Books about black holes to the interested layman

One question I get often is:

What books on the topic of black holes would you suggest as a starting point for interested readers without specialized knowledge of physics and math?

I interpret this question as: what books would I suggest for people who are not pursuing physics or math as a career or taking a physics/math undergraduate course? Luckily, there are many lovely books for broad spectrum of readers.

For readers with high-school or higher education

  • Black holes. Heather Couper & Nigel Henbest. This book is fantastic and gives a lucid, accurate description of black holes, their features and role in the cosmos. Plus, it is full of awesome illustrations. Unfortunately, it is out of print.
  • Black holes and time warps. Kip Thorne. A classic, must-read book for anybody wanting an in-depth account of the history of black holes and the main discoveries until the mid-nineties. Written by one of the leaders in the field and one of the pioneers of the LIGO observatories. This might be a bit tiring if you are not really interested in black holes
  • Black Hole: How an Idea Abandoned by Newtonians, Hated by Einstein, and Gambled on by Hawking Became Loved. Marcia Bartusiak. Disclaimer: I haven’t read this one, but it came highly recommended.

If you are interested in a more “apocalyptic” take on black holes and their destructive power, check these books out:

For kids

For physics undergrads

For those wanting to go deeper, without falling inside the event horizon.

  • Gravity’s fatal attraction: Black holes in the universe. Mitchell Begelman & Martin Rees. For the undergrads that come to me interested in doing a undergraduate research project on black holes, I always recommend to read a couple of chapters from this book. Clear, non-technical description of black hole astrophysics, getting into a bit more detail than other expositions on the subject.
  • Exploring black holes: Introduction to general relativity. Edwin Taylor & John Wheeler. Appropriate for first or second year undergraduates in physics, math or engineering. Very basic introduction to the general theory of relativity
  • Gravity: An introduction to Einstein’s general relativity. James Hartle. This a standard introduction to general relativity for physics undergrads. It explores the effects of black hole spacetimes on particle orbits and light rays. Contains heavy math

Miscellaneous recommendations

Recommended reading on gravitational waves and the history of LIGO: Black hole blues and other song. Janna Levin. What a fun read this was! This is a required reading for anybody wanting to understand the history of LIGO and the quest for gravitational waves.


 

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