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

4.06  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,439 Ratings  ·  207 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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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
141st out of 1,028 books — 2,508 voters
A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence M. KraussStuff Matters by Mark MiodownikThe Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian GreeneThe Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard FeynmanThe Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind
Best Physical Science Books
5th out of 16 books — 10 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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David
Sep 20, 2015 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: physics
This is a very good, engaging book about the frontiers of quantum mechanics and thermodynamics, and how these fields apply to the physics of black holes. The basic question at the heart of the book is whether information is lost as a particle is entrapped by the horizon of a black hole. On the one hand, Stephen Hawking and many other physicists claimed that information was, in fact, lost. On the other side, Leonard Susskind claimed that information was not lost.

The entire issue was seemingly wr
...more
Claudio Arena
Mar 05, 2013 Claudio Arena rated it it was amazing
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
DJ
Jul 30, 2009 DJ rated it did not like it
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
J.
Mar 20, 2013 J. rated it it was ok
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
Toni Daugherty
Mar 06, 2013 Toni Daugherty rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill Leach
Apr 05, 2013 Bill Leach rated it really liked it
Shelves: informative
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
Rohith
Dec 27, 2014 Rohith rated it it was amazing
Science is boring work. Most scientific discoveries are a result of doing boring tasks meticulously. Since finding the true picture of Universe requires such laborious work, it is unfair to expect an average human to spend so much time, which is a luxury for many, to properly understand scientific discoveries.

However, the urge to know what is happening in the Universe is strong in every human. Due to lack of time, many will take comfort in lazy explanations. Attention Span is a major impediment
...more
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
A while ago I read an essay by Susskind and put this book on my to read list. If I had known it was going to be the single best explanation I have yet encountered on the nature of black holes and the information paradox, I would have bumped it to the top of the list.

If you are at all unclear about the following, this book is for you:

- What is Alices experience as she passes the event horizon?
- What is Bob's experience as he sees Alice enter the black hole?
- If they have contradictory experience
...more
თეკო
Apr 19, 2014 თეკო rated it it was amazing
მეგონა შავ ხვრელებზე საკმაოდ ბევრი რამ ვიცოდი,მაგრამ შევმცდარვარ..
მოკლედ ძალიან საინტერესო წიგნია.სასკინდი სიტყვა-სიტყვით მოგვითხრობს სინგულარობაზე,ენტროპიაზე,მოვლენათა ჰორიზონტზე და ყველაფერს აკეთებს,რომ მკითხველი ჩაითრიოს.თან განმარტავს,რომ ჩვენ ბევრი არ გვესმის,არა სისულელის,არამედ ჩვენი ტვინის ერთგვარი “tuning”-ის გამო,რომელიც ევოლუციის პროცესში გვაქვს შეძენილი.:)
ფიზიკოსებისთვის წიგნის 3/4 მოსაწყენი იქნება,მაგრამ ბოლოში მათაც ელით სიამოვნება. სასკინდი თვითონ დიდი ფიზიკოსი და პენროუზისა და ტ’
...more
William Ramsdell
3-stars here means: Fabulous subject matter, good pedagogy, and way too much of the authors voice.

The rub: an investigation of black holes and their framework used to describe them (classical on one hand, QM on the other). Problems arise: information is destroyed according to Hawking, and Susskind is certain that, due to QM, this is wrong. 30 years of discoveries ensue, resulting in the all kinds of fun things like Anti-De Sitter Space, Extremal Black Holes, the "expanded horizon", Black Hole C
...more
Isk
Jul 20, 2009 Isk rated it really liked it
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
Amanda
Jul 06, 2011 Amanda rated it really liked it
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
Dec 19, 2013 Charbel rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, science
"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
Samantha
Sep 28, 2009 Samantha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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 liked it  ·  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
Fabio Kung
Jan 15, 2016 Fabio Kung rated it it was amazing
All I wanted was to take a peek on our modern understanding of quantum gravity and black holes. This book gave me exactly that. And more!

If you are looking for in-depth details and advanced math, I would say it is probably not for you. For non-physicists like me, this was a fantastic introduction on what we currently know about quantum gravity and its relation with other areas of science. As a bonus, it also (finally) helped me start grasping string theory, and better understand entropy, the eve
...more
Mark
Mar 03, 2012 Mark rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 09, 2012 Chris rated it really liked it
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
Jun 02, 2011 Tony Bertauski rated it really liked it
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
James F
Jan 27, 2016 James F rated it really liked it
Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics [2008] 470 pages

Earlier this month I read Susskind's The Cosmic Landscape and was not especially impressed. This is a much more interesting book. It deals with the history of the dispute over information loss in black holes; Stephen Hawking and originally a majority of physicists believed that information was lost in the evaporation of black holes, while Susskind, Gerard t'Hooft, and
...more
Bob Anderson
Aug 06, 2015 Bob Anderson rated it really liked it
Susskind’s book is a very entertaining read, and is approachable without much more than a desire to learn. Even if his simplified descriptions of the physics (not much actual math here) aren’t clear to a reader, his account of the actual process of debate and discovery in an emerging field is easy to follow and extraordinarily entertaining. Helpful graphics fill the book and contribute meaningfully to its exposition. The basic scientific conflict is about what happens when something crosses from ...more
Anthony Tenaglier
May 06, 2015 Anthony Tenaglier rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy, science
I have always enjoyed Susskind and his writing style. Despite his arrogance (which he also explicitly states in this book) which sometimes distracts me from the read, he makes excellent analogies as to illustrate the basic principles of what I will call "higher level" physics. I would rather see him "show" and not "tell" us of his innovative ideas that went against the great Stephen Hawking.

He makes a great claim as to the information that can escape from a black hole, with the use of strings h
...more
Srikanth
Jan 01, 2015 Srikanth rated it really liked it
After reading this book, i can truly say that i have found my Guru Dronacharya. Throughout the reading of the book it was almost as if, Leonard sir was near me prodding me with his words to understand the world in a much simpler and better manner.




Synopsis: This book is all about a statement by Stephen Hawkings that once any information/thing enters a black hole it lost for ever. Leonard was furious as to how is it possible and works proves that he is right and not that the other person is wrong!
...more
Greg Talbot
Nov 29, 2014 Greg Talbot rated it really liked it
Imbued with personality and charm, Susskind's "Black Hole War" shows how little and much we understand about black holes. Quoting Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Susskind shows readers just how tenuous our firm knowledge can be, and how the differing opinions on black holes was waged and won.

The book delivers on a number of fronts. As a reader without a strong physics background, I found the elemental physics parts riveting, but often lost when Susskind makes the leaps
...more
Luca
Mar 09, 2014 Luca rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 13, 2014 Molly rated it liked it
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.
William Schram
Sep 29, 2015 William Schram rated it it was amazing
Well written and fascinating. I devoured this book and enjoyed every second of reading it.

The first chapters talk about how quantum mechanics works in a really basic form. This book is written for the layman, and as such it doesn't really go heavily into the mathematics. Interspersed throughout the book is Susskind's relationship with Hawking and their friendly(?) rivalry to prove the other wrong.

The basic problem was that Stephen Hawking came out with a mathematical reason for Information to be
...more
Cara
Jul 25, 2014 Cara rated it really liked it
The science part of this book is fun and well-explained. The battle of egos between Leonard Susskind and Stephen Hawking was less interesting. I get the impression that Leonard Susskind is one of those professors you have who spends 40 minutes of every 50 minute class talking about various things tangentially-related to the subject matter. It's ok, but he's good at explaining science and I wish he would have stuck to that.
Rich Baker
Sep 26, 2014 Rich Baker rated it it was amazing
I loved this book! But it's not for everyone. It's a great read and you'll learn a lot, but it's some heavy shit to follow sometimes. In one chapter he explains how the universe is potentially a hologram. I was able to follow most of it mainly because I've read many articles and listened to many podcasts trying to explain that concept before. And even I don't think I got all of it.

The book is about a disagreement about an unproven scientific concept about black holes, mainly whether they break
...more
Hasher
Nov 23, 2015 Hasher rated it it was amazing
A really excellent book. Susskind is that rare breed of scientist with the ability to take incredibly complex concepts and make them intelligible to a lay reader. This book stands in sharp contrast to Hawking's 'A Brief History..' which, despite its popularity is very hard to grasp for an average person. I would say this is a must-read for anyone interested in learning about cutting edge concepts in Physics like Quantum Mechanics, Quantum Gravity, and String Theory which can be very hard to gras ...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
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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.” 48 likes
“There is so much to groak; So little to groak from.” 7 likes
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