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Publisher's Summary

The authoritative story of the headline-making discovery of gravitational waves - by an eminent theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer. 

From the author of How the Universe Got Its Spots and A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines, the epic story of the scientific campaign to record the soundtrack of our universe. 

Black holes are dark. That is their essence. When black holes collide, they will do so unilluminated. Yet the black hole collision is an event more powerful than any since the origin of the universe. The profusion of energy will emanate as waves in the shape of space-time: gravitational waves. No telescope will ever record the event; instead, the only evidence would be the sound of space-time ringing. 

In 1916, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, his top priority after he proposed his theory of curved space-time. One century later, we are recording the first sounds from space, the soundtrack to accompany astronomy’s silent movie. In Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin recounts the fascinating story of the obsessions, the aspirations, and the trials of the scientists who embarked on an arduous 50-year endeavor to capture these elusive waves. 

An experimental ambition that began as an amusing thought experiment, a mad idea, became the object of fixation for the original architects - Rai Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ron Drever. Striving to make the ambition a reality, the original three gradually accumulated an international team of hundreds. As this audiobook was written, two massive instruments of remarkably delicate sensitivity were brought to advanced capability. As the audiobook draws to a close, five decades after the experimental ambition began, the team races to intercept a wisp of a sound with two colossal machines, hoping to succeed in time for the centenary of Einstein’s most radical idea. 

Janna Levin’s absorbing account of the surprises, disappointments, achievements, and risks in this unfolding story offers a portrait of modern science that is unlike anything we’ve seen before. 

©2016 Janna Levin (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"This is a beautifully written account of the quest to open the 'gravitational-wave window' onto our universe, and use it to explore our universe's warped side: black holes and other phenomena made from warped spacetime. As a participant in this wonderful quest, I applaud Janna Levin for capturing so well our vision, our struggles, and the ethos and spirit of our torturous route toward success." (Kip Thorne, author of The Science of Interstellar)

What listeners say about Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

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Exceptional Story of Black Holes Colliding--Listen

Wow! I saw an interview on PBS news hour with the author and decided that such a significant event as hearing two black holes merge had to be an interesting read. Believe me, it was and I am not a scientist. Janna Levin is a scientist but she is also a wonderful interpreter of complex information, shares an ability to describe complex scientists, and allow the reader to understand the politics and frustration of being one of a very few people who can perceive this concept. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves in November 1916 and a few scientists wanted to build a device to capture the event...if in fact there was such an event. After much political arguments, changes of the guard, and lots of ego battles, two receptors were built. One in Louisiana and one in Washington. The two had been fully locked in place only a few weeks, when the wave came. The fact was kept secret until it could be verified, and re-verified, and then published. The chirp of the two black holes merging was captured. You can hear the chirp if you research black hole mergers on the Internet. This is a remarkable piece of writing and I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn about this major scientific event. Makes you wonder what more is out there in space. Let's keep looking. Now that Juno is circling Jupiter, who knows what we will find. I listened to the author read the book on Audible and recommend it.

13 people found this helpful

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Will bring you to tears in places

This is a wonderful book about one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time, written by a physicist who has been following the work for years before the successful culmination.

The personal stories of the scientists are almost as engaging as the scientific story.

And Dr. Levin's prose is at times so eloquent and moving it can bring you to tears. At some points I almost thought Carl Sagan wad whispering in her ear.

7 people found this helpful

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Don’t listen to this!

I got this because I wanted to learn more about gravitational waves. Let me be clear: this book isn’t really about the science of gravitational waves or the theory or how they work or why they are significant to our understanding. It’s a super in depth look at the LIGO scientists’ very early backgrounds (like going back to what their grandparents did in the early 1900s kind of backgrounds). That might be what you are looking for but even if it is, still, don’t get this book. The order is terrible and nonsensical leading to confusion of the timeline. There are a million long rambling and unnecessary quotes that should just be paraphrased. The author is trying ridiculously hard to be poetic in her descriptions but it doesn’t work. And then there are random bits thrown in like how Stephen hawking makes bad bets. Why is that in there..?? Idk! The first half caused me to fall asleep twice and the second made me so mad because it desperately needed editing. The only reason I finished this was that I needed to for a book club. DONT WASTE YOUR CREDIT ON THIS

5 people found this helpful

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Pretty good

Narrator a bit monotone but good anyways. The story was great, too. Amazing how much work went into LIGO.

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Boring and Tedious, But give a unique perspective

The Ligo Gravity Wave Detector is an awesome feat of human engineering. It has successfully recorded the collision and merger of two black holes approximately 20 and 30 solar masses (the mass of Sol, our Sun). I felt it was too wordy and verbose without actually saying much. It was more of a who's who on the IFO (Interferometer) , and has much less technical and scientific information. That's why I didn't like it.

5 people found this helpful

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It’s just ok....

Gravity Waves are amazing. But the book focus seems to be on the people that led to their discovery put forth in the most boring way. It’s like sitting down and listening to the radio for 8 hrs type of boring. I wanted the focus to be more on the science aspect of it and not the history. It’s as if you were to write a book about general relativity and instead you mostly just talk about Einstein’s life that led to it. I don’t recommend this book. I really like the author and hope in the future her focus is more on the science and not the history of the individuals that led up to the science. Cheers

1 person found this helpful

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No mo black hole blues

Janna Levin is a superstar and made this read one of the best. Now I know a tiny bit more and I can't edit to hear more.

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quick study on interferometry and black holes

do not need to know more than intro to physics. shows the trials and tribulations of academia but that the quest for knowledge and the addiction of conviction overcome human frailty. knowledge on built in the shoulders of others who look like Giants because they are standing on those before them. collaboration is key in the scientific community.

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I felt like a close friend was weaving a story for me.

Janna has this energy and tone to her voice that makes me feel as though she is a close friend. I love how she weaves together the history of this project and hold a place of neutral observer. Thank you for reporting on this Huge piece of history!

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GRAVITATIONAL WAVES

Janna Levin is a professor of physics and a theoretical cosmologist. Obviously, a well-educated and intelligent person but not an accomplished writer. Levin’s history fails to capture a coherent picture of what LIGO is or who the scientists were that pursued understanding of gravitational waves. Without Levin’s final chapter, “Black Hole Blues…” would be a literary failure. However, with this chapter Levin redeems her story. Without science, the world would remain in the dark ages; burdened by myth and superstition that distorts the true value of being human.

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  • tom bunge
  • 12-24-20

expecting something else completely

It is the story of ligo. hoped there was some explanations about black holes but it is all about science egos and politics for LIGO construction

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-25-18

Well told stories of experimental pursuits

easy on the ears, facts with the flow of storytelling, and a peek into the "old boys club" of physics

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  • Neville
  • 07-21-16

Accessible account for scientific proof of Einstein's gravity waves.

Narration by the author provided an authenticity to the text. The story explored both the human relationships and the science that made the ultimate discovery possible.

1 person found this helpful

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  • nick
  • 04-30-21

Stunning!

book was amazing and informative and delivered in such a way as to pass on the emotions and exceitment that i can only imagine the scientists felt as this was transpiring over the decads.