Cover image for Einstein's monsters : the life and times of black holes / Chris Impey.
Einstein's monsters : the life and times of black holes / Chris Impey.
Title Variants:
Life and times of black holes
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, [2018]
Physical Description:
xix, 295 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Evidence for black holes, large and small. The heart of darkness -- Black holes from star death -- Supermassive black holes -- Gravitational engines -- Black holes, past, present, and future. The lives of black holes -- Black holes as tests of gravity -- Seeing with gravity eyes -- The fate of black holes.
An astronomer answers questions on the cutting edge of astrophysics to explore the science of black holes and their role in theoretical physics, from Einstein's equations of general relativity to testing string theory.


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Material Type
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523.8875 IMP Book Adult General Collection

On Order



Black holes are the most extreme objects in the universe, and yet they are ubiquitous. Every massive star leaves behind a black hole when it dies, and every galaxy harbors a supermassive black hole at its center. Frighteningly enigmatic, these dark giants continue to astound even the scientists who spend their careers studying them. Which came first, the galaxy or its central black hole? What happens if you travel into one--instant death or something weirder? And, perhaps most important, how can we ever know anything for sure about black holes when they destroy information by their very nature?In Einstein's Monsters, distinguished astronomer Chris Impey takes readers on an exploration of these and other questions at the cutting edge of astrophysics, as well as the history of black holes' role in theoretical physics--from confirming Einstein's equations for general relativity to testing string theory. He blends this history with a poignant account of the phenomena scientists have witnessed while observing black holes: stars swarming like bees around the center of our galaxy; black holes performing gravitational waltzes with visible stars; the cymbal clash of two black holes colliding, releasing ripples in space-time.Clear, compelling, and profound, Einstein's Monsters reveals how our comprehension of black holes is intrinsically linked to how we make sense of the universe and our place within it. From the small questions to the big ones--from the tiniest particles to the nature of space-time itself--black holes might be the key to a deeper understanding of the cosmos.

Author Notes

Chris Impey is a distinguished professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Arizona and the critically-acclaimed author of Beyond, How It Began, and How It Ends, and four other books, as well as two astronomy textbooks. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Science writer and astrophysicist Impey (Beyond: Our Future in Space) gives an absorbing and lay-reader-friendly look at the intriguing dead stars called black holes. Impey begins in 1784 with the earliest theoretical description of a massive star with gravity so strong that not even light could escape it. In the early 20th century, Einstein suggested with his general theory of relativity that astronomers could find black holes by looking into how their extreme gravity affects space-time around them. With clarity and enthusiasm, Impey describes the work of scientists such as John Wheeler-who coined the name "black hole"-and visionary theoretical cosmologist Stephen Hawking, as well as his own work. In subjects including the supermassive black holes at the center of every galaxy and primordial black holes, Impey gives readers a good sense of how these phenomena have gone from astronomical curiosity to intellectual touchstones that fascinate and challenge researchers. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

This book contains a great deal of accurate and up-to-date information on its subject - black holes - and Impey, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, is a world-class expert on the subject whose passion and understanding frequently shine through. Unfortunately, "Einstein's Monsters" lacks an interesting story to hold it together. Without a narrative structure the book comes across as scattered, with different ideas placed one after the other with no particular logic. Questions arise and are left hanging, concepts introduced without any background or explanation, and jarring shifts from section to section (sometimes even sentence to sentence) are the norm. There are also frequent examples of simply thoughtless writing. For instance, the first chapter features an individual, John Michell, who is introduced with a single quote attributed to "his contemporaries." Yet it seems implausible that all or even several of his contemporaries said this one thing - and indeed it's hard to judge, as it is not until several paragraphs later that we find out the century in which Michell and his contemporaries lived. Several chapters later, there is a particularly bizarre jump from a discussion of poisonous snakes of Australia to one of telescope instrumentation, separated only by a paragraph break, immediately bucking the reader from the page. The book does improve from there, and later portions are more readable and clear. But stray sentences, awkward transitions and confusing tense disagreements, while less frequent in the second half, never disappear entirely. This is all especially disappointing because black holes are fascinating, and because Impey knows so much about them. There are glimpses of several good lectures that Impey could give (and likely has given) on how black holes power the most spectacularly bright objects in the universe, active galactic nuclei, as well as the history of how we came to understand these strange and violent objects. Unfortunately, glimpses are all we get.

Library Journal Review

Veteran writer Impey (astronomy, Univ. of Arizona; How It Began) examines black holes, which he refers to as "Einstein's Monsters" because they are mysterious, difficult to find, and tend to scare people. Readers do not need a deep understanding of astronomy to comprehend this accessible work, which is divided into two parts: the evidence surrounding black holes and later chapters discussing their past, present, and future. The first section covers the long-standing theory of the existence of black holes as well as 20th-century scientists who made massive strides in their study. Moving on, it relays how black holes are formed, what they do to the matter and material surrounding them, and how astronomers are discovering new black holes and what they are learning about the universe from them. VERDICT Fans of popular science authors such as Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lisa Randall, and Mike Brown will enjoy this wonderful, accessible introduction to black holes.-Jason L. Steagall, formerly with Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xv
Forewordp. xvii
Part A Evidence For Black Holes, Large And Smallp. 1
1 The Heart of Darknessp. 3
An English Clergyman Imagines Dark Starsp. 3
A Great French Mathematician Weighs Inp. 5
Understanding the Fabric of Space-Timep. 7
A Singularity and a Life Cut Shortp. 12
The Master of Implosions and Explosionsp. 14
Coining the Perfect Term for the Inscrutablep. 16
A Genius Struggles with Gravity and Diseasep. 18
Betting on Black Holesp. 23
The Golden Age of Black Hole Theoryp. 26
2 Black Holes from Star Deathp. 30
The Forces of Light and Darknessp. 30
Gravity and Darkness Are the Final Victorsp. 33
Finding the First Black Swanp. 38
Weighing the Invisible Dance Partnerp. 40
Black Holes with Gold-Plated Credentialsp. 43
Using Gravitational Opticsp. 47
Physics at the Edge of the Maelstromp. 50
A Tour of the Binary Star Bestiaryp. 54
3 Supermassive Black Holesp. 57
The Only Radio Astronomer in the Worldp. 57
Galaxies with Bright Nucleip. 61
Radio Astronomy Comes of Agep. 62
A Dutch Astronomer Discovers Quasarsp. 68
Astronomers Harvest Distant Points of Lightp. 71
Hypothesizing Massive Black Holesp. 74
Mapping Radio jets and Lobesp. 77
The Zoo of Active Galaxiesp. 81
A Matter of Perspectivep. 85
4 Gravitational Enginesp. 88
The Big Black Hole Next Doorp. 89
Stars at the Edge of the Abyssp. 93
The Dark Core in Every Galaxyp. 95
Baron Rees of Ludlow Tames the Beastp. 100
Using Quasars to Probe the Universep. 103
Weighing Black Holes by the Thousandp. 106
Accretion Power in the Cosmosp. 113
Massive Black Holes Are Not Scaryp. 116
Part B Black Holes, Past, Present, And Futurep. 121
5 The Lives of Black Holesp. 123
Seeds of the Universep. 123
First Light and First Darknessp. 125
Black Hole Birth by Stellar Cataclysmp. 129
Finding the Missing Linksp. 133
Simulating Extreme Gravity in a Computerp. 137
How Black Holes and Galaxies Growp. 143
The Universe as a Black Holep. 148
Making Black Holes in the Labp. 150
6 Black Holes as Tests of Gravityp. 153
Gravity from Newton to Einstein and Beyondp. 154
What Black Holes Do to Space-Timep. 158
How Black Holes Affect Radiationp. 162
Inside the Iron Curtainp. 166
X-Rays Flickering Near the Abyssp. 168
When a Black Hole Eats a Starp. 171
Taking a Black Hole for a Spinp. 174
The Event Horizon Telescopep. 177
7 Seeing with Gravity Eyesp. 181
A New Way of Seeing the Universep. 181
Ripples in Space-Timep. 185
An Eccentric Millionaire and a Solitary Engineerp. 188
When Black Holes Collidep. 194
The Most Precise Machine Ever Builtp. 197
Meet the Maestro of Gravityp. 204
Viewing the Universe with Gravity Eyesp. 207
Collisions and Mergers of Massive Black Holesp. 213
Gravity and the Big Bangp. 216
8 The Fate of Black Holesp. 219
The New Age of Gravityp. 219
Quasar on Our Doorstepp. 224
Merging with Andromedap. 227
The Biggest Black Holes in the Universep. 230
The Era of Stellar Corpsesp. 234
A Future of Evaporation and Decayp. 236
Living with Black Holesp. 239
Notesp. 245
Indexp. 283