in his profound book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition, the writer explains that these two aspects are equivalent even though they seem to present a different picture for Reality. This is also explained in detail in Hans Reichenbach's very interesting bookThe Philosophy of Space and Time (Dover Books on Physics) and in the prologue of the brilliant book Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory. New levels of physical processes understanding can be reached through the retrospective views of epistemology. This chapter concludes with the new advances in Black Hole behavior discovered from physicists who were advantageous in the aspect that they were not infiltrated by the old epistemological Paradigms.

As the chapters advances, the more interesting and surrealistic the new findings become. Up to chapter 12 most of the results concerning Black Hole behavior were based on General Relativity. The marriage of Einstein's theory with Quantum Mechanics opens Pandora's Box and with the genius of Steven Hawking, Black Holes are surprisingly found to emit radiation and all sort of particles! Eventually they are not as black as considered in the past. The existence of an emission mechanism reveals the more outstanding fact that Black Holes are not eternal. Through the radiation emission they continuously lose mass and finally evaporate and die with a spectacular explosion after an extremely long time depending on their initial mass!

Almost all bulk of the book deals with the appearance and phenomena accompanying the existence of a Black Hole, as seen from an observer outside the event horizon which is the ultimate causal barrier between the interior of the Black Hole and the rest of the Universe. Chapter 13 is a "Dive into the Big Blue", a characterization used from the mathematicians when referring to the area of pure mathematics. The long journey through the unimaginable world of Black Holes leads directly to their heart. Many great physicists of the past couldn't accept the result of Oppenheimer-Snyder calculations that in the heart of every Black Hole resides the most peculiar and extreme place in the whole Universe, a space-time anomaly of zero dimension, infinite density and infinite curvature. Roger Penrose solved this dispute by proving with new topological methods that gravitational collapse inevitably leads to the creation of space-time anomalies where space and time literally cease to exist. Quantum gravity is the realm of this anomaly. General Relativity is no longer valid in this extreme place and only through the theories of quantum gravity is it possible to speculate about what is going on in the anomaly. Time ceases to exist and what is left is pure space in a form of quantum foam or in the language of topology, an n-connected topological space. The shape of this chaotic foam is governed by the probabilistic quantum gravity rules. One of the exiting findings concerning the behavior of the Black Hole close to the space-time anomaly is that a daring explorer could get very close to this anomaly before he is shattered from the monstrous tidal forces which are so immense that even atomic nucleus are torn apart when they get very close to the anomaly. The direction of these forces is continuously changing like being in a mixer so the physicists called this phenomenon as "Mixer Oscillations.

The final chapter is flirting with sci-fi because it is examining the possibility of time travel (existence of closed time-like space-time curves) through wormholes or else Einstein-Rosen space-time bridges. Despite the impression that this is a topic only for science fiction books the author surprisingly reveals us that this is indeed a legitimate physics research topic, as it should be. Perhaps the most interesting conclusion of this chapter is not the possibility of time travel itself but the fact that traveling back to the past might not be accompanied by the well-known paradoxes of the time travel. The consistency of traveling back in time is exhibited with a very simple thought experiment with pool balls.

Kip Thorne's book is not just a book for physics of Black Holes. It is a book also for the countless physicists and personalities that contributed to this monumental task of understanding what the strange phenomenon of Black Hole is. It is a book revealing the dialectics of scientific evolution through the interactions of the various characters and ideas born under the frame of the contemporary sociological status. Underneath the downfall of physics theories a lesson of ethics and scientific deontology is also hidden. The writer even though he is one of the major contributors to the theory of Black Holes, he rarely refers to himself. He presents the characters and the intricate relationships of all the physicists who took part in the Black Hole research with outmost objectivity and respect. It is only at the last chapter that he talks a bit about himself, discretely revealing the solitude that many thinkers feel. The natural isolation of this kind of people seems contradictory but it is finally inevitable. Even though they belong to the few human beings who understand the complexity of reality, they find themselves as intellectual and emotional outcasts in a world built from the illusions of all the rest fellow human beings. As Richard Feynman wrote in his book The Character of Physical Law (Penguin Press Science), "... C.P.Snow was talking about two civilizations. I think these two civilizations divide the Mankind between these who had the experience of understanding nature, at least for once, with mathematics and these who didn't."

Despite the writer's terrific popularization of such abstract ideas, it will be very difficult for a reader without physics background to appreciate the depth of the Black Hole findings and the evolutionary connection between the various ideas.

I fully recommend this wonderful book which will travel you to the most peculiar places in the Universe and for once more will make you stand with awe and humility in front of Human ingenuity and power of mind.
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This book, written by the great cosmologist Professor Kip Thorne, leads us through some of the wonders and paradoxes of the universe.

If you want to escape from your world, you can do no better than join him. He takes us step by step through the various discoveries that have led to this understanding of the universe in which we have evolved, in our own little corner, on this little planet.

Reading is like living in a movie, so brilliantly and with such passion, does he describe this epic search for truth.

The factual information he gives about the universe and reality itself as we proceed, provides a riveting tableau of our surroundings and universal history.

If you are interested in what lies beyond the horizon of Earth, this book is a must!
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on 9 November 1999
This book is a very readable account of the history of reasearching the very limits of our world - the large (cosmic) and the small (quantum). From Einsteins work on Relativity to the latest research into the physics of black holes and worm holes, this account takes us through the emotions all reasearchers have in their work. The elation of new discoveries and heartache of errors uncovered. From the early years of the big players in the US and USSR - through to thier "grand-child graduates" moving the boundaries of mathematics and physics to new depths. Kip has written a enthralling account behind the mathematical and physical discoveries surrounding the limits of cosmology - black holes, worm holes, and ... time warps(!). From the sci-fi prologue (what is the science and what is the fiction ?), I found this book very difficult to put down. For the lay reader there is very little mathematics and a lot of very good descriptions of all the concepts introduced. An excellent book and highly recommended.
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