Book Review – The Black Hole War

Cover art for The Black Hole War
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So, last week I talked about the documentary about Stephen Hawking, “A Brief History of Time”. This week I have a book review taking an alternative approach to Stephen Hawking’s theories of Black Holes, and how they are wrong. The book in question is The Black Hole War by Leonard Susskind.

Essentially, the plot of the non-fiction book is pretty simple. Stephen Hawking comes up with his theories of how Black Holes work, and how nothing can escape them. Well, sort of – Hawking Radiation is emitted by black holes (that’s one of the ways we can find them), but the amount of radiation emitted is not equal to the amount of material that is captured by the black hole. Thus any “information” captured by the black hole (from light to anything else) is lost.

That’s a problem, because that violates Thermodynamics. For those unfamiliar with Thermodynamics, I’ll just do a quick rundown of the 3 main Laws.

  1. You Can’t Win (you can’t create more energy than you expend)
  2. You can’t Lose (you can’t destroy energy)
  3. You can’t get out of the game (You can only break even).

Leonard observed this, as well as other physicists, including Gerard ‘t Hooft. So, they started to work together to find evidence to show that Hawking’s theory was inaccurate regarding information destruction, and the book describes, essentially, how they went about putting together an alternate theory.

To be more specific, the book has two “plot threads”. The first is a more linear traditional narrative of “We worked on this theory, and presented it here, but it was missing this-and-this so we had to work on it more.” In and of itself, that plot thread is interesting, but it’s not the most interesting part of the book. The most interesting part is, basically the infodumps. As Susskind, ‘t Hooft and others work on developing the new theory, Susskind explains the theory and it’s development in more-or-less layman’s terms (where the Layman is someone who has watched a few seasons of “The Universe” on The History Channel and/or watched “Cosmos“). This second plot thread takes up the most of the book, as it takes a lot to explain physics and Quantum Mechanics at a near layman’s level. That’s fine with me – I’m definitely into science, and I don’t mind reading through the complicated theories.

That said, if you’re not into reading scientific theories explained in layman’s terms, this really, really isn’t the book for you. This book is written for people who like science and want to be somewhat up-to-date on physics, but don’t have the time or money to take the college classes to, essentially, take you to Susskind’s level. It isn’t a tell all about all the inner politics and drama in the world of physics professors. If you don’t like science and you’re looking for a tell-all, you’re gonna hate this book, so don’t bother picking it up. On the other hand, if you enjoy learning about science – particularly the space sciences, and you want to learn more about how the universe works, you’re gonna love it.