There aren’t many concepts in the rarefied world of theoretical physics that capture the public’s attention in the way that the black hole does. Headlines in the press routinely announce the discovery of massive new black holes or observations indicating their presence. In science fiction media, the black hole has become an almost cliché plot device. The term ‘Black Hole’ has even become a part of our daily parlance as a way to describe something as a void or which consumes relentlessly. With such familiarity, it’s hard to imagine a world where the existence of these gravitational anomalies is at all controversial, but as recently as the 1950s and 60s their existence was hotly debated. With Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved, science author Marcia Bartusiak details this history and unravels the long, sometimes bumpy road to acceptance for this most fascinating idea in physics.
Many science writers suffer from a tendency to bore, dumb down excessively, or simply misrepresent the concepts that they’re trying to explain to their audience. With a master’s degree in physics and several decades of experience as a professor of science writing at MIT, Bartusiak easily avoids these pitfalls. With a skilled hand, Bartusiak establishes context by introducing basic concepts in physics that date back to Newton without confusing readers. When the content of the book shifts to the 20th century, it’s truly fascinating to see how resistant the scientific community was to the idea of these exotic singularities. Even Einstein, who predicted the existence of the black holes in his work on gravitation, dismissed them and remained convinced that they were merely an error born from some miscalculation on his part.
There aren’t many titles that so fully and expertly capture the lifecycle of a scientific concept. With an entertaining narrative, high attention to detail, and explanations of physics concepts that are both enlightening and easy to understand, Black Hole is a standout work of science literature.