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What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein's Ideas, and Why They Matter Hardcover – March 4, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0231167260 ISBN-10: 0231167261

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231167261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231167260
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Doubtful in 1919 that even three scientists fully understood Einstein’s theory of relativity, the astrophysicist Arthur Eddington would marvel at this book. For in its relatively few pages, Bennett explains relativity to ordinary readers. Applying two simple principles—the uniformity of natural law and the invariance of the speed of light—readers conduct thought experiments that fuse time and space into a single concept. Armed with this concept, readers see why time slows down for space-travelers streaking across the cosmos, their spaceship growing more massive but shorter. Similarly, as they plunge into a black hole, doomed but enlightened readers can at least congratulate themselves on comprehending how extreme gravitation creates inescapably lethal tidal forces. Still, a perplexing mystery remains. Why does the singularity at the center of a black hole look irreconcilably different when viewed through quantum physics than it does when viewed through relativity? Undaunted, Bennett views this conundrum as the stimulus for scientific progress that will resolve it. Indeed, in the very fact that one man could formulate a theory as powerful as relativity, Bennett sees reason to hope that the entire human species can ultimately conquer stubborn nonscientific problems—social, political, even metaphysical. An impressively accessible distillation of epoch-making science. --Bryce Christensen

Review

What Is Relativity? is a well-written and uniquely readable book that beautifully serves as an introduction to special and general relativity. Jeffrey Bennett carefully avoids bombastic statements and 'spectacularization' of the subject, sticking with well-established facts and presenting them in a clear and compelling manner.

(Alberto Nicolis, Columbia University)

Since it first appeared more than a decade ago, I have used Cosmic Perspectives by Jeffrey Bennett and his colleagues in no small part because of the excellence of its chapters on relativity. It is wonderful to now have a stand-alone volume in which his lucid, explanatory text and figures are coupled with a thoughtful commentary on why relativity is important in constructing our scientific and personal views of space and time.

(David J. Helfand, President, American Astronomical Society, and President and Vice Chancellor, Quest University Canada)

I have read lots of introductions to relativity, but none is as clear and compelling as this one. For anyone who is keen to grasp the fundamentally simple yet non-intuitive ideas of both special and general relativity, Jeffrey Bennett's book is the way to go. Impressively understandable and interesting.

(Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute)

...Bennett's fun book shows readers what relativity means, and what it reveals about our universe.

(Publishers Weekly)

For in its relatively few pages, Bennett explains relativity to ordinary readers... An impressively accessible distillation of epoch-making science.

(Booklist (starred review))

A sober, comprehensible account of what every intelligent layman should know about space and time.

(Kirkus Reviews)

... [P]erhaps the best homage that anyone can pay to [Einstein] for such a groundbreaking contribution to physics in particular and science in general.

(BrainDrain)

More About the Author

Jeffrey Bennett holds a B.A. in Biophysics from the University of California, San Diego, and an M.S. and Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of Colorado, Boulder. His extensive experience in research and education includes serving two years as a Visiting Senior Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC; creating research and education projects for the Hubble Space Telescope and other NASA missions; proposing and helping to develop the Voyage Scale Model Solar System on the National Mall in Washington, DC; and teaching at every level from preschool through graduate school. He is the author of best-selling college textbooks in astronomy, astrobiology, mathematics, and statistics, as well as author of three books for the general public (On the Cosmic Horizon, Beyond UFOs, and Math for Life) and of the award-winning children's books Max Goes to the Moon, Max Goes to Mars, Max Goes to Jupiter, and The Wizard Who Saved the World. For more information, visit www.jeffreybennett.com.

Customer Reviews

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The book also contains many explanatory illustrations.
Steve G
I highly recommend Dr. Bennett's wonderful and enlightening book, What is Relativity, for all readers who want to understand both this Universe of ours and themselves.
Anthony Kelly
The book would make a good piece of ancillary reading for a high school or college freshman physics course.
Upstate New York Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ursiform TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
For context, I am a physicist by training, and well versed in relativity theory. And I've been faced with the challenge of explaining relativity, and therefore know it's not as easy as it may sound.

Overall, I will say that Bennett has done a good job. He walks through many simple examples, slowly building up the story of what Einstein realized and codified from his student days through the final papers on the general theory. It's a cute but non-obtrusive choice to have many examples place the reader in a scenario with his or her friend "Al" as the second party.

While I don't know of a better choice for the beginning relativist, this book is not quite perfect. I think Bennett draws out some of his scenarios a bit long; most readers will either have gotten the idea or aren't going to. He opens with the idea of someone traveling to a distant star and aging slower, but defers the "twin paradox" this raises until much later in the book, when he is into the general theory and ready to explain it. (This is fine if you believe that your readers won't figure out that there is a "relativity" problem with the story and spend chapters wondering what is going on.)

My biggest issue with the book centers on a personal peeve, and maybe most people won't care about it. Bennett employs the rubber bedsheet model, and while he admits it has limitations, to me it misses the point of the general theory. The rubber bedsheet model invokes a mythical gravitational force at the bottom of the page that has nothing to do with relativity. The curvature of spacetime is intrinsic to spacetime, and I find this model to be a distraction.

This book also fails to highlight what I consider the most profound aspect of relativity.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Upstate New York Reader on March 6, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I generally enjoy science. In college I was a chemistry major and had a mathematics minor. A majority of my career focused on Computer Science in which I had a graduate degree and spent teaching in the college classroom. I enjoyed studying science.

My exposure to physics began with a year course during my senior year and then three semesters of physics in college. Sadly, my appreciation for science and my courses in physics left me with a dislike of physics.

I wish I could say Jeffrey Bennett’s book cured me of my dislike. It did not. However, it did leave me a better appreciation of Einstein’s theories and contributions to modern science. As he writes, the author includes a number of milestones where he says, “This is what we now know …” and he repeats the basic points covered to that point in the book. Though I occasionally felt overwhelmed as I read, at those points, I could hear myself thinking, “Okay, I know how he came to that point, and that one.” I was able, though it was still confusing, to follow the argument from point A to point D. I was learning something about relativity.

Though relativity has its roots in mathematics, What Is Relativity? does not require a great deal of mathematics. I did not say none, but it is not the foundation upon which the book is built. There are occasional sections which authors says are written for the mathematical astute and others should skip them - a very small portion of the book is of this nature.

The book would make a good piece of ancillary reading for a high school or college freshman physics course. There were still times I wish there has been an instructor nearby ready to answer questions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Steve G on February 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Let me start by saying that I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. No matter how great the writer or the book, Einstein's theory of relativity will never be easy to understand and trying to make it understandable is a huge challenge. But author Jeffrey Bennett turns this challenge into a highly entertaining book. Even though Bennett is a top-notch scientist, he writes with a very conversational tone and good humor. While some of the thought experiments were difficult to follow, the descriptions of the real experiments were easy to follow. The book also contains many explanatory illustrations. Overall the book was fun to read and was well worth the effort. And I understand Einstein's theories a little better than I did before. I recommend this book for anyone interested in science as it lends new perspectives to relativity.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Serious-g on May 9, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I wish I had read this book when I was in high school because I would then have understood the college physics course I took and who knows, might have taken more. Although this book avoids the mathematics necessary for a deep understanding of relativity, it does a great job of explaining the essential concepts of relativity in terms that an interested reader of reasonable intelligence can understand. It finally answered a question that came out of my unsatisfactory experience with college physics and had bothered me for more than 40 years. As it turned out, I knew WHAT the answer is but this book explained the much more important question of WHY it is true. I highly recommend this for children as young as junior high school age who have been exposed to simple algebra and are interested in space and physical sciences.
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