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The full inside story of the detection of gravitational waves at LIGO, one of the most ambitious scientific experiments of all time

*Selected as a Book of the Year 2016 in the Sunday Times*

The full inside story of the detection of gravitational waves at LIGO, one of the most ambitious feats in scientific history.

Travel around the world 100 billion times. A strong gravitational wave will briefly change that distance by less than the thickness of a human hair. We have perhaps less than a few tenths of a second to perform this measurement. And we don’t know if this infinitesimal event will come next month, next year or perhaps in thirty years.

In 1916 Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves: miniscule ripples in the very fabric of spacetime generated by unfathomably powerful events. If such vibrations could somehow be recorded, we could observe our universe for the first time through sound: the hissing of the Big Bang, the whale-like tunes of collapsing stars, the low tones of merging galaxies, the drumbeat of two black holes collapsing into one. For decades, astrophysicists have searched for a way of doing so…

In 2016 a team of hundreds of scientists at work on a billion-dollar experiment made history when they announced the first ever detection of a gravitational wave, confirming Einstein’s prediction. This is their story, and the story of the most sensitive scientific instrument ever made: LIGO.

Based on complete access to LIGO and the scientists who created it, Black Hole Blues provides a firsthand account of this astonishing achievement: a compelling, intimate portrait of cutting-edge science at its most awe-inspiring and ambitious.

Reviews

Gripping ... very, very well written ... I reached the beautiful ending of this book with a little sob of gratitude ... heartbreaking ... brilliant

Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times

It is hard to imagine that a better narrative will ever be written about the behind-the-scenes heartbreak and hardship that goes with scientific discovery. Black Hole Blues is a spectacular feat – a near-perfect balance of science, storytelling and insight … It is as inevitable as gravity that this book will win a swath of awards

Michael Brooks, New Statesman

Science meets cinéma vérité in this riveting book. Janna Levin immerses us in the heady world of scientists straining to detect gravitational waves, the faintest whispers in the universe. What emerges is a story about listening… the most sensitive, determined, obsessive listening anyone has ever tried to do. Keenly observed and lyrically written, her account of this quest will move you

Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of x

Astonishing … superb … Ms Levin is able to tell the tale so soon, and so well, because she has had privileged access to the experiment. She has also known the experimenters for several years … Ms Levin is herself a scientist, which explains her access, but more than that she is a writer … readers feel as if they are sitting in on her interviews or watching over her shoulder as she describes two black holes colliding … A splendid book that I recommend to anyone with an interest in how science works and in the power of human imagination and ability

John Gribbin, Wall Street Journal

A superb storyteller. This is the most vivid account I can remember of science policy in action … I’ll be surprised if anyone brings out a more readable book on gravitational waves in the near future

Clive Cookson, Financial Times

The definitive account of how we completed the hundred-year hunt for gravitational waves … Punchy, witty, timely and deeply insightful; I haven’t read a better book on the realities of doing science

Michael Brooks, New Statesman, Books of the Year

A remarkable achievement that potentially opens up a whole new chapter in our understanding of the cosmos and, with perfect timing, Janna Levin’s elegant and lucid book is here to tell us how it was done … the human drama is compelling … The main protagonists … comprise as fascinating a triumvirate as you will find anywhere in scientific literature. Levin, a distinguished astrophysicist in her own right, writes eloquently, sometimes even poetically, about the search for what she calls gravity’s music

Simon Griffith, Mail on Sunday

Taking on the simultaneous roles of expert scientist, journalist, historian and storyteller of uncommon enchantment, Levin delivers pure signal from cover to cover … Levin harmonizes science and life with remarkable virtuosity … exposing the invisible, incremental processes that produce the final spark we call genius … As redemptive as the story of the countless trials and unlikely triumph may be, what makes the book most rewarding is Levin’s exquisite prose

Maria Popova, The New York Times

The most important development in astronomy since the invention of the telescope ... [Levin] excels in conveying the personalities of the scientists and their professional and personal struggles ... With the success of Ligo, we stand at the dawn of a new era in astronomy, Levin says in her excellent book

Marcus Chown, Times Higher Education

Brilliant and timely

James Gleick

Explains in clear terms the scientific heart of this achievement and the deep and personal fascination that pursuing it has held for several generations of scientists. She also captures the cost of getting to this point, both financial – this is big science in its truest sense – and, in many cases, personal … the plot is too compelling … genuinely painful to read in places … illuminating ... interesting

Nature

A beautifully written account of the quest to open the ‘gravitational-wave window’ onto our universe. 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, co-founder of LIGO

Riveting. Janna Levin immerses us in the heady world of scientists straining to detect gravitational waves, the faintest whispers in the universe. Keenly observed and lyrically written, her account of this quest will move you

Steven Strogatz, author of The Joy of x

If Hunter Thompson had taken a break to get a PhD in physics and then become obsessed with gravitational waves, he might have written a book like this

Alan Lightman, author of The Accidental Universe

Levin is a master of storytelling […] this book […]keeps the reader hooked in awe page after page. Black Hole Blues is a captivating study of the process of scientific discovery.

Brad Davies, Independent

Levin brilliant captures the immense challenges of today’s big science, from the clash of huge egos to the final triumphant proof of a century-old theory

PD Smith, Guardian

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback

    9781847924193

    March 28, 2016

    Bodley Head

    256 pages

    RRP $29.99

    Online retailers

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    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
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    • Collins Booksellers
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    • Books Kinokuniya
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    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • Paperback

    9780099569589

    April 3, 2017

    Vintage

    256 pages

    RRP $22.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Amazon
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop
    Or

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook

    9781446485095

    March 31, 2016

    Vintage Digital

    256 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo