four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-The Black Hole WarLeonard Susskind, professor of theoretical physics at Stanford and the author of The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design, tackles more far-flung concepts in The Black Hole War.

The Topic: A universe teeming with ubiquitous, voracious black holes and all sorts of even weirder phenomena has a certain appeal. We want to understand. And physicist Leonard Susskind wants to help. Susskind and Nobel Prize winner Gerard ‘t Hooft are the most high-profile advocates of string theory and the holographic principle, ideas that run counter to those of cosmological rock star Stephen Hawking. Told through anecdotes and with an eye toward informing the interested lay person, The Black Hole War explores questions whose answers still—and may for a long time—lie beyond our grasp. Amid all the mind-bending theories that Susskind advances, Hawking’s pronouncement offers a strange comfort: "We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand our universe."
Little, Brown. 480 pages. $27.99. ISBN: 0316016403

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s impossible to read Leonard Susskind’s beautifully clear story without realizing he’s not really interested in writing for the elite mind, whatever that is. … [Susskind] does a terrific job across an astonishing range, from Einstein’s work in relativity to the laws of thermodynamics to the fantastical ideas behind string theory in cosmology." Deborah Blum

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"To give a full account of the black-hole war, Mr. Susskind must explain quantum mechanics and general relativity, as well as an array of newer concepts, from string theory to the holographic principle. … [The Black Hole War] will richly reward anyone who takes the time to ponder the intricacies of its themes." Sean Carroll

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"In the end, The Black Hole War is as good an introduction as you’re going to find to the strange world of black hole astrophysics. Add that to the chance to ride along as real scientists resolve a fundamental issue and you have the makings of a great read." James Trefil

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Susskind gives an explanation, both lucid and enjoyable, of why black holes are so crucial to the future of physics and to any eventual reconciliation of relativity and quantum mechanics. … Although the narrative has a tendency to meander—a chapter in which Susskind fails to meet Hawking in Cambridge is unnecessary—it glows with the warmth of conversation." Jesse Cohen

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Undeterred by experimental data—it would take a particle accelerator as big as the galaxy to test some of the latest cosmological contrivances—theorists have found a new role as entertainers, scientific Scheherazades. Leonard Susskind … is one of the wiliest." George Johnson

Critical Summary

Cosmology has been sexy since Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking stormed onto the scene three decades ago, popularizing science for the masses. In The Black Hole War, Susskind plays on our insatiable appetite for the gee-whiz moment, combining lucid explanations for some complex ideas with stories that tend to confirm the eccentricities of the highly intelligent. In fact, it’s the author’s knack for teaching and his conversational prose that make the book accessible and therefore appealing to a wide audience. And, of course, it’s never a bad idea to drop Hawking’s name in a book’s title. "Susskind explains this dizzying notion about as clearly as is probably possible," George Johnson writes of the author’s theory—even if, in the end, we need "a lot more data" (New York Times Book Review).