Pascal Bordé, Qu’est-ce qu’un trou noir? (French, 2005)

I don’t remember the last time I read a science book. It probably never happened before. I probably only ever read science textbooks, which don’t really count as books, do they? But 2013 is my year of reading dangerously: so when I saw this small book about black holes with only 64 pages in the science shelf at the kids library, it seemed intriguing enough and not too dangerous.

Let’s say appearances can be deceiving. By page 15 I was already lost. I didn’t get anything about Einstein and the general relativity theory. Hey, no wonder he’s called a genius. I rather stuck to Newton’s and his apple’s stage. I know those of you readers who are more scientifically-inclined will shake their heads and sigh, but I readily admit my limits. (I’m trying hard to be factual in this review, but please excuse any scientific error or bad English — science in a foreign language is even more daunting).

I did persevere though.

Not understanding this mysterious and counter-intuitive theory didn’t stop me from understanding that black holes were first an abstract mathematical theory (pushing the relativity to its limits) long before anyone could really prove their existence. That is, as much as we can get them even now. Because they are so… well, black, we can only detect them because of their interactions with their neighbors, may they be stars who are rotating around them (they will end up getting sucked into the hole) or some litter of rocks called accretion disk.

All these new (to me) concepts sounded fascinating. It was like opening a window on whole new fields: 64 pages were more than enough to send me reeling and make me realize that people have actually spent their lives on these subjects. “Schwarzschild radius” is a pretty cool word, but I doubt I will ever be able to put it in a conversation.

I felt vaguely worried to learn that our Milky way contains a supermassive black hole, but it apparently isn’t that close to us. I was also awed that nobody will ever know for sure what is at the bottom of this hole and that some people have developed the idea of a white fountain, the tip at the extremity, where all this energy that has been sucked in will spurt out (well, I’m translating that inasmuch as I could grasp it).

I really am not the right person to have an informed opinion on this, but it felt nice to be like a child for a moment, learning and discovering.

When I returned the book, I just told  the librarian that the book was for adults and not really for kids. Unless science at school has really made huge progress and that they all understand the Einstein relativity by the age of 12.

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2 thoughts on “Pascal Bordé, Qu’est-ce qu’un trou noir? (French, 2005)

  1. Fun, huh? A few years ago my husband took a course called String Theory, given for our senior learning group. Many retired engineers and others with science background attended. The instructor intended to start with Newton (the apple), move on through Einstein, and finish with strings. They did fine with the apple, but bogged down badly in Einstein. My husband kept coming home wanting to discuss the moving train with me — something to do with the speed of light. I think the issue was whether the light speeds up because of the speed of the train. When they finally made through to the strings, I heard that they vibrate, but not much else.

    Did you know that in addition to black holes there are worm holes?

  2. Isn’t science fun? I love physics with the math taken out. It’s really mind-boggling. I haven’t read anything specifically about black holes though they have cropped up in other things I’ve read. Do you think you will try any other science books?

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