The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics
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The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  2,711 ratings  ·  147 reviews
What happens when something is sucked into a black hole? Does it disappear? Three decades ago, a young physicist named Stephen Hawking claimed it did-and in doing so put at risk everything we know about physics and the fundamental laws of the universe. Most scientists didn't recognize the import of Hawking's claims, but Leonard Susskind and Gerard t'Hooft realized the thre...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published July 7th 2008 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2008)
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DJ
Jul 30, 2009 DJ rated it 1 of 5 stars Recommends it for: only my worst enemies
Shelves: popular-physics
Light on "science" and heavy on "popular", this is the kind of "popular science" that makes me cringe.

The Black Hole War is a book that fears offending any reader by asking them to think for an entire chapter. Genuinely interesting yet shallow islands of physics are sprinkled in a vast sea of mundane travel stories, idle cultural speculations, and weakly veiled self-aggrandizement.

The central physical question of the book, the black hole information paradox, is a very fascinating issue that has...more
Claudio Arena
An amazing book.
It needs to be said, that this is not for everybody. Even if Leonard Susskind does a perfect job to explain even the more difficult concepts, what he talks about is still incredibly complex.
It needs to be read by somebody that has the basis for physics (but not too much: high school physics is enough to follow the reasoning), and is used to scientific reasoning.

That said, I would say this book is one of the few that classify still as not being technical (as I said before, you don...more
Toni Daugherty
Could the King of physics be wrong about black holes? For 30 years Hawking and Susskind debated whether or not information disappears once it is sucked into a black hole. I commend Susskind for his courage not in debating Hawking, but in explaining concepts like Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Gravity, and String Theory to regular people like me. If you want to learn more about your universe and you don't want to spend a lot of time on the math - this is the book.
These black hole ideas are important...more
Isk
Started a year ago, finally finished! Hate Susskind's writing -- shut the fuck up with your inane and bloated "war" metaphor that appears every other page. And no, you don't need to constantly remind that why you were always so sure you were right and that you couldn't believe all the other physicists were too dense to see why the war was important. But the cool physics is inside.

Hawking: seemed to prove that information is irretrievably lost in a black hole. Also, empty space full of super-flee...more
J.
A good introduction to the debate in physics regarding on whether information was lost when it entered a black hole. This was a big deal because conservation of entropy would thereby be threatened if this was, in fact, the case. The current physical theory indicates that this is not so.

I dislike how the emphasis of this book seems to be on this nebulous concept of "information" instead of in the physical states themselves from which this "information" is deduced. The world is made up of physical...more
Amanda
I found this book interesting, Susskind seems to be a bit egotistical, but it is my understanding that that is a common trait among physicists and seeing as his claim is finally winning the war with Stephen Hawking (a name in physics known even to the general populace) I don't suppose I can really fault him for that. This book isn't for the faint of heart, but if you have the time (and energy!) to put into comprehending strange abstract physics concepts (String Theory anyone?) then it can really...more
Charbel
"What is it that takes a fringe idea, something that may have lain dormant for years, and abruptly tips the scale in its favor?"
Leonard Susskind

I was in the physics section of the library, and this book caught my eye. I have to admit that the title was the major contributing factor that incited me to read this. Now I have a soft spot for quantum mechanics and string theory (not to mention puppies, kittens and cheesecake, but that's an entirely different matter) and so it's no surprise that I j...more
Bill Leach
Chapter 1 - In 1981, Hawkings postulates that information is lost in black holes.

Chapter 2 - Black holes and the horizon at the Shwartzchild radius described. Einstein rejected black holes. Tidal forces are less at the horizon of large black holes. Einstein Equivalence Principle states that the effects of gravity and acceleration are indistinguishable.

Chapter 3 - Reimann proposed that space may be curved, an idea incorporated into General Relativity. Minkowski space incorporates space and time,...more
Samantha
About 60% (and that's a conservative estimate) went over my head, despite Susskind's valiant effort to dumb it down. In a nutshell, he explains how he and a group of like-minded theoretical physicists ultimately proved Stephen Hawking wrong.

What was the issue? Hawking said he had proven that information that enters a black hole is lost forever. Susskind disagreed, mainly because that would mean that one of the fundamental tenets of physics -- that matter is never destroyed -- would be wrong. And...more
Michael
Jul 28, 2013 Michael rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: those interested in black hole physics
Shelves: rm
The Black Hole War is at times an autobiographical tale about the theoretical physics community, and at times a physics lesson. It introduces the minds, senses of humor, and egos of the great theoretical physicists of our time, and attempts to explain the ideas they contributed to the argument at hand.
I enjoyed learning about the physicists themselves. Their personalities, competitive yet respectful spirit, and comradery were the highlights of the book. The most memorable bits are Susskind's mus...more
Mark
An absolutely fascinating recounting of the process to reconcile our understanding of Einstein's General Relativity and gravity with Quantum Mechanics and the surprising discoveries in String Theory that made it possible. This reader has always been fascinated with physics and is always on the lookout for works like this that explore the current state of our understanding of the universe and how it works. The author does a masterful job of explaining complex concepts in simple terms using word p...more
Chris
The ability of man to doggedly investigate the pure strangeness of the universe is mindbogglingly awesome. I cannot claim to understand much of what was written about in this book, but it is fun to try. This book was an interesting combination of the explanation of aspects of the quantum world and a story of great minds at opposite ends of theoretical beliefs trying to come to grips with their differences. I've read several "physics for the non-physicist" books, and this was one of the first tha...more
Tony Bertauski
For the average Joe, Susskind addresses the secrets of the universe -- as the world's physicists understand it -- in plain English. He tunes into focus the big picture of time, space and black holes as well as the elementary level of quarks and gluons. It was (somewhat) easy to follow, and fascinating to experience the thought experiments developed by physicists, past and present.

Regardless of Susskind's accessibility and storytelling method of explaining complex thought, there were still eleme...more
Luca
1. I chose this book because I have always had great interest in theoretical physics, and this was a great event in the world of science that changed the way we though about the universe, by explaining what happens to an object that falls into a black hole, and validates the law of conservation of information.
2. This book recalls the "war" between physicists that took place in the late 1900's. On one side, Stephen Hawking, who believed that an object that falls into a black hole is destroyed, vi...more
Molly
The author is incredibly full of himself, but a worthwhile overview


Even though I already have 6 books going, and a book club deadline bearing down, the need to read this grew out of a late night discussion with KKB when all we had was wikipedia and a National Geographic article for reference.
Raresh Vlad
I'm glad Susskind won the war. Holographic principle is mind-boggling.
Kathy
This book was like a summary of everything I love about physics; the thought experiments, the elegant mathematics, the condensing of everyday reality into really bizarre activities on a subatomic level and the necessity of thinking in a completely new way to even begin to understand it all. The only thing I didn't like about this book is the continual regret that I do not have the mathematical chops to follow the math he didn't include.
Susskind not only follows the progression of some extremely...more
Lightreads
A cheerful, chatty, kind of goofy account of the author's battle with Hawking to prove that information is not permanently lost in black holes. Largely non-mathematical and easy to follow, even though I'm far less comfortable with quantum mechanics than general relativity. And I mostly didn't have my usual problem with popular physics books and their reliance on mind-bending physics revelations by analogy. I actually stopped reading and went "ha!" when Susskind explained to me why I've always th...more
Nick Gotch
This was one of the most delightful, fascinating physics reads I've come across in a long time. Dr. Susskind does a phenomenal job of mixing modern physics with analogies so helpful for visualization as well as breaking things up with fun backstory and wit. He does an amazing job of working toward "rewiring" the reader's mind for grappling with the obscure worlds of Quantum Mechanics, String Theory, Black Hole Dynamics, and (subject of the book) the Holographic Principle.

From someone who routine...more
Jack
Another fine read for physics fans. This one was recommended by blogger Sean Carroll. There were several places where it seemed very clear that Susskind was following someone's advice to include personal anecdotes to make the book more appealing to general readers. It might have worked. The anecdotes mostly don't detract from the main thrust of the book, but I don't think they add very much either.

What Susskind does really well is discuss some very abstruse physics in a clear and careful way, ex...more
Terry
The Hole War follows the scientific debate regarding whether or not black hole formation and evaporation represents true loss of information as told from the winning side by Leonard Susskind.

Susskind follows the events, developments, and personalities of the debate with a strong insider's knowledge and near reverence for the minds involved. He tends to go into lengthy asides about people and hits on string theory a bit harder than I think is needed but this is his book from his perspective and h...more
Peter Namtvedt
Mar 05, 2009 Peter Namtvedt rated it 2 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone who can't think of more things to do that are beneficial to their lives.
Susskind writes well. However, the theoretical physics he addresses, without all the equations (and graphics) must be the most difficult to translate to layman’s language. He has done a good job, but has not made the presentation for which I had hoped.

Equivocation is my issue again. When physicists talk about the curvature of space-time, do then mean space? In spatial dimensions curves are familiar. However, the notion of curvature of time is not analogous to anything I can think of. This does i...more
Dick Gullickson
Thanks, John, for buying this thought provoking book for me for Christmas. Leonard Susskind has written a fascinating book which combines the sociology of physics with a thoughtful discussion of the implications of quantum mechanics, Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and string theory. Susskind describes black holes, which are objects which are so massive that they push through the fabric of the universe, creating a hole (perhaps into an alternate universe) from which no object can escape...more
Stephen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
David
This is a very interesting account of a 30-year-old feud between two very prominent present-day physicists/cosmologists: Leonard Susskind and Stephen Hawking. It is written by Susskind who, proudly enough, ultimately won the contest.

At issue is a fundamental question of physics: does information contained inside a black hole disappear when the black hole eventually "evaporates". Susskind, arguing from basic principles of quantum mechanics, held that information is preserved, and in fact must be...more
Jason
One of the best popular physics books I have read in a long time. Leonard Susskind's The Black Hole War spends 450 pages focused on one question: what happens when information is absorbed by a black hole? It is a debate between Stephen Hawking and other general relativists who think that the information is lost and Gerard 't Hooft, Leonard Susskind and others, who are deeply uncomfortable with the conclusion that black holes can violate the second law of thermodynamics by reducing entropy.

In the...more
Marjorie Thelen
I found this book through Goodreads’ recommendations and since I hadn’t read Susskind before but had heard a lot about him, I wanted to read something he wrote. I requested the book through our local library and when I read the dust jacket I knew I was hooked. The title alone is a hook. The war was about Stephen Hawking’s attack on one of the most trusted principles of physics – the law of information conservation that says information is never lost. (p. 179, 180) Leonard Susskind, an American e...more
Jeremy
I bought this book while passing through McMinville, Oregon. Though I knew nothing about Leonard Susskind, the subject matter sounded fascinating, and scanning the text it seemed accessible. Sure enough, the book proved to be quite entertaining and interesting, walking you through the history of physics to give enough background to understand an argument between the author and Stephen Hawking.

Using plenty of references to other favorites such as Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman and...more
Mike
Jun 05, 2010 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone
This is another case where I would like to be able to give a 4.5 instead of a "lowly" 4. To be brief, if you like engaging non-fiction, this is a great book.

This is a very well written book about a lengthy debate in the scientific community about the rules of physics and their "universality", in a manner of speaking. Granted we really on get one side of the "argument", but he presents the opposition fairly and with enough detail to let the reader understand the gravity (pun intended) of the situ...more
Steve
I really wanted to give this book five stars, and the limits of the star mechanism above prevents me from giving it 4.5 stars. I also had issues with how the publisher decided to print the book. The lackluster printing detracted from my reading experience.

I recently critiqued Richard Panek's 4% Universe for what I considered to be poor science writing. Susskind is the antidote. On the whole, he is the clearest expositor of advanced physics concepts that I have encountered, much better than Bria...more
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Leonard Susskind is the Felix Bloch Professor of Theoretical Physics at Stanford University. His research interests include string theory, quantum field theory, quantum statistical mechanics and quantum cosmology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an associate member of the faculty of Canada's Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Phys...more
More about Leonard Susskind...
The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics An Introduction to Black Holes, Information and the String Theory Revolution: The Holographic Universe Quantum Mechanics: The Theoretical Minimum The Theoretical Minimum

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“There is a philosophy that says that if something is unobservable -- unobservable in principle -- it is not part of science. If there is no way to falsify or confirm a hypothesis, it belongs to the realm of metaphysical speculation, together with astrology and spiritualism. By that standard, most of the universe has no scientific reality -- it's just a figment of our imaginations.” 42 likes
“There is so much to groak; So little to groak from.” 5 likes
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