Customer Reviews: Spacetime Physics
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on February 4, 2002
I used this book to begin my mathematical study of Relativity (and am now working my way through the author's next book, Exploring Black Holes). This book is an excellent introduction into the field from a mathematical perspective, with an excellent presentation, interesting problem sets, and solutions for the odd numbered problems in the back (which is great for learning on your own). The prose is highly readable, and uses very accessible terminology to help the reader understand "what is really going on."
In its course, Taylor and Wheeler present over a dozen "paradoxes" relating to Special Relativity. Several of these appear in the main text, while the remainder appear as problems. I believe my intuition is lacking because I was unable to get the right answer for the paradox problems without working through the math first - although this intuition may come only with further experience. I would have been happy if the authors had included a few more paradox problems with solutions from an "intuition" perspective (as well as a mathematical solutions) to help gain this intuition.
The mathematics throughout the book is nothing harder than algebra and the occasional trigonometry, so it should well be accessible to anyone with a high-school calculus understanding of math. One mathematical trick the authors introduce in their next book would be helpful for this one as well: when solving for a number which is only slightly less than one, (as in several of the problems with particles moving near light speed) instead of trying to solve for .9999999999992343, which would be rounded to 1 by most calculators, solve for "1 - X" instead.
Scattered copiously throughout the book are solved sample problems which guide the reader through the easier problems, as well as "boxes" which discuss interesting ramifications and related material. The more involved problems often include step by step instructions on how to reach a solution which would otherwise be by no means obvious at first glance (at least, not to me). Many problems deal with actual experiments performed to test and validate relativity.
In sum, I cannot find any substantial problems with this book. It is clear, concise, battle-tested (having been originally published over thirty years ago), and an excellent formal introduction into the pardoxical world of Special Relativity. One author maintains a web site at [...] with, among other material, an interesting article on the writing of this book and his collaboration with John Wheeler.
The interested reader can find a history of the development of Special and General Relativity in Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps.
PS: Professor Taylor confirms that the answer to sample problem 8-17b in the seventh printing (which I have) is off by a factor of 1000.
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on April 2, 2000
If you want to understand the basic concepts of the Theory of Relativity, this book is the BEST ONE to start with. Even if you have already studied the topic and you THINK you understand it, I STILL RECOMMEND that you read Spacetime Physics. Chances are that your knowledge will be much better organized or at least you will find it more easy to explain it to others.
The authors' approach clearly shows that they have extensive experience in teaching and they know which concepts usually cause most difficulty for students. These hard-to-grasp points are explained through creative analogies and parables. The most relevant experiments are explained clearly. The authors manage to achieve clarity without compromising accuracy.
Keep in mind, however, that while Spacetime Physics is a great place to start, it only covers the basics, so you will need other books for a decent knowledge on the topic. It will definitely not be enough to survive a serious course on the Theory of Relativity.
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on July 18, 1998
This is, by far, the best book on special relativity. I've lectured from its first edition, and will continue with the second. It is the only book I know which gives you a global picture of special relativity, both theory and methods for solving problems. What I liked most of it is the intense use of the very powerful graphical methods it develops right at the beginning. In this way you solve with two strokes of chalk a problem which would involve lots of algebra, and get a much better understanding of the whole thing. The concepts are introduced in a very careful, if elementary, way, through a deep analysis of simple experiments. The discovery of the correct relativistic form of the momentum, for instance, is particularly enlightening. It is a joy to see how much and how good physics can be done with almost no mathematics. The exercises are also splendid.
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on February 1, 2001
Reading some of the reviews below, I'm reminded of a cartoon showing Moses parting the Red Sea. One Israelite is grumbling to another, "It's a bit damp in there, isn't it ...."

I know the folksy style of this book can be off-putting to some. But if anyone thinks that the content is dumbed down, it can only mean they haven't scratched below the surface and discovered the extraordinary wealth of examples, insightful applications and programmed exercises. Taylor and Wheeler (John Wheeler, one of the outstanding theoreticians of our time) are attempting to acculturate students (ouch) to the counter-intuitive world of special relativity, set in the context of general relativity. That takes more than a collection of formulas given in a handout at the start of the semester. You don't need heavy math, but you do need much thoughtful pedagogy. They succeed brilliantly and, contrary to some opinions, do so without glossing over anything of importance. The only aspect of basic relativity not touched on is the covariant formulation of the electromagnetic field equations (I defy anyone to do that without a couple of years' calculus). In short, the book is far from trivial. It is accessible to any numerate high-school graduate able and willing to think. I can't imagine how it could have been done better.
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on January 19, 2002
This is a fun book to read, and a good introduction to the topic of special relativity. Those who are looking for a laid back, amusing introduction would love this book. Those posters who are giving it 1-2 stars, I have one question - why did you buy the book? Looking at all the negative posts, they have one thing in common, they were all made by people with some exposure to the topic of special relativity (ie, university physics students). Why one earth would someone studying relativity in university purchase a basic book like this? There are text books written on a more advanced level for people like this - and they should know this. If I'm an advanced expert user of Excel, why would I buy "Excel for Dummies" and complain that it was too basic? (unless I was hoping to impress people with how smart I am).
The title says it all "Introduction to Special Relativity", yes its big, its dumb at times, but its also fun and definitely worth getting
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on June 16, 2006
The aim of this book is to explain to one the essential of the theory of special relativity: The GEOMETRY of spacetime! Keyword: GEOMETRY. Those who give this book one or two stars because they think this book is too wordy or does not retain enough rigor simply do not see the simplicity and elegance in the authors' presentation.

Yes. You don't see complicated equations in this book because the ideas are, as I said, geometric. The authors even tell the reader not to pay too much attention to things like the Lorentz transformation because it conceals the intuitive geometric ideas. Everything in speical relativity can be done without appealing to any local coordinate frames because spacetime IS geometry, the quantities we are interested in are inheritedly covariant. This is all built into the theory of relavity.

And the paradoxes that arise when one first studies the subject can all be expalined by the relativity of simultaneity, which is again because space or time alone is not covariant but spacetime as a whole.

This book gives a concrete meaning to spacetime. Things like 4-vectors are not just something the physicists cook up to make their equations look better on paper; They have their very own existence.

As for the nontechnical language used in the book, I would have to say that any bright high school students can learn from this book.
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on February 14, 2000
As a student in the same physics class of those people who placed 1-star reviews, I feel obliged to defend this book a little bit. Yes, it is sometimes not the most rigorous book on this planet. Yes, it does sometimes get a bit wordy. For all these weaknesses however, I still found it to be a very good introduction to relativity. Unlike many books which go the other way around, this book begins with the idea of an invariant spacetime interval and goes from there into deriving the Lorentz equations. It also does an excellent job of explaining many of the paradoxes which seem to undermine relativity and how these problems have been handled. These paradoxes formed the basis for many homework questions, some of which I found to be as helpful for learning relativity as the chapters themselves. If you are looking for a strong thoretical introduction to special relativity, this may not be the book for you. If you're a non-major who is just interested in the subject, I would recommend it, just with the reservations I mentioned above on the rigor.
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on December 8, 1999
I have only the first edition, however, the fundamental concepts of invariance of the (space-time) interval and the curvature of spacetime defining gravitation are presented in an intuitive way (other comments notwithstanding). This book, followed by Gravitation and Gravitation and Inertia all co-authored by John Archibald Wheeler (Princeton Univ), constitute a classic trilogy in gravitation, relativity, physics, and methods of thinking. If you think this book is a baby book, pick up one of the other two. If you think it's too hard you need to do some elemental studying. If you think this book fails to make these concepts intuitive, you haven't understood it. It is not intended for those who don't like to reason nor for those who dislike math. Between this book and the other two should lie several courses in calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, differential forms, and possibly a lower level differential geometry course. As Feynman would say, "this is how the world works".
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on September 20, 1996
I read the first edition of this book some time ago. I thought the first edition was excellent in that it had many interesting examples and problems at the end of each chapter. The second edition went further! The book has as many updated examples, and problems as the original.
The second edition also has many interesting interjected Q and As, which are probably the summary of real Q and As that took place in the university classrooms. The Q and As will be valuable for teachers using the book as the textbook, but will be also useful reminder to the seasoned physicists or students who are refreshing the knowledge, of the some of the pitfalls novice students may face. I have found some of the Q and As very interesting since I have never thought about some of the seemingly paradoxical issues raised by the interjected questions before.
The book tries to do away with calculus as much as possible. I think this reflects the sad stateof math education at the high school level in North America.Given the limit of the assumed math adeptness of the target readers, this book achieved a lot.
I have tried to solve the problems at the end of the chapters during my commute time on the train.Since I could solve most of them over the course of a few weeks in my commute time, the problems are not too difficult for novice students. Yet they give good insights and the handle to utilize thebasic formulas available in the theory of relativity.
I found only one(!) typo in this book. There could be more, but this is an exceptional accomplishmentfor the type of physics book.
I can't find any easier book that I can recommend to the novice physics students who want to learn the basic of the theory of relativity and how to utilize the basic ideas in analyzing relativistic phenomena: especially to students who are studying calculus in parallel. Once they master calculus, theycan move onto other books with introduction to the general theory of relativity.But even then, they will find that this book is unique in the large number of problems andmany "paradoxes" raised and answered. One of the paradoxes is, if I recall correctly, repeatedin a April Fool's day edition of Martin Gardner's columnin Scientific American back in the 1970's. I was an undergraduate student of physics then, andrecall discussing the apparent paradox with the fellow students.
By the way, I picked up the Japanese translation of the first edition of the book some years ago and found it very interesting and this is why I bought the second edition and how the book has incorporated the knowledge gained since the first edition appeared about 20 years (?) ago. The book has nicely accommodated the newer knowledge. The only other introductory book I can recommendis Tatsuo Uchiyama's Special Theory of Relativity (in Japanese) and that book uses calculus more thanthe book reviewed here. So again, to the really novice student without caluclus background,the book is the only choice I can give.
The reason I didn't give the best score 10 is that I found the top-down approach ofgiving the established laws first and give examples and working exercies later a little counter-intuitive.But I think most of the readers are already familiar with historical stuff by reading otherbooks such as Gamov's, and are now at a stage to learn eagerly the working of knowledge of the theory of relativity. So this is a minor quibble on mine, I guess.
Highly recommended
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on April 10, 2013
I have an engineering background that does not include Relativity and I have always wanted to get a solid basic understanding of the ideas. After trying a number of books, I chanced upon this one in a 2nd hand book store for $1. For me it's just excellent! Unfortunately I lost that copy and so here I am on Amazon shopping for a replacement.

For the layman there are two kinds of expositions of Relativity: The "Gee Whizz/No Math" approach which gives you the highlights and some of the ramifications and a more serious approach which works carefully through the geometry and brings you to the point where you can use the ideas on your own. I am not putting anyone down, just saying that before you start on this effort decide how much you want to know and how much you are willing to do to achieve that understanding.

There is no way to get a solid understanding of this subject without some serious effort and some math. If you are not comfortable working the math, this book is simply not for you. Furthermore, you should probably have a basic familiarity with elementary Physics, at least such concepts as energy and momentum. That being said, the author manages to explain the material with no more than high school geometry and algebra - at least, I have not yet encountered any calculus nor even any difficult algebra. The core ideas simply require familiarity with Pythagorous Theorem for the Right Triangle and some manipulations of that relationship to explore the consequences. If you can do that, and are willing to work, this is an excellent choice.

What appealed to me immediately was the fact that the author starts by deriving the Space Time Invariant simply and easily from first principles without invoking the Lorenz Transformation which appear messy and confusing to the beginner until he has familiarized himself with the concepts. This simple yet profound relationship/equation is a core concept that can be used to understand everything else about Special Relativity including the Lorenz Transformations. After grasping this concept SR seems straightforward and intuitive!


The authors explanations are a bit wordy and took some rereading until I got used to the style. The graphics are a bit hokey. Better artwork would have helped. However if you are willing to be patient and get used to it, you will be rewarded with a very coherent understanding to the point where you will be able to apply the ideas on your own with accuracy and confidence.

Physics students might find this book too lightweight for their needs although I suspect that at the right point in their studies, they might benefit from this clear introduction to basic ideas as a supplement to a more weighty text.

It is easy enough for someone who knows the subject to give a simplified explanation. But too often such expositions are not well thought out, do not give real insight into the fundamental ideas and may even be careless, leaving the student with some confusion or misunderstandings of which he is unaware but will lead him astry when he trys to apply what he has learned. The value of simple, uncluttered explanation from someone who was a leading figure in the field and understands the material deeply cannot be underestimated.
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