Black Hole How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled On by Hawking Became Loved Marcia Bartusiak

Publication date:
28 May 2015
Yale University Press
256 pages: 210 x 140 x 24mm
27 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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The contentious history of the idea of the black hole—the most fascinating and bizarre celestial object in the heavens

For more than half a century, physicists and astronomers engaged in heated dispute over the possibility of black holes in the universe. The weirdly alien notion of a space-time abyss from which nothing escapes—not even light—seemed to confound all logic. This engrossing book tells the story of the fierce black hole debates and the contributions of Einstein and Hawking and other leading thinkers who completely altered our view of the universe.

Renowned science writer Marcia Bartusiak shows how the black hole helped revive Einstein’s greatest achievement, the general theory of relativity, after decades during which it had been pushed into the shadows. Not until astronomers discovered such surprising new phenomena as neutron stars and black holes did the once-sedate universe transform into an Einsteinian cosmos, filled with sources of titanic energy that can be understood only in the light of relativity. This book celebrates the hundredth anniversary of general relativity, uncovers how the black hole really got its name, and recounts the scientists’ frustrating, exhilarating, and at times humorous battles over the acceptance of one of history’s most dazzling ideas.

Marcia Bartusiak is Professor of the Practice, Graduate Program in Science Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the award-winning author of five previous books, including most recently The Day We Found the Universe. She lives in Sudbury, MA.

“You don’t need an advanced degree to enjoy this entertaining tale of how black holes meandered their way from theoretical oddity into everyday consciousness. . . . A beautiful case study in how scientific ideas grow through inspiration, thought and, finally, observation.”—Mike Brown, Wall Street Journal

"[A] Sparkling new book . . . One of the delights of this witty book is seeing the many ways physicists historically found to dismiss, deny and disdain black holes."—Washington Post

‘The irony that Einstein sought desperately for order in a universe he had so thoroughly trashed is not lost on Bartusiak, who packs a lot of learning into a deceptively light and enjoyable read.’—New Scientist


‘Ms. Bartusiak weaves scientific concepts to create a portrait of the scientific institution itself, showing how its norms and personalities served to shape the path taken… a considered background to a still-unfolding idea.’—The Economist.


‘[A] reliable and readable account of this amazing story.’—Andrew Crumey, Literary Review.


Longlisted for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award given by PEN America.

Won honorable mention for the 2016 PROSE Awards in the Cosmology & Astronomy category.

Shortlisted for the 2016 Award in Science given by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. 

“Astronomers took fifty years to carry the black hole from laughable concept to central importance in every galaxy. Marcia Bartusiak accomplishes the same feat here, in one irresistibly attractive read.”—Dava Sobel, author of Longitude

“Marcia Bartusiak takes us on a fascinating ride around black holes, showing the beauty and mystery of a concept that has intrigued scientists from Einstein to Hawking.”—Walter Isaacson, CEO of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin, Einstein, and Steve Jobs

“An engrossing and mind-bending read . . . Bartusiak provides a front row seat as many of the most famous scientists of all time grapple with the strangest objects in the universe, black holes.”—Adam Riess, Nobel Laureate in Physics, 2011

“Captivating and authoritative, Black Hole traces a truly weird concept from its tentative conjecture to inescapable reality. Bartusiak recounts a compelling tale with quirky turns, curious revelations, intellectual rumbles and personal gambles.”—Ray Jayawardhana, author of Neutrino Hunters

“Bartusiak's new book is thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and full of insights about the nature of the scientific enterprise. Aficionados of black holes will love this book.”—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams and The Accidental Universe