David's Reviews > The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics

The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind
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Sep 25, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: 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 wrapped up in a paradox. Information should be conserved, but some simple thought experiments lead one to believe that it is not conserved. Leonard Susskind was nonplussed by the nonchalant attitude of so many followers of Stephen Hawking, in believing that information conservation does not hold for black holes.

Susskind went to battle at scientific conferences, in explaining the apparent paradox. He argued that there should be a complementarity principle with regards to the viewpoint of an observer relative to a black hole. This is similar to the complementarity principle for light as a particle or a wave. Light can be observed either as a particle or a wave, but not both simultaneously. Likewise, when a particle falls into a black hole, information can be seen to be discharged from the black hole by an observer outside its event horizon, or can be seen to fall into the black hole by an observer inside its event horizon. However, since an observer cannot be both inside and outside the event horizon at the same time, there is no paradox.

Susskind has some funny anecdotes about the characters in his book. He writes a few humorous anecdotes about Stephen Hawking. I think the best anecdote was a conversation that Susskind had with Dutch physicist Gerard t'Hooft. Susskind said, "I completely agree with you!" and t'Hooft replied, "well, I completely disagree with you!"

I did not read this book. I listened to the audiobook, as narrated by Ray Porter. The narration is wonderful, especially the rendition of the story about an emperor who punishes "Steve and his family" to a quick end by black hole. Steve is not worried, for he believes that he could continue to live to old age after entering the event horizon. Ray Porter makes the story really come to life with the hilarious accents and dramatic reading.
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