Book review: Gravity's Engine, by Caleb Scharf

By Giles Broadbent on November 29, 2012 1:30 PM |


Gravity's Engine
Caleb Scharf (Allen Lane)

Caleb Scharf examines the latest thinking about the greatest enigmas in the universe - the black holes that destroy and create our galaxies.

Few books have attempted the epic opening of Caleb Scharf's wonderful description of a photon's journey from the beginning to time across 12 billion light years of void before it splats - like fly against windscreen - into a sensor that builds an image of a far-away cluster on the computer of Manhattan-based scientist.

British-born Scharf's 200-year odyssey into the mind-baffling world of black holes continues in the same vein - exciting, filled with awe and thickly laced with the sorts of figures the popular science market loves.

(Millions are nothing, there are black holes out there more than a billion times more massive than the sun.)

Scharf's lucid account picks apart these swirling, superlative-laden enigmas and takes us to the edge of current thinking about how they kill and create the cosmos with frantic ease.

They twist space-time to such an extent that both become irrelevant and yet far from being celestial rarities they are the heart of every galaxy, including our own.

The armchair enthusiast often parts company with some of these dense tracts because there's only so much boggling a mind can take on the DLR but Scharf has enough metaphors, juicy gobbets and narrative nous to keep the reader hooked and enchanted.