Black Hole Survival Guide Janna Levin 2020

I have a love-hate relationship with astrophysics and cosmology.  I am incredibly fascinated with all things celestial, still blown away by the 13.8 billion year old universe that started with the Big Bang and has resulted in the billions of stars, planets, black holes, dark matter, solar wind, and our own tiny, rocky, oxygen-blessed planet. At the same time, having struggled through Physics 1 in college more than 50 years ago, I am totally overwhelmed by the math and conceptual framework of the physics of this whole business.  I read some of the best science writers about these topics (Brian Greene, Steven Hawking, Steven Weinberg) and always come away somewhat dazed and confused, though still amazed at the beauty and complexity of the universe.

Enter Janna Levin, a professor of physics and astronomy at Barnard with her specific fascination for black holes and once again, down the rabbit hole or should I say wormhole.  This slim volume has more information and provocative explanations per gram of paper than any prior book I’ve read on the topic, and Levin’s use of metaphor and models is superb and provides practical guidance.  I may even have achieved some greater understanding of these topics, but the conflict between the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics  continues to overwhelm my meager brain.

If you have any interest in these topics at all, I’d urge you to read the book. If for no other reason than to bask in Levin’s use of language.  Spooky action at a distance, entanglement, holograms, the event horizon, firewalls, Hawking radiation, qubits, spacetime, and Saggitarius* (the enormous black hole which is responsible for organizing and and maintaining the ongoing life of our own Milky Way galaxy) are all concepts you will meet in this wonderful book.  Though I’m still no astrophysicist despite all this reading, I remain fascinated and intrigued by those who continue to probe the universe in which, for better or for worse, we live.