Cracking the Einstein Code: Relativity and the Birth of Black Hole Physics

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Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes the effect of gravitation on the shape of space and the flow of time. But for more than four decades after its publication, the theory remained largely a curiosity for scientists; however accurate it seemed, Einstein’s mathematical code—represented by six interlocking equations—was one of the most difficult to crack in all of science. That is, until a twenty-nine-year-old Cambridge graduate solved the great riddle in 1963. Roy Kerr’s solution emerged coincidentally with the discovery of black holes that same year and provided fertile testing ground—at long last—for general relativity. Today, scientists routinely cite the Kerr solution, but even among specialists, few know the story of how Kerr cracked Einstein’s code.


Fulvio Melia here offers an eyewitness account of the events leading up to Kerr’s great discovery. Cracking the Einstein Code vividly describes how luminaries such as Karl Schwarzschild, David Hilbert, and Emmy Noether set the stage for the Kerr solution; how Kerr came to make his breakthrough; and how scientists such as Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne, and Stephen Hawking used the accomplishment to refine and expand modern astronomy and physics. Today more than 300 million supermassive black holes are suspected of anchoring their host galaxies across the cosmos, and the Kerr solution is what astronomers and astrophysicists use to describe much of their behavior.


By unmasking the history behind the search for a real world solution to Einstein’s field equations, Melia offers a first-hand account of an important but untold story. Sometimes dramatic, often exhilarating, but always attuned to the human element, Cracking the Einstein Code is ultimately a showcase of how important science gets done.


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Editorial Reviews

Einstein’s theory of general relativity was around for decades before it was possible for astrophysicists to study it. And when they finally cracked the code, they simultaneously discovered black holes. In this gripping intellectual history of the Golden Age of General Relativity, Melia, an astrophysicist, introduces a cast of driven, thoughtful young scientists who dedicated their careers to divining the physical manifestations of Einstein’s theories. The book, studded with candid photographs of everyone from Roger Penrose to Vitaly Ginzburg, follows mathematician Roy Kerr as he strives to develop the first exact solution to the Einstein equations, forever altering physics.
New Scientist
A wonderful, touching book about the life and work of one of the great unsung heros of physics, Roy Kerr, the New Zealander who, in 1963, extracted from Einstein's scarily complex equations of gravity an exact description for a real-life, 'spinning' black hole.—Marcus Chow, New Scientist, "The Best Books of 2009— Marcus Chow
Times Higher Education
Today, experiments are slowly shedding light on Einstein's theory, and theoreticians are still trying to find a rigorous way to quantise it. Much of this research uses the results so brilliantly obtained by Roy Kerr, whose work is honoured by this modest but agreeable book.

— Graham Farmelo

A delight to read. Highly recommended.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226519517
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Pages: 152
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Fulvio Melia is professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Arizona and author of numerous books, including, most recently, The Galactic Supermassive Black Hole.

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Table of Contents


          Einstein’s Code

          Space and Time


          Four Pillars and a Prayer

          An Unbreakable Code

          Roy Kerr

          The Kerr Solution

          Black Hole

          The Tower

          New Zealand

          Kerr in the Cosmos

          Future Breakthrough




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  • Posted March 20, 2010

    This enigma of the millennium is The Einstein Code!

    Einstein died trying to decipher the secrets of energy's sequential encoding - just six years before the invention of that "light fantastic" from the continuous-wave laser - that very tool, that would have revealed the secret mechanism of this universal mystery.

    Finally now, a half-century later, the methodology of its encryption, the pieces of his universal puzzle are falling into place, yielding a panorama of universal interaction. while uniting the two great (but heretofore incompatible) areas of science, Relativity and corrected Quantum Mechanics into a comprehensive, intuitive, even easy-to-understand explanation of how everything works. And how to build and control anything from pure energy! Just like Einstein dreamed.

    This enigma of the millennium is The Einstein Code!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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