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We have long understood black holes to be the points at which the universe as we know it comes to an end – mysterious chasms so destructive and unforgiving that not even light can escape their deadly power. Recent research, however, has led to a cascade of new discoveries that have revealed an entirely new, and crucially important, side to black holes. Super-sized versions, often billions of times more massive than the Sun, lurk in every galaxy in the universe. And these chasms don't just vacuum up everything around them; they also spit out huge clouds of matter and energy. In Gravity's Engines, renowned astrophysicist Caleb Scharf reveals how these giant black holes profoundly rearrange the cosmos that surrounds them, controlling the number of stars in the galaxies and, in turn, the entire universe.
With lucidity and elegance, Scharf traces the two hundred year history of our attempts to discover the nature of black holes, from an English academic turned clergyman in the late 1700's who first identified these 'dark stars' to Einstein and the great revolutions of relativity and quantum mechanics. Engaging with our deepest questions about our origins, he takes us on an intimate journey through our endlessly colourful universe, revealing how the cosmic capacity for life is ultimately governed by – and perhaps could not exist without – black holes.
Caleb Scharf is the director of Columbia University's Astrobiology Center. He has written for New Scientist, Science, Nature, and more. He was born in England, and now lives in New York City.