EMPIRE OF THE STARS: Obsession, Friendship, and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes

Arthur I. Miller, Author . Houghton Mifflin $26 (364p) ISBN 978-0-618-34151-1

In 1935, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a young Indian astrophysicist studying at Cambridge, presented to the Royal Astronomical Society a radical new theory of what would later be called black holes. Cambridge's leading astrophysicist, Sir Arthur Eddington, who lorded over British scientific circles at the time, ridiculed Chandra's findings as "stellar buffoonery," and while Chandra later established himself at the University of Chicago and in 1980 received a Nobel Prize, this humiliation at Eddington's hands haunted him until his death in 1995. Miller's story is not only about Chandra's discovery but the end run that physicists made around it to confirm the existence of black holes, with both Eddington and Chandra disappearing for long stretches. Miller, a British historian of science (Einstein, Picasso ), doesn't persuasively make his case that the course of 20th-century physics would have been significantly different if Chandra's findings hadn't been ignored, but he does paint vivid portraits of the scientists in this quest, the racism Chandra encountered at Cambridge, the internal battles between Eddington and other astrophysicists—into which Chandra inserted himself with his theory—and both the excitement and despair a brilliant scientist experienced. Astronomy buffs and readers fascinated by the history of science will find this a compelling read. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW . Agent, Nann du Sautoy, U.K. (Apr. 25)

Reviewed on: 03/14/2005
Release date: 04/01/2005
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