Tuesday, April 7, 2009
The Black Hole War
This book was like a summary of everything I love about physics; the thought experiments, the elegant mathematics, the condensing of everyday reality into really bizarre activities on a subatomic level and the necessity of thinking in a completely new way to even begin to understand it all. The only thing I didn't like about this book is the continual regret that I do not have the mathematical chops to follow the math he didn't include. When my kids are all in school, I will continue and get that Physics degree that an English degree doesn't come close to equalling.
Susskind not only follows the progression of some extremely difficult physics with a translation everyone can understand, he also describes the personalities involved in the scientific dispute with wit and warmth. A scientific argument of this scale does not happen all that frequently and it is interesting to note that human qualities of curiosity, persistence and complacency have just as much to do with scientific achievement as mere cold facts do.
The equal parts respect and frustration that are accorded to Stephen Hawking is also interesting. The one physicist that everyone knows about is proven to be wrong about an essential fact of science. That alone is enough to make a good general reading book. We have a tendency to put great scientists on pillars they don't deserve. Ever since Einstein people have thought of physicists as our society's answer to mystic gurus who have the keys to the universe the plebeian masses cannot understand. But they are people who have egos just like the rest of us.
The author is direct in stating that String Theory and the interesting things happening in physics now is just the beginning of a revolution perhaps as epic as the changes that happened around the turn of the 20th century. There are a lot of things still to be figured out in this field, it is a very exciting time to be a physicist.
The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics. Leonard Susskind. Little, Brown & Co. 2008