BooksOfTheMoon

Empire of the Stars: Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes

By Arthur I. Miller

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This pop science book tells the story of the life cycle of stars and the discovery of black holes. In particular, it focusses on the feud between Sir Arthur Eddington and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Chandra). Chandra had concluded that white dwarves have a maximum mass, leading to the conclusion that a star above that mass would contract infinitely into a black hole. When he delivered a paper on this to the Royal Astronomical Society in 1935, Eddington subjected him to public humiliation and ridicule, which almost broke Chandra.

In the first part, the book goes into the background of the two protagonists and the events that led to the showdown. The second continues on from that, but takes a wider view at the science of the life cycle of stars and how it was gradually unravelled, leading eventually to the rediscovery of the black hole theory. The third part deals with Chandra’s later life, revealing a man who was embittered by his early showdown with Eddington, but one who still had a spark in him and went on to win every major science award going.

I enjoyed this book a lot, both for its biographical information, and the science. I have some elementary astronomy background which may have helped, but it seemed clearly laid out. Also, it was nice to see names which I knew off through equations and laws actually turning out to have real people behind them :-).

Book details

ISBN: 9780349116273
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Year of publication: 2005

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