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Gravity's Engines

How Bubble-Blowing Black Holes Rule Galaxies, Stars, and Life in the Cosmos
Narrated by: Caleb Scharf
Length: 7 hrs and 56 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (191 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

We’ve long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end. Often billions of times more massive than the Sun, they lurk in the inner sanctum of almost every galaxy of stars in the universe. They’re mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly wrath.

Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely different side to black holes. As the astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals in Gravity’s Engines, these chasms in space-time don’t just vacuum up everything that comes near them; they also spit out huge beams and clouds of matter. Black holes blow bubbles.

With clarity and keen intellect, Scharf masterfully explains how these bubbles profoundly rearrange the cosmos around them. Engaging with our deepest questions about the universe, he takes us on an intimate journey through the endlessly colorful place we call our galaxy and reminds us that the Milky Way sits in a special place in the cosmic zoo - a "sweet spot" of properties. Is it coincidental that we find ourselves here at this place and time? Could there be a deeper connection between the nature of black holes and their role in the universe and the phenomenon of life? We are, after all, made of the stuff of stars.

©2012 Caleb Scharf (P)2012 Macmillan Audio

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  • Gary
  • Las Cruces, NM, United States
  • 08-20-12

One of the best science books for non-scientist

An amazingly written book. The author really know how to explain things well and tie it into an overriding narrative. If you have any interest in black holes and galaxy formation (and who among us doesn't!), this book is a must listen. You will become completely up to date in the subject.

Usually, I don't like it when the author does his own reading, but Mr. Scharf does an excellent job and makes the reading as exciting as the subject matter deserves.

I can't recommend this book strongly enough. He explains flawlessly. For example, he explained Einstein's gravitational equation in words in such a way that for the moment I was listening to it, I really understood what it meant. He is that good at explaining.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Christine
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 08-10-12

wonderful overview of modern astrophysics

This book is a very nice overview of modern astrophysics and in particular the role of black holes in astrophysical processes. The author is an astrophysicist / astrobiologist and knows his subject well and presents it with a kind of warmth and care that is infrequent in popular science writing. The author narrates the book himself and does a wonderful job of it. This book is a nice complement to other books such as "The 4% Universe" and "The Day We Found the Universe".

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

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a MUST READ for astrophysicists and enthusiasts

What made the experience of listening to Gravity's Engines the most enjoyable?

Most enjoyable is the fact that the author is a professional astrophysicist- with a gift for language- who has clearly thought about the big picture in conveying the goals of modern astronomy. His story is one that has not yet been told - this subject matter is still in the modern astrophyscial literature and is years away from emerging as popular astronomy material. The relativistic properties of black holes has been the subject of scores of popular books and is thankfully not addressed in this book. Rather, Scharf discusses the less sexy but ultimately more important topic of how black holes shape their environment. He describes how crucial they are in the evolution of our universe, his thesis being that life would not exist without black holes! His analogies are unique and thought provoking, and his personal recounts of his own discoveries make for great listening.

Any additional comments?

Scharf narrates the book himself and does a great job! Listening is much like playing a science program narrated by Brian Cox.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Concise and working definitions of cosmic forces.

This book was excellent! I found the best working definition of the "Event Horizon" and the functions of the theoretical workings of the Black Hole. Scharf proposes several outstanding and beautiful hypotheses explaining the relationships between planets in various systems and the potential black holes that power them.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Mr Scharf conveys excitement about scientific pioneers WHEN they are MALEs

I am enjoying this author’s books but have been very put off by his glaring omissions or downplaying of discoveries by women astronomers. This is a field where women historically have been better represented than most other fields of science, especially compared to physics more generally. Mr Scharf: why have you not even mentioned Leavitt regarding the discovery of Cepheid variable stars, while waxing eloquent on Shapley who was criticized even back in his own time for claiming all credit and failing to credit her? Why such short shrift for Bell, who you mention but then move on to praise more guys. why does Margulis not get even a mention in your other book The Copernicus Complex when you are specifically covering the discovery of endosymbiosis? Bah - this is annoying? Are you only able to be inspired by fellow scientists who share the same little piece of flesh?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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As good as it gets

Just awesome - the author is clearly in compete awe, loves the stuff. Space time and blackholes
Lots of great knowledge - like if you fall 3' into a neutron star you hit it going 1200/mph. Great info on blackholes and more. Lots of good science and story's of the discoveries. Its not to be passed up no matter how much you know, you will learn a lot.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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I love it...!

Would you listen to Gravity's Engines again? Why?

Yes, I will listen to this again. Perhaps I am not the average person, but I love this kind of learning, and this truly is a learning experience to be savored.

What about Caleb Scharf’s performance did you like?

Caleb did a wonderful job. I'd be proud if he was to do this kind of work for my books.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The ending was emotionally moving. One can feel the connection with the grand scheme of creation.

Any additional comments?

SUPERB...!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Best book here covering this topic!

What did you love best about Gravity's Engines?

Excellent reading, pleasant to listen. It's a pity that author is not reading other audible books, his voice is perfect for story telling.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Gravity's Engines?

Most memorable is the description of the just spotted super massive black hole, and properties of these amazing objects.

Have you listened to any of Caleb Scharf’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I didn't listen to other books of Caleb but I did listen to other readers. I wish Caleb could read all the books.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Yes, it's a addicting book but two moment are exceptionally exciting, description of radiation measured from the center of galaxy and how author described black hole signature he spotted. There were many more though and I recommend this outstanding book to anyone.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Fantastic!

This book is written very clearly for lay enthusiasts, yet it goes deeply enough that you feel you understand something about the field. It doesn't just skim the surface with general statements. It's a real bonus that much of the exciting work was done by the author, but he isn't at all self-centered. This is one of my favorites.

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Excellent overview of black hole history & physics

One of the better popular physics books of late. It provides a hidtory-driven overview of theory & observation, with extended discussion of cosmology. Advanced but not too technical. Good use of visual descriptions & descriptive metaphors helps with audiobook.