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4.4 out of 5 stars
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4.4 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 26 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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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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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I like this book a lot. From the moment I started reading even the preface I knew the style of writing and the subject matter would grab me. I read it in a week of evenings whist relaxing after work and although I had read books and seen stuff on TV on black holes and related subjects, this book gives you a slightly different perspective but without treating the reader like an idiot. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 14 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 16 April 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Caleb Scharf's Gravity's Engines takes us on a universe spanning journey to explain and illuminate those most mysterious of objects, black holes. In language accessible to the layman, and with liberal use of helpful analogies, he outlines the latest theories on their importance and the surprisingly central role they have in understanding the cosmos.

It's an entertaining read and assumes very little knowledge on the part of the reader but at the same time doesn't feel simplistic. He builds towards the current state of play by explaining a little of the history of science and the figures whose ideas led us to first postulate then discover objects so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape their all encompassing gravity.

It's a great example of how good a popular science book can be and I thoroughly recommend it.
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on 18 July 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
...which is always good.

I've read dozens of cosmology and astrophysics books and I subscribe to scientific journals, as well as being an (amateur) astonomer, so coming to this book I already had a decent general knowledge of black holes and singularities. I still found many interesting theories in this work, which is easy to read and often eloquent. However, sometimes the author gets bogged down during his analogies, which I understand are there to make it accessible to the general reader, but just annoyed me and which I often skipped. His areas of personal research were the most interesting and well-written, and I will probably re-read those parts at a future date.

In terms of tone this falls between A Brief History of Time and a Sagan book, and while it is not as profound as the former or well-written as the latter, it is still a very good work on space science.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 24 March 2015
Good book on black holes for the general public (where I fit...), but it seems to focus a lot on the research path of the author and less as a generic book on Black holes. There are some... holes in the whole story :). Having said that, it was definitely worth reading and the author really makes an effort to explain complex concepts with simple metaphors. If you're trying to understand what a back hole is, how they are created, how they work, what's life around a black hole, how they affect a whole galaxy, their impact in shaping the universe and so on, this is quite a good book. It is not an "encyclopedia on black holes" - it is better, as it is pleasant to read from cover to cover. I also had some personal curiosity on some specific questions (such as "can 2 super massive black holes, spinning at an insane speed, collide?!" "And would that create some sort of singularity?" Probably these are just stupid questions, but they made me spend the money in this book. In the end, I enjoyed it a lot.
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on 15 May 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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