This is a very concise, well-written review of the research that has been done on supermassive black holes over the past few decades. The book is deliberately targeted at non-specialists; it didn't contain a single equation, as far as I can recall, and is written in a highly accessible style. I have absolutely NO scientific background, I never even took physics, but I found the book pretty easy to follow. Those with significant background in physics might be disappointed with the lack of mathematical exposition, but this book is a great place for novices to begin.
Melia focuses on a number of topics: the nature of supermassive black holes, how they were discovered and how they are detected, theories of how they are formed, their role in galaxy formation, their release of plasma jets, and their ultimate fate. The last chapter also contains a fascinating digression on whether our universe itself is a black hole; I found this to be the most technically challenging part of the book, but it was thought-provoking. I finished the book feeling very excited about the technological advances that are allowing cosmologists to peer deeper and deeper into the cosmos with increasing accuracy. Melia does a great job of explaining the instruments scientists use to detect black holes, and he discusses a number of projects that are likely to be completed in the next few years. Finally, the book contained a number of terrific images that really helped me to follow the narrative. In conclusion, this book is a great place to start for those who want to learn more about these fascinating celestial objects, and at 130+ pages, it is a fairly quick read.
In the past, they were recognized as the most destructive force in nature. Now, following a cascade of astonishing discoveries, supermassive black holes have undergone a dramatic shift in paradigm. Astronomers are finding out that these objects may have been critical to the formation of structure in the early universe, spawning bursts of star formation, planets, and even life itself. They may have contributed as much as half of all the radiation produced after the Big Bang, and as many as 200 million of them may now be lurking through the vast expanses of the observable cosmos. In this elegant, non-technical account, Melia conveys for the general reader the excitement generated by the quest to expose what these giant distortions in the fabric of space and time have to say about our origin and ultimate destiny.