Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

In this week’s New York Times Book Review, I write about Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space by astrophysicist and novelist Janna Levin. It’s a miraculously beautiful book about the story of one of the most important scientific discoveries ever made – the detection of gravitational waves, first imagined by Einstein in 1915 and finally a reality that opens up a new era of exploring the universe through sound after 500 years of knowing it only through light.

I enjoyed the book so thoroughly that this is how my galley ended up:

Since Brain Pickings takes nearly every waking moment of my day, I partake in such time- and thought-consuming extracurricular adventures only rarely, when a book so rivets me that I feel a kind of civic duty to get it into the hands, hearts, and minds of as many people as possible. This particular book is one of the finest I’ve ever read – the kind that will be read and cherished a century from now. Dr. Levin is a splendid writer of extraordinary intellectual elegance – partway between Galileo and Goethe, she fuses her scientific scrupulousness with remarkable poetic potency.

From the review, a labor of love months in the making:

Levin profiles the key figures in this revolution with Dostoyevskian insight into the often irrational human psychology animating this rigorous project of reason. She counters the mad-genius archetype with evidence that trailblazing scientists accomplish great feats not because of their idiosyncrasies and ferocious egos but despite them, often skirting self-destruction with only a measure of luck and a generous dose of forgiveness from sympathetic peers.


But as redemptive as the story of the countless trials and unlikely triumph may be, what makes the book most rewarding is Levin’s exquisite prose, which bears the mark of a first-rate writer: an acute critical mind haloed with a generosity of spirit.

You can read the rest here. I hope you find as much joy in reading it as I did in writing it.

You can find Dr. Levin on Twitter under @JannaLevin.

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About The Author

Hey there. My name is Maria Popova and I’m a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large. I’ve previously written for Wired UK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others, and am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.

Founded in 2006 as a weekly email that went out to seven friends and eventually brought online, the site was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive in 2012.

Here’s a little bit about my seven most important learnings from the journey so far. Brain Pickings — which remains ad-free and supported by readers — is a cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more; pieces that enrich our mental pool of resources and empower combinatorial ideas that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Above all, it’s about how these different disciplines illuminate one another to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.

Brain Pickings remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain.

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