The Black Hole War : My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics, Paperback

The Black Hole War : My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (6 ratings)


At the beginning of the 21st century, physics is being driven to very unfamiliar territory - the domain of the incredibly small and the incredibly heavy.

The new world is a world in which both quantum mechanics and gravity are equally important.

But mysteries remain. One of the biggest involved black holes. Famed physicist Stephen Hawking claimed that anything sucked in a black hole was lost forever.

For three decades, Leonard Susskind and Hawking clashed over the answer to this problem.

Finally, in 2004, Hawking conceded. THE BLACK HOLE WAR will explain the mind-blowing science that finally won out and the emergence of a new paradigm that argues that the world - your home, your breakfast, you - is actually a hologram projected from the edges of space.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 480 pages, Integrated: 60, b/w photos
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Popular science
  • ISBN: 9780316016414



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Showing 1 - 5 of 6 reviews.

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Review by

Recommended by a friend, I enjoyed this book as an introduction to several physics topics I only knew of. I found it more engaging than previous attempts to read book in the same arena by Hawking and others. The book made me wish for "There are no Electrons" style books for quantum mechanics and string theory.

Review by

When I first saw the title, I must admit that I expected that this would be some bitter tirade regarding the relative value of the theories of Hawking and Susskind. I was very very wrong. This is a wonderful, imaginative, generous introduction to some of the deepest problems in physics. It has a joy running through it - without a shred of bitterness. Susskind clearly has a great passion for his work. He also has a great gift in his ability to explain difficult ideas. I have read many of the popular books on cosmology, string theory etc. I must say that this is my favorite.

Review by

A fantastic course through the world of modern physics aimed at the layman willing to address difficult concepts.

Review by

One of the best popular physics books I have read in a long time. Leonard Susskind's The Black Hole War spends 450 pages focused on one question: what happens when information is absorbed by a black hole? It is a debate between Stephen Hawking and other general relativists who think that the information is lost and Gerard 't Hooft, Leonard Susskind and others, who are deeply uncomfortable with the conclusion that black holes can violate the second law of thermodynamics by reducing entropy.In the course of explaining this debate, Susskind necessarily goes through quantum mechanics, general relativity, string theory, and other areas of physics. And it is leavened with first person discussion of his personal odyssey and his obsession with Stephen Hawking, whose unvarnished portrait as epically arrogant and self-centered yet brilliant and charismatic is considerably more impressive than the pop culture version. The first person account not only makes for interesting reading it also lets you learn something about how science is advanced and debates are settled. Hawking posed his view in 1981. By 1993, there was significant theory/evidence that it was wrong but it still was not universally clear: at a conference in Santa Barbara the Susskind view prevailed in a 39-25 vote, not exactly the method most of us would recognize in determining universal scientific truths. By 2007 Hawking himself conceded in writing and paid a debt.What makes the book so good, however, is how much Susskind explains in a fundamental way, as close to first principals as possible. One of the remarkable results of the last few decades is that the amount of information stored in a black hole is proportional to its surface area, not its volume. Susskind shows how this result is derived by solving several equations, most of them explained or semi-derived in the text itself, ending with the remarkable result that almost all of the arbitrary constants cancel and you're left with what appears to be one of those fundamental equations that make you believe that physicists really have figured out some of the fundamental laws of nature.From explanations of Hawking radiation and Black Hole entropy, the book takes you through understanding why Hawking's view was so persuasive and the physical discoveries that were needed to overthrow it -- almost all of them generated by simple and profound thought experiments. The book shows that whether or not string theory is "true," it still helps settle existing questions and generate new ones, including the fact that the world can be thought of us a hologram that has a dual in a lower-dimensional, gravity-less world.I felt myself following almost everything until the last quarter of the book, which focused on Quantum Chromodynamics and string theory. Not sure if my increasingly low comprehension rate was anything that could be remedied by Susskind or inherent in the material.

Review by

I found this book through Goodreads’ recommendations and since I hadn’t read Susskind before but had heard a lot about him, I wanted to read something he wrote. I requested the book through our local library and when I read the dust jacket I knew I was hooked. The title alone is a hook. The war was about Stephen Hawking’s attack on one of the most trusted principles of physics – the law of information conservation that says information is never lost. (p. 179, 180) Leonard Susskind, an American elementary particle physicist who teaches at Stanford, and Gerard ‘t Hooft, a Dutch physicist, were deeply disturbed about Hawking’s claim that once information crosses the horizon of a black hole it is lost forever. Susskind realized that this claim undermined the fundamental laws of physics and with Gerard ‘t Hooft, he went about disproving Hawking’s theory. What hooked me when I read the dust jacket was that in doing so, they arrived at the “mindbending conclusion that everything in our world – this book, your house, yourself – is a hologram projected from the farthest edges of space.” I read the book often not understanding what I was reading because I’m not mathematically adept. But Susskind is able with endless examples, drawings and prose to get his ideas across to the lay public. The glossary in the back of the book was very helpful. I liked the way his discussion and thinking is laid out in short, well titled sections. The “war” in itself was interesting to follow from Susskind’s prospective. He lays out Hawking’s arguments and then systematically disproves them. The book is jammed packed with insights into modern physics. Here are just a few of the ideas that I came away with that were helpful to me. They might get you thinking.•Susskind said to memorize this: high energy means short wave-length; low energy means long wavelength. (82)•Richard Feynman: “I think it’s safe to say that no one understands Quantum Mechanics.” (83)•The Uncertainly Principle was the great divide that separated physics into pre-quantum classical era and post modern era of quantum weirdness. Classical physics is deterministic; quantum physics is full of uncertainty. The Uncertainty Principle, as developed by Werner Heisenberg who along with Erwin Schrodinger discovered the mathematics of quantum mechanics, says that any attempt to shrink the uncertainty of the position of an object will inevitably expand the uncertainty of the velocity. Or it is not possible to know both the position and the velocity of an object at the same time. (p. 92)•Nature didn’t prepare our brains for quantum uncertainty. There was no need. In ordinary life, we never encounter objects light enough for the Uncertainty Principle to matter. (96)•The First Law of Thermodynamics is the law of energy conversation: you cannot create energy; you cannot destroy it; all you can do is change its form. The second Law: ignorance always increases. (140)•Hawking claimed that “when a black hole evaporates, the trapped bits of information disappear from our universe. Information isn’t scrambled. It is irreversibly, and eternally, obliterated.” He was dancing on the grave of quantum mechanics. (185)•Nothing can return from behind the horizon of a black hole because to do so would require exceeding the speed of light, an impossibility according to Einstein. All the relativists believed this, like Hawking. (191)•Mathematical physics would come to embrace one of the most philosophically disturbing ideas of all time: in a certain sense, the solid three-dimensional world of experience is a mere illusion. (291) •In some way that we don’t understand, every bit of information in the world is stored far away at the most distant boundaries of space. (294)•Leonard Susskind’s confession: Despite the fact that I have been an elementary particle physicist for more than forty years, I really don’t like particle physics very much. The whole thing is too messy. Why keep doing it then? Because the very messiness must be telling us something about nature. At some yet undiscovered level, there must be a lot of machinery underlying these so-called elementary particles. It’s curiosity about that hidden machinery, as well as it implications for the basic principles of nature, that pushes me on through the miserable swamp of particle physics. (325)•Nothing compares with the difficulties of trying to build a Quantum Field Theory of gravity. Gravity is geometry. In trying to combine General Relativity with Quantum Mechanics, at least according to the rules of Quantum Field theory, one finds that space-time itself constantly varying its shape. . . . Applying conventional methods of Quantum Field theory to gravity leads to a mathematical fiasco. (334)•The remarkable fact is that String Theory is quintessentially a holographic theory describing a pixilated universe. (335)•String theorists discovered many years ago that the mathematical consistency of their equations breaks down unless six more dimensions of space are added. . . . With nine directions to move in, it can be shown that String Theory is mathematically consistent. . . . String theorists make the six extra dimensions of space compact, thus compactifying or hiding the existence of extra dimensions. The idea is that the extra dimensions of space can be wrapped up in very small knots, so that we enormous creatures are far too big to move around in them, or to even notice them. (339)•The fact that black hole entropy can be accounted for by the information stored in string wiggles went strongly against the view of many relativists, including Hawking. He saw black holes as eaters of information, not storage containers for retrievable information. (393).•Holographic Principle: The three-dimensional world of ordinary experience – the universe filled with galaxies, stars, planets, houses, boulders, and people – is a hologram, an image of reality coded on a distant two-dimensional surface. . Everything inside a region of space can be described by bits of information restricted to the boundary. (410)•Maldacena and Witten had proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that information would never be lost behind a black hole horizon. The string theorists could understand this immediately; the relativists would take longer. But the war was over. (419)So the black hole war ended with Susskind proving that information is not lost. At the same time he makes it very clear that all this is theoretical (based on mathematics) and not experiential. I stayed with the book to the very end, my eyes glazing over by the chapter on nuclear physics. But it was well worth the read. In the last chapter, Susskind gives us physics in a nutshell: The more we discover, the less we seem to know. That’s physics in a nutshell.

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