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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  9,416 ratings  ·  284 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
Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published (first published July 7th 2008)
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Manuel Antão
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Grain Alcohol Physicists: "The Black Hole War - My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics" by Leonard Susskind

Mr. Leonard is head-over-heals enamoured of his views on string theory of being the underlying basis to a some greater reality and cannot in anyway be wrong. Einstein felt that way too, but there is a vast difference between Mr. Leonard and Einstein; most of Einstein's work could be for the mos
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People looking for background on the black hole debate
People like unified, completed pictures, and science books tend to go for that approach, typically some version of the Hero's Journey: the heroic scientist (sometimes also the narrator) encounters the fiendish problem, bravely engages it, goes through many trials and setbacks, perseveres, and eventually triumphs. But real life is messier. You're never at all sure what's going on while you're in the middle of the fight, and quite often you aren't even sure if you've won or not. This book pretends ...more
Sep 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Okay, I need to face facts: I'm a physics geek. I may not be brilliant on all that math stuff, but I have a pretty good intuitive feel for all the big and a lot of the really small questions. Just don't ask me to actually DO the math.

So after all these fun-filled years of grabbing all the popular science books by all the great names in physics today, I revel in all the conflicting theories and directions that they take.

Sometimes, they can get bitter and protracted, and other times... friendly, i
Jul 07, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Claudio Arena
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Bill Leach
Apr 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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,
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Toni Daugherty
Oct 20, 2009 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
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 28, 2009 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
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 unde ...more
Fabio Kung
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Science is a human affair, and during the painful struggles for new paradigms, opinions and emotions can be just as volatile as in any other human endeavor."

Leonard Susskind's expertise as a leading theoretical physicist is beyond dispute. He is skilled in teaching students at several levels: university college students; continuing-education adults (the heavy-math, nearly-legendary Theoretical Minimum series of lectures and books); and readers of popular science books (The Cosmic Landscape: Str
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, I really liked it.

Susskind's "diss track" (how Robyn referred to the book) on Stephen Hawking. The conflict was centered around Hawking's belief that information (in the physics context, any matter) absorbed into black holes is irretrievably lost forever, whereas Susskind and others believed that matter slowly radiates out of black holes.

Susskind is an above-average science communicator and brought a lot of concepts to life - most of the book is accessible to a general audience with h
Jason Furman
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Jul 28, 2013 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
Oct 31, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, favorites
"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
Dec 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stem
Susskind's vivid and engaging account of developments in theoretical physics over the past few decades during the dominance of Hawking's ideas in the field uses his fight against the flow on behalf of quantum mechanics as a narrative focus.

I loved reading this book, which never patronised the non-specialist, and contained plenty for someone in my own position, a student of physics at post-16ish level as well as the proverbial general reader. In my opinion Susskind is a better and much more likea
This is not the war of Hawking and Susskind, this it the war of each physicist and the question of being.
May 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm glad Susskind won the war. Holographic principle is mind-boggling.
Nov 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this one, lots of good anecdotes about my favourite physicists and also some good physics explanations in there.
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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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