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Gravity's Engines: How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos

4.02  ·  Rating Details  ·  293 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
One of The Barnes and Noble Review Editors' Picks: Best Nonfiction of 2012

Selected by The Christian Science Monitor as one of "21 smart nonfiction titles we think you'll enjoy this summer"

Selected by The New Scientist as one of 10 books to look out for in 2012

We've long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billi
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2012)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
334th out of 1,066 books — 2,594 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared DiamondCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Best General Science Books
201st out of 377 books — 366 voters

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Community Reviews

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Brian Clegg
Nov 07, 2012 Brian Clegg rated it it was amazing
Black holes are the rock stars of cosmology. With the possible exception of the Big Bang, nothing gets better press. And there has been plenty written about the guts of black holes – but in Gravity’s Engines, Caleb Scharf turns the picture on its head and explores the interaction of black holes with the environment around them.

The result is stunning. I can’t remember when I last read a popular science book where I learned as much I hadn’t come across before. In particular Scharf’s descriptions o
Jun 07, 2015 Devero rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Terminato ieri sera. Un libro molto scorrevole nonostante l'argomento ostico, ben spiegato e anche aggiornato ai dati attuali. Se volete capire perchè l'universo è quello che è e come abbiamo fatto a capirlo, allora Caleb Scharf è il divulgatore che fa per voi.
Sharon Reamer
Dec 05, 2015 Sharon Reamer rated it really liked it
The idea of singularities, massive black holes - ravenous behemoths, lurking at the center of every galaxy is fairly mind-blowing. Most of the concepts are well illustrated and there are simple but effective diagrams throughout the book.

The ideas behind Caleb Scharf's area of expertise - black holes and their effects on the formation of galaxies and even superclusters of galaxies is intriguing and he makes a very plausible case for most of his speculations and hypotheses.

I liked the author's wri
John Gribbin
Aug 25, 2013 John Gribbin rated it it was amazing

Gravity’s Engines is a book of two parts. The first part provides a thorough and workmanlike account of black holes -- the “engines” of the title -- for the non-scientist. Although there are several other books around which set out to cover much the same ground, there is always room for another, and this one has the advantage (for the time being at least) of being the most up to date.

Of course, there is no point in being up to date unless the story is told accurately, and Caleb Scharf, who is Di
Jul 22, 2014 Gary rated it it was amazing
An amazingly written book. The author really know how to explain things well and tie it into an overriding narrative. If you have any interest in black holes and galaxy formation (and who among us doesn't!), this book is a must listen. You will become completely up to date in the subject.

Usually, I don't like it when the author does his own reading, but Mr. Scharf does an excellent job and makes the reading as exciting as the subject matter deserves.

I can't recommend this book strongly enough. H
Feb 24, 2014 Nilesh rated it liked it
Gravity's engines is a good, "middling", "one of the books to read" for anyone passionately interested in the latest cosmology. And it is just about that.

The book is certainly not for the neophytes. The author tries hard to make the subject understandable, but moves too superficially on many of the important connected topics and dives perhaps too deep in the narrow field of Black Holes and universe formation to provide a satisfactory overview of reality as it is.

For those well-versed with the b
Sid Nuncius
Nov 08, 2015 Sid Nuncius rated it really liked it
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-sci
D.L. Morrese
Mar 11, 2016 D.L. Morrese rated it really liked it
One of the wonderful things about modern astrophysics (and science in general, I suppose) is that it puts us in our place. I'm not being facetious about this. Four centuries ago, Earth was the center of the universe and Man was the reason it was created about 6,000 years ago. Now we know that the universe has no center, it is unimaginably vast, and our Milky Way Galaxy is only one of hundreds of billions of galaxies, each of which contains a multitude of stars of which our Sun is but one. It's a ...more
Mar 15, 2015 Anna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: popularnonaukowe
Niezwykle ciekawy temat pokazujący historię odkryć astronomicznych, w szczególności poznawania czarnych dziur - od pierwszych nieśmiałych tez, że takie obiekty w ogóle mogą istnieć, poprzez historię całych pokoleń fizyków i astronomów, z których każdy wniósł swoją cegiełkę do katedry astrofizyki, aż po takie inicjatywy jak kolektywne klasyfikowanie zdjęć astronomicznych przez międzynarodową społeczność internautów-ochotników w projekcie Galaxy Zoo czy zawieszona z powodu cofnięcia finansowania L ...more
Sep 06, 2015 Bob rated it it was amazing
This author considers black holes to be an important part of the structure of the universe, and builds a convincing case for this.

An interesting part of them is their effects from spinning: Conservation of angular momentum cause them to spin in the first place, and their extreme density makes them into incredibly powerful "slingers" that both absorb (or maybe, swallow) things like stars, but also tear them into shreds with big parts being thrown out into space with velocities that are extremely
Mary Rice
Dec 05, 2015 Mary Rice rated it really liked it
Best explanation of general relativity I've ever read--he avoids the limitations of the oft-used and overly simplistic description of gravity influencing space-time as though t were just two-dimensional.
Equal parts history, physics and autobiography, the book is loosely structured but engaging and immensely enjoyable. While his writing is clearly intended for the layman, he never underestimates the intelligence of his audience, using amusingly specific analogies to precisely describe extremely c
Nov 08, 2014 Kain rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Naukowo już wyrastam z tego typu książek, więc pierwsze rozdziały czytałem z pewnym znużeniem - autor zanim przechodzi do meritum, stara się wprowadzić czytelnika w temat, co zajmuje mu pół książki. Pod moim względem, książkę uratowała jej znaczna świeżość (u nas pojawiła się tego lata) i lekkie pióro autora, więc finalnie wypada bardzo dobrze.
Polecam więc, jeśli ktoś lubi literaturę popularno-naukową, jest to świetna książka - nie wymaga od czytelnika dużej wiedzy, a jednocześnie serwuje najnow
Gianni Costanzi
May 09, 2015 Gianni Costanzi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Non so perché, forse l'aura di mistero che da sempre li circonda, ma sono sempre stato attratto da questi oggetti cosmici dalle proprietà estreme e di difficile comprensione.. Così appena ho visto questo libro l'ho acquistato e divorato in pochissimo tempo.. sono rimasto affascinato fin dall'inizio, quando l'autore partendo da un fotone rilevato da un telescopio e comparso quindi sullo schermo del suo monitor, ripercorre la "vita" di questo fotone.. da 12 miliardi di anni fa, quando il nostro si ...more
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
If you only read one book on black holes, let this be that book. Scharf has a rare ability to view the universe from the type of wide scope that allows for a fairly complete understanding of how our beautiful cosmos works. Often concepts are isolated. Scharf has a talent to tie things together.

There have been some updates from Hawking as of late, concerning the event horizon of black holes. This book goes into glorious detail about what sorts of things occur near a black hole. It is easy to thi
Timothy Pecoraro
Jul 18, 2013 Timothy Pecoraro rated it it was ok
This isn't necessarily a bad book. Perhaps I'm the wrong audience for it. Very light on new information and very heavy on the history of Astronomy as it relates to Black Holes. While I was certainly grateful for the exhaustive refresher. I'm starting to think that all nonfiction books these days suffer from a sense of false advertising. While there is some good new information here it exists on perhaps 20-30 pages in the middle and toward the end of the book. Which means that the average reader ...more
Jan 15, 2013 Brie rated it it was amazing
I have to say it has been awhile since I have read a science book where there was so much new research and information I hadn't come across before. The title says "Gravity's Engines: How Bubble Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos". The two in Italics I had never heard before relating to Black Holes, so I should have known there would be lots of new information here.

This book is all about black holes, and who isn't interested in that? I think most people are at least
Bob Nichols
Jun 13, 2013 Bob Nichols rated it really liked it
The first half of this book discusses gravity and Scharf clears up a few points that have been confusing. Does an object free float in space or free fall? Scharf answers this indirectly (this is probably not a question for him) when he writes about an object "falling in the gravity field of a massive object." Does gravity "pull" light, thereby bending it? Again, indirectly, Scharf notes that light has no mass, but "simply follows the shortest path in time and space" toward a massive body. We als ...more
Matt Britton
Jan 16, 2016 Matt Britton rated it liked it
Decent. Informative, but the author spends a lot of time repeating and summarizing himself. And he falls into the trap of many popular science authors of over-metaphorizing (presumably for the benefit of better communicating scientific concepts to the reader) and produces some awkward analogies that really take you out of the book's flow. Interesting material though, and not unclear.
May 27, 2015 Chris rated it liked it
A very interesting journey through the history of astrophysics to the future planned scientific endeavours of mapping the event horizon of a black hole. It was slow in the middle when covering the authors scientific pursuits, but picked back up towards the end.
Nov 01, 2015 Roger rated it really liked it
An interesting overview of cosmology with emphasis on the possible effects black holes have on the evolution of stars, galaxies and origins of life. Well written although on occasion I found that his more poetic attempts to describe physical processes interfered with my understanding of them.
Dan Downing
Nov 08, 2013 Dan Downing rated it it was amazing
Subtitled "How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos", Schraf's Exploration of the possible function and structure of black holes draws upon his enormous expertise and today's advanced theories of cosmology.
The ideas put forth here are not the only ones being offered to explain what is happening and what has happened in our Universe, but the concision of explanation and scope of theory make for a strong case; certainly a dazzling and enthralling one.
Well written
Harry Lane
Sep 27, 2012 Harry Lane rated it liked it
A pretty good overview of what's current in deep space astronomy, written in nontechnical language and very readable. I particularly enjoyed the early chapters that covered some of the historical development of the field. Scharf also covered some interesting material about how the theories of quantum mechanics inform cosmology. He began to lose me in the last third of the book. The descriptions of how the science was done was murky to me (possibly more my fault than the author's.) And it seemed ...more
Dec 30, 2012 Leendert rated it really liked it
amazing that we know this much about black holes. so these things aren't just monster destructors - they're regulators of a sort; the volumes, speeds, distances talked of in this book is so mind boggling that after a while the whole thing becomes unimaginable - neutron stars revolving in less than a second, things billions of times the mass of our sun etc;

the idea of astro-paleontology - imagine what we might still do with that in the future as our telescopes becomes larger and larger; as Schar
Chris Karr
Jan 18, 2015 Chris Karr rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely accessible and effectively mind-blowing.
Jul 16, 2015 Andrea rated it really liked it
Concise, informative and well written
Allison Virtue
Apr 10, 2013 Allison Virtue rated it really liked it
An interesting book that danced back and forth between being technical and chatty. In addition to letting me know all sorts of things about black holes I did not know before, it also gave me a good grounding in the history of astronomy. From the technicalities of the telescopes to the thought process that lead to black holes being discovered in the first place, this book was a solid study of the topic. I believe this would be a tough read for someone with no grounding in astronomy or physics, it ...more
Dec 14, 2013 Jimagn rated it really liked it
A well written book that makes a good case for the biological influences of super massive black holes. The author writes for a popular audience, including background stories that might be more enticing to a general readership. Some of the stories may at first seem off topic, but prove to be good entry pints for the science. Most of the material is available in other books, but new information and theories keep it fresh. Sometimes the writing is a little over dramatic. The notes at the end are go ...more
Nov 13, 2012 Colin rated it it was amazing
Gravity's Engines is an extremely interesting book which will indulge all of your fantasies if you're remotely interested in black holes, astrophysics or space in general for that matter. It's a great look into the surprising amount that we currently know about black holes, the build up to now and the last few pages discusses what we could learn and what it would take to learn those things.

What a fascinating time to be alive. I hope you enjoy the book, I did.
Pranay Yadav
Oct 02, 2015 Pranay Yadav rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliantly written account of quasar and black holes and the beautiful phenomenon that come with them. Caleb Scharf takes you through the basics of the processes that take place around these massive bodies to the technical details. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in astrophysics and cool stuff. Ps. This book was good enough that after reading a copy from the library I picked one up for myself!
Robert Mckay
Mar 09, 2013 Robert Mckay rated it it was amazing
Black holes are one of the most fascinating things in astronomy. And it astronomers have now discovered that most, if not all, galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their center. Scharf explains, in plain English, what black holes are and what they do. The only quarrel I have is that the drawings are amateurish – he ought to have availed himself of the artist who’s illustrated Brian Greene’s books.
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“The most distant quasars exist in a very young universe, barely a billion years old.” 0 likes
“If I computed the total power of this radiation, it was a hundred times greater than the X-ray emission of a normal galaxy cluster.” 0 likes
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