Selected as a Book of the Year 2016 in the Sunday Times 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 this infinitesimal event will come next month, next year or perhaps in thirty years.In 1916 Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves miniscule ripples in the very fabric of spacetime generated by unfathomably powerful events If such vibrations could somehow be recorded, we could observe our universe for the first time through sound the hissing of the Big Bang, the whale like tunes of collapsing stars, the low tones of merging galaxies, the drumbeat of two black holes collapsing into one For decades, astrophysicists have searched for a way of doing so In 2016 a team of hundreds of scientists at work on a billion dollar experiment made history when they announced the first ever detection of a gravitational wave, confirming Einstein s prediction This is their story, and the story of the most sensitive scientific instrument ever made LIGO.Based on complete access to LIGO and the scientists who created it, Black Hole Blues provides a firsthand account of this astonishing achievement a compelling, intimate portrait of cutting edge science at its most awe inspiring and ambitious.

8 thoughts on “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

  1. Brian Clegg Brian Clegg says:

    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 popular science writing in the style that was arguably typified by James Gleick s classic Chaos like that, Black Hole Blues is a book that is driven entirely by the people involved, based strongly around interviews, visits and fly on the wall descriptions of historical interactions between the main characters The science itself plays a distinctly supporting cast role to the detail of the people, their background and their psychology.I absolutely loved this approach when I first came across it I must admit that, by now, Gleick s book is a remarkable 30 years old it feels a little forced and there are occasions when I m yelling Tell me a less about another origin story, and about the science Sometimes Janna Levin can be consciously wordy, whether over stretching the simile when she constantly refers to gravitational waves as sound they re not or when she puts in folksy human observations, some of which I simply don t understand, such as Part of Rana s charisma is related to the social power of indifference What Despite these concerns, though, this is an engaging story of big science the ups and downs of a billion dollar project, showing the very human frailties of those involved in coming up with the ideas and making them real Sensibly, Levin spends a fair amount of time on the doomed work of Joe Weber, whose bars proved controversial when no one else could duplicate his work And we certainly get an impression of the size and complexity of the LIGO setup, even though it was sad that the science and engineering achievements were sometimes obscured by the obsession with the human stories.I have no doubt at all that Levin knows the science behind this stuff backwards, but occasionally the approach seems to demand such hand waving vagueness that we veer away from accuracy I ve already mentioned the description of gravitational waves as sound, repeated over and over in different ways There s also an example where we are told that due to the gravitational waves generated by its orbit the Moon will eventually spiral into us where in reality what s happening is dominated by tidal effects, which mean the Moon is moving away from us Again Levin inevitably knows this, but seemed to prefer the dramatic notion which overwhelms a vague qualifier.Black Hole Blues is a great read and uncovers the human side of scientific work wonderfully The only let down is, for me, that the art of the writing has overwhelmed the beauty of the science.

  2. A. Wainwright A. Wainwright says:

    Brilliantly told story of one of the most extraordinary results of modern physics How could Einstein s equations have been so accurate and the engineering so brilliant Also the personal accounts of people s lives who took part And since the book results are coming in Highly recommended.

  3. S. Barnes S. Barnes says:

    I normally steer away from writing poor reviews but this is a rare experience for me in that I have given up on a book halfway through as it was so tedious Sorry but there we are Now gone for recycling.

  4. Gerry Sweet Gerry Sweet says:

    It arrived

  5. S. Baker S. Baker says:

    I really enjoyed Janna Levin s How The Universe Got its Spots It showed a human side to the science as well as gently stretching the mind on the structure of the universe So I was looking forward to this book, so much so that I bought the hardback version, something I seldom do.What a disappointment.The central theme of the book seems to be some tedious academic feud, the protagonists of which and the reason for the feuding I have already forgotten and I only finished the book this morning There are all too brief insights into the complexity of the experiments but they are lost in a sea of poorly edited prose Rambling interviews with some of the scientists seem to have been transcribed verbatim, presumably to show their human side but it left me with the feeling that a really good editor could turn this into a nice little article for the National Geographic at about 200 pages, it is about 180 pages too long.Which is a great shame as the idea that black holes can ring space time and that we are capable of detecting them is truly staggering I guess I will just have to wait for another author to do the subject justice.

  6. IanMW IanMW says:

    Science for the Twitter generation A review of personalities and processes involved in the building of LIGO About as interesting as watching paint dry. The author occasionally indulges a penchant for flowery prose which is out of place and frankly embarrassing Dreadful.Footnote Interestingly this was given to me Christmas 1917 as a present I could not remember having read it, although the cover seemed vaguely familiar After a few pages I threw it down in disgust at the ludicrously overblown style like wearing an enormous Ascot hat decorated with dried fruit and peacock feathers its only purpose to draw attention to itself It as as though the author has tried to cram every suggestion of a creative writing school into every sentence.Unforgivably ghastly.

  7. Roy Hutchinson Roy Hutchinson says:

    If you are interested is short biographies of some scientists rather than the physics itself then this is the book for you I gave up on the book after about a 1 3 of the way through I was fed up reading about who much the family home was purchased for rather than the actual physics work and the theories and implications By the time I stopped reading I think there was the equivalent of 1 or 2 pages on the physics and that was not particularly great.

  8. Customer Customer says:

    This is the story of development of gravitational wave detectors by collaboration of Caltech and MIT The process of getting funding for such a large project is described There is too much title tattle among scientist involved in the project At the end the successful detection is noted.