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Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,359 Ratings  ·  240 Reviews
The full inside story of the detection of gravitational waves at LIGO, one of the most ambitious feats in scientific history.

Travel around the world 100 billion times. A strong gravitational wave will briefly change that distance by less than the thickness of a human hair. We have perhaps less than a few tenths of a second to perform this measurement. And we don’t know if
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 31st 2016 by Bodley Head (first published March 29th 2016)
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Ken No, this is science for Everyman. But the topic is itself hard to grasp - the gravitational waves and the detection project seem like sci-fi.

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I was in Glasgow a couple of months back, and a friend invited me along to a Skeptics in the Pub night - they regularly have interesting people along, at the front of a room beneath a pub, to talk about whatever sciencey or philosophical or what-have-you thing it is they work on. This time, they had a couple of people from the gravitational research group at Glasgow University - and they came along to talk about LIGO. This being about May-ish time 2016, the room was packed and consisted about 50 ...more
John Gribbin
Mar 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Here is a version of a review I wrote fir ther Wall St Journal:

In February this year scientists announced the detection of a burst of gravitational waves from space. The waves, predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, came from a pair of colliding black holes, each with about 30 times the mass of our Sun, in a galaxy more than a billion light years away. The ripple they produced jiggled the Earth by much less than the diameter of an atom. The astonishing story of how science was abl
Interesting (and timely) subject, intriguing history, but the chatty, almost gossipy way the book is written does it a disservice. The writing is downright peculiar, overly poetic or nonsensical at times, full of interjections from the author, less like credible journalism and more like a he-said-she-said oral history with whole paragraphs of rambling, unedited quotes and a baffling structure. There are a few reviews saying the physics are on point but the storytelling isn’t; however, I found ev ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017-nonfic
Fascinating - not just the science, surprisingly, but the personal dramas and infighting of the team - Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, Ron Drever, Robbie Vogt etc - pioneers all, working away at something many considered a dead end/waste of time/fool's errand...and then, finally, that incredible, improbable detection...

review here:

The subject of gravitational waves is fascinating. Being able to hear major galactic events like collapse of stars into black hole, or a collision of two galaxies has been in the realm of theoretical physics for exactly 100 years until late last year the first event was officially recorded at LIGO. Naturally such an exciting project attracted a lot of drama. This is not the first science book that confirmed my speculations that the academic world is full of cutthroat politics and fierce competit ...more
Mar 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is more of a chronicle of the work that went and it's still going into developing equipment that could be able to listen to disruption on the cosmos thereby proving the presence of black holes or at least that there disturbances on the time space continuum , I loved the physics aspects of it and the epilogue finally made it all worth it when it actually proved the existence of black holes , I'm sure that as I'm speaking there people are writing books, reports and articles about the exi ...more
Mar 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobooks
Even if you know how the story ends (and, unless you've been living under a rock, you surely do), Janna Levin keeps you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Most of the science went over my head, but Levin's compassionate chronicle of the great minds and crazy personalities that made the recording of gravitational waves a reality, 100 years after Einstein theorized them, is intimate and thrilling. I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author.
Brian Clegg
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came across Black Holes Blues rather late, when Kip Thorne mentioned it as somewhere you would discover the difficulties the management of the LIGO gravitational waves detection project went through. It's slightly weird reading it now, after the first gravitational wave detections, as the book was clearly written before anything had been found (though there's a rapidly tacked-on afterword to deal with the discovery).

Despite the author being a physics professor, this is classic US journalistic
Today's announcement of a second detection of gravitational waves reminded me how much I enjoyed and learned from this book. As in How the Universe Got Its Spots Levin intersperses her personal story with clearly-explained physics, but in a much lighter way here - this is in no way a memoir. She's an educated observer and an acquaintance if not admirer of many of physicists involved. She's writing a full account (to-October 2015) of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) ...more
Feb 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Antes de que lean este libro deben saber que no es un libro técnico, no es un libro que te explica como hacen las cosas. Es un libro que te cuenta la historia de como llegamos al punto en el que nos encontramos respecto a hoyos negros. A quién agradecer cuando ven esa nota científica de la cuál puede que entiendan o no entiendan del todo lo que significa pero que saben que es un gran logro.

Este libro bien podría ser un libro de ciencia ficción pero lo más chingón de todo es que real. Todo lo qu
John Jr.
Astrophysicist and author Janna Levin has a good nose. In the late naughts, catching a rising swell of attention to Alan Turing as the centenary of his birth drew near, she wrote a novel that intertwined his life with that of logician Kurt Gödel, which she called, with a knack for alluring but sometimes twisty language, A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines. Sure, anyone could’ve looked up the date of Turing’s birth, but few would’ve guessed he’d soon be the subject of a major American film. A few ...more
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, non-fiction
In this book Janna Levin says, "In the Milky Way, there may be one neutron star collision with another neutron star every ten thousand years, although these predictions are still very uncertain." The speed with which the world has moved since LIGO and VIRGO, statements made by scientists like Levin become obsolete within a year or so. In mid October (10/16/2017), the world saw collision of two neutron stars and the information that astrophysicists collected during the event has changed the cours ...more
Apr 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: ebook, ibooks
Not long ago it was announced that scientists working on something called LIGO detected gravity waves, literally sound, from colliding black holes 1.4 billion light years away. Amazing! This book is about the people who theorized such a detector could be made, how the detectors were built and a bit of the science behind all of it.

Three stars because too much time was spent getting to know the people and too little time was spent on the science. By the time the epilogue comes around, the discover
May 30, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The real joy in this book is found in Levin's wonderful phrases. There may be too much personal drama and office politics stuff at the slight expense of adequately developing the fundamental science, but Levin consistently nails the right-words-in-the-right-order thing. The detection of gravitational waves started with high end audio tech in the 1940s. The theory of these space-time ripples started with Einstein a generation earlier. Detection was recently achieved in late 2015 via two identical ...more
Claudia Piña
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Qué bello. Me recuerda a The Emperor of All Maladies, que para explicar ciertos conceptos científicos profundiza en la historia de cómo se descubrieron. Aunque sea más bien una introducción simple, tiene mas bien el objetivo de transmitir lo fascinante que es el universo y lo más fascinante aún que es el largo camino que hemos recorrido para entenderlo. Y lo que falta.
Shane Phillips
Jun 14, 2016 rated it did not like it
Got 3/4 through and was still in the 1980's. Did not have the details I want. Like how they can really measure to accuracy the size of an atom.
Dec 22, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A narrativa é excelente, porém, o texto da edição brasileira é mal preparado.
Tim Martin
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, science
This was a strange book, one I generally liked, but it wasn’t entirely what I expected. I had been uncertain about diving into it at first because while the subject of gravitational waves sounded exciting, I hardly knew enough about physics to really make sense of the subject without a lot of hand holding. I had read a few things on black holes and neutron stars for instance, but I was really rather limited on what I knew on the subject or would be able to explain to others.

Turns out my unfamil
Jan 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I could fault this book for being more about the personalities than the science. But the personalities are so good... Black Hole Blues could almost be a sci-fi novel.

A couple of things stand out. In the 80s, I read about Joe Weber's attempts to detect gravity waves. At the time, I thought it was crackpot science, even though Stanford and a number of other major research centers had built versions of his detector. Levin goes into Weber's story more than I would have expected, and you get to see
William Fuller
Dec 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Fascinating story of the development of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGOs) in Washington State and Louisiana, and the search for proof of the existence of black holes. Filled with details regarding the scientific, political, and personality struggles over 50 years to get the things built.
Dan Falk
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was the top science story of 2016, if not the decade: Physicists had finally detected elusive ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves, produced by a pair of colliding black holes. These subtle waves were predicted by Einstein’s theory of gravity, known as general relativity, 100 years ago – but they remained a matter of speculation until they were finally snared by the LIGO detectors in Louisiana and in Washington state. (The acronym stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wa ...more
Wes Metz
Nov 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
When black holes collide, the universe rings like a bell. This is the story of our search for that sound, only detectable through gravity waves. It's also the story of how we do "big science", science that requires hundreds of brilliant minds, working for decades, and fighting to acquire the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to build the instruments that may be able (or not) to accomplish the task. This is the story of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, a device ...more
Alin Pinta
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
On the hundreth anniversary of Einstein's paper on gravitational waves this book was released. A billion years ago, two black holes collided and created a faint sound traveling towards us, at the time, multicelled organisms fossilized in supercontinents. As that sound got closer to our Local Supercluser of galaxies, dinosaurs were chilling on the spot where you're reading this from.

Closer and closer, it reached the Andromeda galaxy, around the same time as homo sapiens and neanderthals were fr
Feb 11, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Right on the heels of the recent announcement that scientists have found gravitational waves, Janna Levin introduces us to the people behind the discovery. Dr. Levin is a physicist, teacher, and an award-winning author. She understands both the science and the scientists. She describes their friendships, their rivalries, and, ultimately, their triumphs with sympathy and a touch of humor.
Modern physics is often so nonintuitive that it is difficult to grasp the theory behind the experiments and
Apr 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, science
For science nerds who also love a good story, this one's a keeper.

In September 2015 the LIGO project made the first direct measurement of gravitational waves and observed the first ever binary black hole system. Black Hole Blues is the amazing tale of the 50 year project to validate Einstein’s 1915 predictions on gravity, and the incredible story of the people and personalities behind the effort.

Janna Levin writes with humor, insight, compassion, but with a scientists discerning eye towards se
Sep 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
The only cool part of this book is the last couple pages which describe the surprise of an early discovery. It's cool to hear them talk about how they thought it was a "blind injection" but the injection team hadn't even begun operation yet.

I guess it's also fun to hear interviews with key scientists involved in the project.

But 99% of this book is the author trying really, really hard to be poetic. It's fully of flowery language. It reads like a human interest news story. You can tell the author
I wanted to enjoy this book more. I like having big science explained in accessible terms. And black holes are cool! But the narration didn't do it for me. Partly it was too flourished and felt like the author was hiding the plot inside unusual sentence structures or hints just to be clever. It was also inconsistently personal. The "I imagined he was thinking XYZ" was annoying, and I didn't understand the purpose of going on about drinking with the grad students. Even the science explanations fr ...more
Jan 08, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
The information contained in this book about the actual phenomena would easily fit in 20 pages, so unless you're seriously interested in the processes and personalities involved in the history of the search for gravity waves, don't bother. In spite of the rather misleading title, the book really doesn't claim to be other than what it is. Should have read the dust jacket flap or a good review before I picked it up. A quibble, though: why would anyone spend several pages describing one of the very ...more
Scott Kardel
I picked a good week to read Janna Levin's book on the origins and history of the building of LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), as this week three of its pioneers were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work using it to detect gravitational waves emitted by colliding black holes.

For anyone wondering, this book focuses on the sometimes rocky history of the building of LIGO and not on the physics and astronomy of interferometry, relativity or black holes. Y
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
I got this book in response to my request for books about the science of gravity waves.
It turned out this book is not about the science of gravity waves, but rather it is about the people involved in projects to develop instruments to detect gravity waves.
I have no interest at all in these people but kept going with the book hoping the science part was coming. The science never came and if I had any sense I would have realized from the title that the science was never going to come. In fact I ne
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Janna Levin, a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Barnard College of Columbia University, holds a BA in Physics and Astronomy with a concentration in Philosophy from Barnard College of Columbia University, and a PhD in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her scientific research mainly centers around the Early Universe, Chaos, and Black Holes.

Dr. Levin's first book, "Ho
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“Somewhere in the universe two black holes collide — as heavy as stars, as small as cities, literally black (the complete absence of light) holes (empty hollows). Tethered by gravity, in their final seconds together the black holes course through thousands of revolutions about their eventual point of contact, churning up space and time until they crash and merge into one bigger black hole, an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe, outputting more than a trillion times the power of a billion Suns. The black holes collide in complete darkness. None of the energy exploding from the collision comes out as light. No telescope will ever see the event.” 2 likes
“An idea sparked in the 1960s, a thought experiment, an amusing haiku, is now a thing of metal and glass.” 1 likes
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