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Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics

Popular Science

By: Fulvio Melia and Roy Kerr

152 pages, 54 halftones

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Sep 2009 | #182457 | ISBN-13: 9780226519517
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NHBS Price: £16.50 $20/€18 approx

About this book

Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity describes the effect of gravitation on the shape of space and the flow of time. But for more than four decades after its publication, the theory remained largely a curiosity for scientists; however accurate it seemed, Einstein's mathematical code - represented by six interlocking equations - was one of the most difficult to crack in all of science. That is, until a twenty-nine-year-old Cambridge graduate solved the great riddle in 1963. Roy Kerr's solution emerged coincidentally with the discovery of black holes that same year and provided fertile testing ground - at long last - for general relativity.

Today, scientists routinely cite the Kerr solution, but even among specialists, few know the story of how Kerr cracked Einstein's code. Fulvio Melia here offers an eyewitness account of the events leading up to Kerr's great discovery. "Cracking the Einstein Code" vividly describes how luminaries such as Karl Schwarzschild, David Hilbert, and Emmy Noether set the stage for the Kerr solution; how Kerr came to make his breakthrough; and, how scientists such as Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne, and Stephen Hawking used the accomplishment to refine and expand modern astronomy and physics.

Today, more than 300 million supermassive black holes are suspected of anchoring their host galaxies across the cosmos, and the Kerr solution is what astronomers and astrophysicists use to describe much of their behavior. By unmasking the history behind the search for a real world solution to Einstein's field equations, Melia offers a firsthand account of an important but untold story. Sometimes dramatic, often exhilarating, but always attuned to the human element, "Cracking the Einstein Code" is ultimately a showcase of how important science gets done.

Cracking the Einstein Code is at once an explanation of what black holes are, a description of their place in the universe, and a scientific biography of Kerr. The uniqueness of Melia's book lies with Kerr's biography, a story that deserved to be told but wasn't until now. Elegant with expert pacing. - Eric Poisson, University of Guelph"

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Fulvio Melia is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Arizona and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, The Galactic Supermassive Black Hole.

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