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Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

Narrated by: Janna Levin
Length: 7 hrs and 29 mins
Categories: Non-fiction, Physics
4.5 out of 5 stars (22 ratings)

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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)

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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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  • Linda
  • 06-07-16

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.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Concerned small-D democrat
  • 03-07-16

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.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Harry Amadeo
  • 12-04-17

Pretty good

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

2 people found this helpful

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  • C Killam
  • 23-12-17

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.

1 person found this helpful

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  • jeanne c.
  • 21-05-17

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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  • A. Choate
  • 17-11-16

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Fiorella Grandi
  • 02-12-19

Engaging and informative

Levin drops us in seamlessly into the LIGO saga, from it’s easy beginnings to it’s final conclusion. Despite the fact that many readers will know how the story ends, she captures the intensity of how it must have felt to labor over this massive project and hope that useful data would come out. I had goosebumps at the end, and felt that she captured the human aspects of discovery- the parts of science that are personal and messy and not objective. The book is put together for a non-physics, non-science audience and Levin writes (and reads) beautiful, elegant prose about the sound that black holes make as they collide.

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  • David Kerwood
  • 11-11-19

Take notes, it’ll pay off

I had the hardcover opened and followed along with the Audible book - having both made for a much richer reading experience. It also helped with keeping track of a very full cast of characters and where they fit in the timeline, as the story builds to its history-making conclusion.

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  • tsebesta58
  • 11-10-19

Astrotinner

This is a great story about persistent scientists and one of the biggest discovers of mankind.

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  • Matthew
  • 27-08-19

how everything came together

I found it to be a very interesting book after watching a documentary on black holes.