In 1756 troops of the nawab of Bengal overran a fort manned by British forces. The captured occupants were imprisoned in a cell where most died overnight from heat exhaustion. The precise numbers are unknown, but the Black Hole of Calcutta was a colonial horror story imprinted on the minds of schoolchildren over the next two centuries of British imperialism. The tale was well known to American astrophysicist Robert Dicke and, according to Marcia Bartusiak’s engagingly written scientific history, it was Dicke who transferred the term to those escape-proof cosmic dungeons that are the subject of her book.
Science writers, unlike biographers or political historians, aren’t generally expected to come up with some new opinion or revelation in order to justify adding another volume to the bookshelves. Discovery, after all, is what the scientists are meant to have done already, and Bartusiak’s work is for the most part