Book Review: The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics by Leonard Susskind

Review by Tom Siegfried

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For a good view into the real world of physics—not the sanitized version of textbooks and newspaper reports—you need a native guide.

Stanford physicist Leonard Susskind (widely known as “Lenny”) is your guy. His quasi-autobiographical account of the quest to understand black holes offers an insider’s view of physics-in-the-making over the past few decades.

He treats the deepest issues conversationally and accessibly, recounting his efforts to persuade the physics community to appreciate the crisis that Stephen Hawking’s work on black holes had created. Hawking uncovered a potential contradiction to quantum mechanics—black holes seemed to destroy information contained in the material they swallowed; quantum mechanics insisted that information must be preserved.

Susskind relates how he and Nobel laureate Gerard ’t Hooft developed ideas for addressing the crisis, and how the work of others, particularly Juan Maldacena, resolved it (in favor of quantum mechanics)—at least to the satisfaction of most physicists, including Hawking.

Engagingly written and well illustrated, Susskind’s tale brings anyone with an interest in reality’s foundations up to the edge of current understanding, and even offers a glimpse beyond.

Little, Brown and Company, 2008, 471 p., $27.99

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