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Very Special Relativity: An Illustrated Guide

4 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674026117
ISBN-10: 067402611X
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Editorial Reviews


Einstein’s theory of special relativity charmed some physicists immediately, and the general public soon after. More than a century later, guides to the topic are still in demand. This attractive little book mirrors Einstein’s theory in simplicity and design. Like a user manual for nonexperts seeking to understand the counterintuitive predictions of relativity, every page of concise text is paired with a space-time diagram. Bais, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, chose a geometric approach intentionally, as it was the theories of relativity that drove physics back into the arena of geometry in the early 20th century. Visual learners will appreciate the pictorial language and lack of algebraic equations. (Science News 2008-02-02)

A valiant attempt to visually depict the counterintuitive truths in Einstein's 1905 theory. Bais' vocabulary is friendly (to a point), and his spacetime grids, with their red, yellow and blue arrows, are certainly tantalizing. Staring at these grids long enough may well provide a flash of insight.
--Sara Lippincott (Los Angeles Times 2007-09-30)

None of us will ever have the opportunity to travel at the speed of light. We will therefore never directly experience the malleability of a world governed by Einstein's special theory of relativity. But spending time with this elegantly designed little book is a great way to try. With its fantastic visual aids and concise explanations, we get a glimpse of what it's like to live in a world of flexible time and pliable objects. (Seed 2007-11-01)

When space shrivels and time slows, the world according to Einstein's special theory of relativity can be a confusing place. Luckily, Sander Bais's new book is here to help...Pages of diagrams accompanied by concise explanations illuminate all the oddities of relativity, from the twin paradox to E=mc2. For visual learners looking for a substantial, no-frills tour of Einstein's universe, this little book is a trusty guide. (New Scientist 2007-11-10)

The elegant illustrations help Bais lead the reader from Einstein's postulates through the ideas of simultaneity, inertial frames, time dilation and relativistic energy and momentum, eschewing the usual admonitions against equations. The author's clever idea of pairing every page of text with a space-time diagram (a graphical tool actually used by relativists) to illustrate the concepts and mathematics suits the geometrical basis of its subject perfectly...It is rare for science books to rate as objects in their own right, but Very Special Relativity is a lovely little object. You could easily imagine a web-based version of it, with a bit of animation to serve its pedagogical needs. Still, there is some quality about the hard covers and high resolution that even my 26-inch screen wouldn't be able to capture. No longer is there an excuse for physics textbooks to be expensive, boring, thick or stuffed with equations in order to qualify as good teaching material.
--Andrew Jaffe (Nature 2007-11-01)

This is an absolutely delightful little book...A work that is pleasing to the eye and to the mind.
--A. Spero (Choice 2008-05-01)

About the Author

Sander Bais is a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067402611X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674026117
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,750,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In "Very Special Relativity," physicist Sander Bais uses basic spacetime geometry to provide a beginner's explanation of Einstein's theory. Topics include relativistic length contraction and time dilation, the twin paradox, Lorentz transformation, and a brief introduction to E=mc2. Spacetime diagrams are Euclidian, not Minkowski, with the time coordinate set to w=ct. This has the advantage of highlighting the Lorentz symmetry between space and time. On the negative side, it's not easy for beginners to understand the need for oblique coordinate axes and rescaling on the moving frame.

No matter what approach is used, the theory of special relativity will probably always seem a little complicated when learning it for the first time (after all, it took an Einstein to figure it out!) The best an author can do is not make it any more complicated than necessary, and I give Bais pretty good marks for this. There is a certain amount of hand-waving and "proof by picture" in it, but after all this is a book for general readers and not a textbook. The book is too short, and more explanation and examples would certainly have been helpful. All in all though, a diligent reader can indeed learn something about relativity from it.
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Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that should not be read to learn a subject, but rather to get to know it better. Bais executes some constructions in the Lorentzian geometry of Special Relativity to confirm or illuminate various notions and seeming paradoxes that spring from Einstein's theory, and they are very nice demonstrations indeed. As another reviewer has noted, however, a reader coming to this book unschooled in Special Relativity is likely to be taken aback by features of the new geometry and perhaps think them arbitrary. If you have some basic acquaintance with the theory, however, this is a charming little book that will enhance understanding.
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Format: Hardcover
Special relativity is sometimes counterintuitive.
This is because we are not used to take simultaneity into account in "normal life" physics.
This is the only single source of these nasty paradoxes of special relativity.
Going back to the basic principle is of course the best solution.
A small drawing makes it even easier.
All these small diagrams do bring us back to these basic principles.
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