The delightful and engaging second edition of Gravity’s Fatal Attraction: Black Holes in the Universe by Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees recently appeared on bookshelves on both sides of the Atlantic. In this popular science book, the authors systematically present a fascinating history of how astrophysicists came to understand the nature of black holes and how they are formed. They outline the interplay between theory and observation in the discovery of the nature of black holes, which hide in the center of our Milky Way Galaxy and perhaps most galaxies in the Universe.
In this beautifully illustrated book, the reader learns about black holes from the perspective of the scientists who figured them out, step by step, since the early days of the twentieth century. Discoveries made during the past decade are highlighted: (1) proof of a black hole at the center of the Milky Way, (2) evidence that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating, and (3) new insights into the connection between black holes and galaxy formation. The authors show us one discovery at a time how “the history of structure in the Universe is the story of how gravity gradually overwhelms all other forces.”
The book begins with a clear and accessible description of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, the evolution of stars that, in some cases, leads to the formations of black holes, and early (circa 1960s) searches for evidence of black holes in our own galaxy. The authors describe the structure of galaxies, galactic nuclei, and the role of dark matter in the organization of galaxies. The discussion never strays far from illuminating the formation and dynamics of the central focus of the book: black holes, from small ones of a few solar masses to behemoths of hundreds of millions or even a billion solar masses. The authors take the reader on a tour of quasars and jets before embarking on the relatively new territory of gamma ray bursts and the interplay between the dynamics of black holes in the center of galaxies and galactic evolution.
The authors have produced a well-organized, lucid, and beautifully written book that explains many important aspects of astrophysics without resorting to mathematical equations or jargon. The result is a wonderful journey into the strange and amazing workings of our Universe.
About the authors…
Mitchell Begelman is a Fellow of JILA and Chairman of the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Martin Rees is the United Kingdom’s Astronomer Royal and Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics and Master of Trinity College at Cambridge University.