BY SEAN CLARK

Author: Caleb Scharf

2012, Scientific American

Filed Under: Nonfiction

I really enjoyed reading this book. That said, having finished it about a week and a half ago, I’ve already forgotten most of what I read. That’s not an indictment of the book–Scharf does a great job in putting astrophysics into palatable bites for laymen–so much as it’s indicative of how difficult to really fathom so much of the subject matter is at its roots.

This is a book all about black holes, and how they work. I’d always thought of black holes as weird anomalies littered throughout space that suck things into some great unknown, perhaps other dimensions. While the latter part of that may be true, the black holes Scharf describes are far from anomalies. Black holes, it seems, are fundamental components of the universe: engines (hence the title) producing and consuming enormous amounts of energy that power a universe and possibly even multiverses of immeasurable complexity.

Ever wondered why so many galaxies, including ours, form giant spirals? Well, it’s because there are super massive black holes at the center, gobbling up infinite amounts of matter and cramming them into a near-infinitely small space. Woah.

The sheer scales of Scharf’s subject matter is astounding. He’ll show a picture of a blob, and explain it’s billions of galaxies, each larger than our own. He does a great job of breaking the information down into entertaining, easy enough to understand ideas. If you want the info to stick with you more than superficially, though, you should probably read the book a little slower than I did.

If you’re interested in space, watch shows like The Universe avidly, and enjoy the popular science Malcolm Gladwell-style of book, give this one a go. It’s fascinating.

Similar Reads: Remarkable Creatures (Carroll), Into the Silent Land (Broks), How We Decide (Lehrer)

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