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Relativity: A Very Short Introduction [Paperback]

Russell Stannard
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 15, 2008 0199236224 978-0199236220
If you move at high speed, time slows down, space squashes up and you get heavier. Travel fast enough and you could weigh as much as a jumbo jet, be flattened thinner than a CD without feeling a thing-and live forever! As for the angles of a triangle, they do not always have to add up to 180 degrees. And then, of course, there are black holes. These are but a few of the extraordinary consequences of Einstein's theory of relativity. It is now over a hundred years since he made these discoveries, and yet the general public is still largely unaware of them. Filled with illuminating anecdotes and fascinating accounts of experiments, this book aims to introduce the interested lay person to the subject of relativity in a way which is accessible and engaging and at the same time scientifically rigorous. With relatively few mathematical equations--nothing more complicated than the Pythagoras's Theorem--this VSI packs a lot time into very little space, and for anyone who has felt intimidated by Einstein's groundbreaking theory, it offers the perfect place to start.

About the Series: Combining authority with wit, accessibility, and style, Very Short Introductions offer an introduction to some of life's most interesting topics. Written by experts for the newcomer, they demonstrate the finest contemporary thinking about the central problems and issues in hundreds of key topics, from philosophy to Freud, quantum theory to Islam.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Russell Stannard is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the Open University. A prolific writer for both adults and children, his books are translated into 20 languages and have been shortlisted for many scientific book prizes. His trilogy of Uncle Albert books introduces children of 10+ to relativity and quantum theory. He is the co-author, with Paul Davies, of The God Experiment.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199236224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199236220
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.6 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relatively short introduction November 19, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
When "Time" magazine chose Albert Einstein as the person of the century for the 20th century it was due to his incredible intellectual achievements. Among those, two stand as particularly remarkable, becoming forever uniquely associated with their inventor, in minds of general public and professional scientists alike. These are the special and general theories of relativity. Their reputation is fully deserved. The two theories of relativity forever changed the way that we look at the space, time and matter. They touch upon our deepest understanding of physical reality and their core principles have stood the test of time, a remarkable achievement after a century full of usurpations of some of our most cherished notions.

The special and general relativity also have a reputation of being incredibly complex and hard to understand. In the case of special relativity this has primarily to do with the non-intuitive way that the world of four dimensions appears to us. In the case of general relativity, however, the complexity is substantially increased by the use of very advanced mathematical structures that it requires. And yet, all of the mathematical and conceptual implications of relativity stem from a few very simple ideas: the relativity of all reference frames, the constancy of the speed of light, and the equivalence of acceleration and gravitational field. It is a remarkable achievement of Russell Stannard's book to explain so much with just a very basic application of those principles. This makes it possible for a general reader to appreciate these beautiful theories without having to get bogged down in heavy mathematics. All examples in the book are intuitive and accessible. The illustrations are clear and serve to reinforce the main points in the text.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compact and very readable book July 10, 2010
Format:Paperback
This book is only 109-pages long, with a small 4x6 inch text area, yet it manages to pack quite a bit into such a small package. In my opinion it provides a very good introduction to Special and General Relativity with a bit on the cosmological implications of these theories. There are numerous very helpful illustrations, a few equations, and a little simple math. I would have liked to have had a bit more in the way of explanations of some of the ideas that are presented, but that would have been beyond the goal of the books in the "Very Short Introduction" series that have been prepared by Oxford University Press.

I would recommend this book to someone who wants a very brief introduction. It is however a bit more complex than Martin Gardner's classic "Relativity Simply Explained", but much more accessible than many other "Introductory Relativity" books. I have read many of these book and I still found that this book clarified several things for me.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolutely great introduction October 9, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Many years ago, Stannard was a tutor on my physics course and gave lectures on Special Relativity. He was very good, with an obvious love of his subject and a genuine desire to communicate the ideas to others.

It's quite surprising how many physicists never go beyond the Special theory to get a firm grasp of the General theory. Stannard is a notable exception.

Returning to the subject many years later, I naturally chose a book by him. And in any case, I'm gradually working my way through the entire VSI series.

I really do think that this is the best book with which to start if you want to tackle Relativity, and an excellent refresher if you have already studied the subject. It clarified many things for me and introduced a few completely new ideas.

The math is fairly simple, certainly nothing beyond high school level, although the square root symbol written as a V had me puzzled for a moment.

The Amazon product description says the book has 144 pages. In fact it's 114, about par for this series.

Also, the Look Inside feature here will reveal some typos, like the '3/5 = 0.67' error on page 7, pointed out by another reviewer. In the copy I bought (from Amazon) these errors are corrected.
[PeterReeve]
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent introduction, but not the best December 23, 2012
By taogoat
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I recently read a handful of books on relativity, and I rank them as follows:

Highly recommended introductory works:
* Relativity Simply Explained by Martin Gardner -- best introductory book.
* The Elegant Universe (chapters 2 & 3) by Brian Greene -- extremely lucid, but not as in-depth as Gardner's book -- possibly the best if you want a shorter introduction.
* Einstein by Walter Isaacson, chapter 6 (special relativity) & chapter 9 (general relativity) -- not just a great biography, also a very lucid explanation of Einstein's ideas.
* The Fabric of the Cosmos (chapters 2 & 3) by Brian Greene -- a discussion of general relativity & the nature of spacetime.

Further reading:
* Inside Relativity by Mook & Vargish -- great introduction to Newton, along with great sections on what high-speed objects look like and a great section on how Maxwell's equations of electromagnetism relate to relativity.
* Relativity Visualized by Lewis Carroll Epstein -- a good additional book to read, if you want to delve more into truly understanding how it works. Not recommended as an introduction.
* Relativity: A Very Short Introduction by Russell Stannard -- might be a good introduction, but not as lucid as some of the books above.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Relativity in the Very Short Introductions Series
The Very Short Introductions Series of Oxford University Press offers a gateway to the broad scope of knowledge in books usually slightly more than 100 pages in length written by... Read more
Published 13 days ago by Robin Friedman
5.0 out of 5 stars straight forward!
If you want to know have a general idea about the theory of Relativity, this book is for you.
However this is only a summary I don't recommend it for advanced studies in... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Hovig
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Overview
I liked that the book is a concise overview of both special and general relativity. Most importantly, it takes today's understanding of particle physics and cosmology and shows how... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Denise Higgins
4.0 out of 5 stars Finally understand Relativity (sort of)
An excellent book if you are only looking for a basic understanding of relativity. There is a lot that I learned by reading this. Read more
Published 12 months ago by gvokey
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for an overall understanding of the Theory of Relativity
For those of us who want to gain some knowledge of the theory of relativity without getting involved with learning, or being subjected to, lengthy and extremely complicated... Read more
Published 14 months ago by B. Stewart
5.0 out of 5 stars Relativity: Short and Sweet
This is the first book in the "A Very Short Introduction" series I have read. Slightly larger than seven inches by four inches, and a bit over 100 pages long, they are diminutive... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Randolph Eck
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Intriguing
I've always been interested in time and our relation to it. This book helps bring some clarity to understanding Einsteins theory. Read more
Published 15 months ago by BRIAN MICHAEL KEAST
4.0 out of 5 stars very understandable.
Examples of some fairly complicate situations were given that made it much easier to understand relativity. Relativity is not an easy concept and is not intuitive to most people. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Calvin Ayres
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I've read a few of these "very short introduction" books now (all physics and cosmology related) and I haven't found a bad one yet. Read more
Published 17 months ago by John D
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazon.Kindle purchase - Relativity, a Very Short Introduction
Well, yes, I did enjoy reading this publication. I am not a scientist, nor a mathematician, but a simple layman,
trained as an accountant (worst luck), and it is from this... Read more
Published 21 months ago by John R. Haneman
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