Customer Reviews: Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity
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on March 7, 2005
I had a course based on that book and I've read chapters 1-6 (out of 9 chapters total) plus all the appendices. Also, I've solved some of the problems.

The math chapters 2 and 3 will teach you tensor analysis on manifolds in much clearer way than other books. The book makes a clear distinction between assumptions, choices (like working with a metric compatible connection), or derived facts. It also makes a difference between a Christoffel connection and a generic connection. The appendices will give you a feeling for some new to you math on manifolds like pullbacks, Lie Derivatives, hypersurfaces etc.

Chapter 4 is worth reading too cause it makes clear that Einstein's equations are just the simplest guess out of many other possibilities. It shows how we generalize physical laws from special relativity to GR making it clear our choices are the simplest ones but not the only ones possible.

The chapters after that discuss applications of GR like black holes, gravitational radiation, cosmology etc. Of these, I've read only the black holes chapters 5 and 6 and I wasn't able to understand 100% what was goin on. The problem was that the book uses concepts that you still don't quite understand if you are a beginner like 'spacelike singularity' or 'conformal diagrams'. That is informative but the book doesn't provide the necessary level of detail and examples for beginners so you could really master such concepts and use them in your practice.

There are problems after each chapter but not the necessary beginners problems that increase your conceptual understanding of the theory. Instead, some are just tedious algebra of type 'find the curvature for some general form of the metric' for which specialists in the field use symbolic programs like Mathematica. Solving these by hand proves that you can take derivatives and you are a mazochist but not that you understand GR. Other problems are really relevant to your education but are not dirrectly connected to the discussion in the text. Because of that you have to solve them from scratch and it will take you ages ...

In retrospective, Carroll's book is a middle level GR, I sometimes use it as a starting reference for my research (GR applications to Cosmology). It is a book written to inform you and give you the general logical outline of GR together with the differential geometry. It is not constructed to train you to actually apply this stuff in practice - you end up "understanding" indices and geometrical constructs but when the time comes to apply them, you can't solve a simple physical problem. Being informed well does not equal understanding does not equal mastery.

The books that covers the conceptual beginner level and will actually teach you how to apply GR in simple physical situations are James Hartle's "Gravity: An Introduction to Einstein's General Relativity" and Bernard Schutz's "A first course in General Relativity". The Inverno text is with more diff. geometry like Carroll. Is is not as diverse in topics but is more focused and will teach you applications instead of just informing you.
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on December 14, 2005
My comments come with a few caveats.

1. This is my fourth GR book.

2. I'm not hardcore into physics. I'm not a physic grad and I'm reading GR for fun. I have a decent graduate math background but I've been corrupted with 10+ years in working in various roles software engineering, electronics engineering and marketing.

3. I assume that since you're considering buying this book, you're goal is to get at the "real" GR, not the watered down discover channel version.

With these caveats in mind, here are my comments.

First, on a scale of 1-5, I rank Carroll at level 3 in terms of math/physics maturity and thoroughness. Here is my full ranking of authors from my limited reading: 1. schutz 2. hartle 3. penrose 3. carroll 4. wald 5. physics journal articles

Second, using the rankings above, I recommend Carroll as the second port of entry. If you're comfortable with multivariable calculus, start with schutz (#1). You'll get warm fuzzies doing the toy exercises. But Schutz is tensor/math-lite. If you've had advanced calculus and geometry already, jump in with carroll (#3). But you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone else as polite to the reader. He won't prepare you for 80 percent of what's published. If you're ready to throw off the training wheels and jump dive into mainstream GR go with Wald (#4).

Note that Hartle (#2) is a good "tweener" book with feel-good exercises and some of the full-on GR equations at the end. I bet most instructors teaching a first year grad course would go with Hartle along with a dose of supplementary material.

Third, don't expect Carroll to be your last GR book purchase if you want to reach the promised land (see caveat #4). Living and breathing GR is found in physics journals and for that you'll need Wald or another advanced GR book.
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on February 17, 2004
This book has helped me long before it was ever published! It is based off of lecture notes that Carroll gave for a graduate level General Relativity course. These notes are still freely available at:
But you miss out on extras like better diagrams, more examples and exercises, so this is still a great buy!
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on March 17, 2004
I may be biased (as a student there), but the University of Chicago has the market for textbooks on GR cornered. Between Sean Carroll and Bob Wald, the student has everything he needs. I do have to reccomend reading this one first though, as the explanations are more physical (where Wald is more formal) and the style is more readable and easier to digest. In short it is probably the best book on the market from which to learn GR. Once you finish this book, add Wald's to your library for a more complete reference set (Wald's book is likely the best on the market once you already know GR).
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on October 24, 2004
In my graduate studies in physics, I had never taken a course in general relativity or differential geometry. Carroll's book is the right place to start. It is very clearly written and it has a wealth of diagrams to help when the discussion tends to get somewhat abstract. I found it enlightening, entertaining, at times deep and always worth the effort. The material on differential geometry and the appendices are examples of textbook writing at its best. If you have the proper background, go here before attempting Wald's General Relativity or any other more advanced treatise. Joseph R. Dell'Aquila, PhD
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on April 10, 2006
Kudos to Carroll.

This book is an excellent INTRODUCTION to SR and GR for the graduate physics student as well as the graduate mathematics students.

Pure mathematics often loses sight of the ideas which motivated it and physics often loses the mathematical foundations from which it is built.

This book offers some level of mathematical formalism to the physics student while exposing the ideas motivating the mathematical concepts.

I particularly like how he builds up the mathematical machinery of GR by introducing sets then topology on this set giving a topological space. Now he adds in the ideas of a manifold which make this topological space look like Rn locally with the patches sewn together smoothly. The manifold comes equipped with tangent space, cotangent spaces and their product spaces giving tensor spaces. These are defined nicely with reference to component formalism as well as the multilinear algebra approach as maps from products spaces to the reals, etc. He delves into forms and tantalized the reader with deRham cohomology although doesnt go into it. He shows how these can be differentiated ( exterior derivative ) and integrated.

Now the metric is introduced giving a geometry. To this is added a connection which is independent of the metric and leads to notions of parallel transport and differentiation of tensors ( covariant derivative ). One sees that in a special case one can derive a unique connection from the metric ( Levi-Cevita ) which is used in GR.

Fibre bundles, Lie derivatives, pullbacks etc are introduced as needed.

He then presents some introductory GR material by applying the mathematics.
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on December 11, 2006
This is an advanced text, but all the same it is not particularly rigorous or dense, so it is in principle accessible to the beginner. With an easy authority, Carroll leads us on a wandering journey through the mystical lands of general relativity. This is very different from, and compliments nicely, the clarity and directness of Wald. As a student of GR, I use Wald for the bottom line on any subject, and Carroll for the random physical or computational insights that I invariably find in any section of the book. Carroll's prose is like music to the ear and I always enjoy myself when I decide to open up this book.

Be warned that there are lots of mistakes in this first edition--you might want to wait for the second one.

Also, his chapter on cosmology is better than any I've seen.
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on October 20, 2006
I am currently on the 4th chapter of Carroll's "Spacetime and Geometry" and thus far I am amazed at how clear it is. Sure there is a lot of math in it however that also is very clearly explained. In fact, I think that Carroll explains the differential geometry material better than any mathematician has in any book on the subject. If you want to learn general relativity, there is no getting around the math; sooner or later you'll have to learn it. I'd suggest, especially if you are self-studying the subject, to rather pick up this book and go through it than pick up a more "elementary" text and a book on Riemannian geometry to look at later.

(Although I do also highly recommend Kay's (Schaum outline) "Tensor Calculus" for self study. The prima donnas don't like Kay's book because it "doesn't have enough theory." I suppose if a freshman calculus book does not have the Lebesgue integral defined in ti they'll complain about that too.)

Because, you can always skip through certain sections if the math is too heavy and go back through it later. And like I wrote earlier, you won't find a better introduction to the mathematical material than here.

Carroll should be given the Nobel prize for this book. If not in Physics, then in literature. I'd give this textbook 10 stars if I could.
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on June 4, 2012
I worked through most of this book (except two appendices and the last two chapters) as part of an independent study for school and I can honestly say that it is, bar none, the most well written textbook that I have ever read.

If you have a solid mathematics background (basically the first 5 chapters of Schutz' A First Course in General Relativity, the sections on tensors are a little too brief for seeing this stuff the first time) there is absolutely nothing better.

I do have one complaint, though. I really would have liked to see some more worked examples, especially in chapters 2 and 3. There is a lot of fairly advanced mathematical machinery being developed, and a simple example would have illuminated the discussion a lot more. In particular, the section on differential forms was hard to follow (I'm still not sure that I understand what a Hodge dual is, even after many readings!) There are a lot of indices being manipulated in these equations and it can be confusing sometimes trying to apply them without first seeing how it is done on an example.

I would suggest keeping a copy of Misner, Thorne and Wheeler around in order to get a geometric idea of what is going on (I found this particularly useful for the section on Maxwell's equations.)

Minor shortcomings aside, I have literally never learned so much from any other book. It's that well written!
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on January 20, 2013
For a long time there's been a need for an up to date graduate text on GR. The classics are Wald and MTW, but at the interface with experiment, those both predate LIGO, Gravity Probe B, modern studies of CMB anisotropy, and the discoveries of supermassive black holes and the nonzero cosmological constant. Carroll's book is a little less austere and scary than Wald, more concise than MTW. At this point it's the book that I would point a first-year grad student to. It's wonderful that the book is also available online for free at .
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