It was Saturday, April 29, 2000. I was at the Long Beach Convention Center attending a conference of the American Physical Society. The morning's topic was "Gravitation in the 21st Century," and the focus of most of the talks was the detection of gravitational waves. After one of the talks, a man in the front row raised his hand to ask a question, and the speaker responded "yes, Kip?"
It was Kip Thorne, the author of both "Gravitation," which is the bible of general relativity, and "Black Holes & Time Warps," my favorite pop-science book of all time. My husband, also a physicist, leaned over and whispered "if you ask him for his autograph, I'm going to pretend I don't know you."
I didn't ask for Dr. Thorne's autograph that day, but when I came home, I pulled my copy of "Black Holes & Time Warps" off the shelf and read it yet again. I have recommended this book to friends, students, and numerous strangers in the science section at Borders.
What's it about?
This book is primarily about black holes. Thorne explains (conceptually) how black holes were first predicted, how they actually form, what properties they possess, how they interact with other objects in space, and how they may eventually evaporate and explode. In the process, he provides a richly detailed story about the scientists who contributed to our present understanding of black holes. Some of the most brilliant minds of the last century are included, such as Lev Landau, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, and John Wheeler.
And it's fun, too!
"Black Holes and Time Warps," is as entertaining as it is educational. The opening chapter is written in the form of a science fiction story called "A Voyage Among The Holes." The story asks you to imagine yourself as the captain of a spaceship that is on a mission to explore black holes. During your journey, you will encounter many of the properties of black holes first-hand. If you haven't studied basic physics or math, don't worry. Everything you need to know is explained either in the text or in side notes, and to help you through the story and the rest of the book, there is a brief tutorial on scientific notation in the prologue.
Did you like "Contact?"
In 1985, Carl Sagan handed Kip Thorne his draft and asked him to check it over for accuracy. In the final chapter of "Black Holes & Time Warps," Thorne expands on the wormhole idea Sagan used to transport Eleanor Arroway to the star Vega. After exploring the "wormhole-as-shortcut" idea, Thorne moves on to the possibility of using wormholes for time travel.
Enjoyable for astronomers and astronomy-enthusiasts alike
If you don't already know what black holes are, this is a great way to learn. On the flip side, if you already know how to calculate the rotational Killing vectors for Schwarzschild geometry, don't worry. This book isn't trying to teach you how to do that, anyway. Just sit back, and enjoy the historical development of this fascinating topic.
And if you ever bump into Kip, please get an autograph for me.
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