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Relativity Simply Explained (Dover Classics of Science & Mathematics) Paperback – March 6, 1997

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"By far the best layman's account of this difficult subject."—Christian Science Monitor.
Since the publication of Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity in 1905, the discovery of such astronomical phenomena as quasars, pulsars, and black holes—all intimately connected to relativity—has provoked a tremendous upsurge of interest in the subject.
This volume, a revised version of Martin Gardner's earlier Relativity for the Million, brings this fascinating topic up to date. Witty, perceptive, and easily accessible to the general reader, it is one of the clearest and most entertaining introductions to relativity ever written. Mr. Gardner offers lucid explanations of the special and general theories of relativity as well as the Michelson-Morley experiment, gravity and spacetime, Mach's principle, the twin paradox, models of the universe, and other topics. A new Postscript, examining the latest developments in the field, and specially written for this edition, is also included. The clarity of the text is especially enhanced by the brilliant graphics of Anthony Ravielli.

About the Author

Martin Gardner was a renowned author who published over 70 books on subjects from science and math to poetry and religion. He also had a lifelong passion for magic tricks and puzzles. Well known for his mathematical games column in Scientific American and his "Trick of the Month" in Physics Teacher magazine, Gardner attracted a loyal following with his intelligence, wit, and imagination.

Martin Gardner: A Remembrance
The worldwide mathematical community was saddened by the death of Martin Gardner on May 22, 2010. Martin was 95 years old when he died, and had written 70 or 80 books during his long lifetime as an author. Martin's first Dover books were published in 1956 and 1957: Mathematics, Magic and Mystery, one of the first popular books on the intellectual excitement of mathematics to reach a wide audience, and Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, certainly one of the first popular books to cast a devastatingly skeptical eye on the claims of pseudoscience and the many guises in which the modern world has given rise to it. Both of these pioneering books are still in print with Dover today along with more than a dozen other titles of Martin's books. They run the gamut from his elementary Codes, Ciphers and Secret Writing, which has been enjoyed by generations of younger readers since the 1980s, to the more demanding The New Ambidextrous Universe: Symmetry and Asymmetry from Mirror Reflections to Superstrings, which Dover published in its final revised form in 2005.

To those of us who have been associated with Dover for a long time, however, Martin was more than an author, albeit a remarkably popular and successful one. As a member of the small group of long-time advisors and consultants, which included NYU's Morris Kline in mathematics, Harvard's I. Bernard Cohen in the history of science, and MIT's J. P. Den Hartog in engineering, Martin's advice and editorial suggestions in the formative 1950s helped to define the Dover publishing program and give it the point of view which — despite many changes, new directions, and the consequences of evolution — continues to be operative today.

In the Author's Own Words:
"Politicians, real-estate agents, used-car salesmen, and advertising copy-writers are expected to stretch facts in self-serving directions, but scientists who falsify their results are regarded by their peers as committing an inexcusable crime. Yet the sad fact is that the history of science swarms with cases of outright fakery and instances of scientists who unconsciously distorted their work by seeing it through lenses of passionately held beliefs."

"A surprising proportion of mathematicians are accomplished musicians. Is it because music and mathematics share patterns that are beautiful?" — Martin Gardner


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Product Details

  • Series: Dover Classics of Science & Mathematics
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (March 6, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486293157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486293158
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #434,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a wonderful, nonmathematical introduction to special and general relativity. Gardner is a talented popularizer, and the two-color illustrations help make this an enjoyable book to read. My only misgiving is that the book is getting out of date on many topics. Ch. 1-6 are fine, but ch. 7, Tests of Relativity, is sorely in need of updating, and ch. 10-12, on cosmology, predate the recent revolution that has made cosmology a high-precision science and revealed that the universe is even stranger than we thought. I would like to see Gardner hand off this book to another writer who can produce a new, up to date edition.
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If you are looking for a comprehensive book to understand the nuances of Relativity theory, this isn't for you. However, if you are not mathematically inclined, or don't wish to dive into the math or physics just yet, this is a excellent choice.
This was the first book that I read on the subject of Einstein's theory. I found it entertaining and actually fun to read. I have not read any of Gardner's other books, but his writing style in this one makes for an easy read. It does not feel like you are reading much of a physics books at all.
Furthermore, the illustrations not only are well done, but they make it easier to understand the principles being explained.
If you are looking to know the basics of this theory, this is best book to own. Simple to read, good explanations, uncomplicated. If you are looking for more depth, than you will certainly move on to another book after this, but this is an excellent one to start with.
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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.
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Format: Paperback
This is the 1997 Dover edition of Martin Gardner's 1976 "The Relativity Explosion", which was itself an update of the original 1962 book, published under the title "Relativity for the Million". This present edition contains a short chapter that attempts to update the 1976 version to 1997. Given that 10 years have passed since 1997 and that many new measurements of the cosmos have been made, some of the cosmology is a bit dated. This is not, however, a severe handicap as most of the book deals with Einstein's work dating back more than 80 years.

Gardner has avoided almost all mathematics, thereby producing a book that quite philosophical. It is therefore an adjunct to a physics text that contains much more of the mathematics of relativity. Given that this book aims to simply explain relativity theory, the most relevant question is how well does it do this? The answer of course depends upon the reader's background. I think that this book will be a hard slog for a person with no physics background, but if one is willing to abandon some things that they might feel are intuitively obvious then they should get quite a bit from the book. A person with some physics background should get more from the book; especially as the book clearly shows how the basic assumptions of Newtonian physics differ from those of Einstein. The discussion of Minkowski's four dimensional space-time approach is also very illuminating. (Since there is no math in the book, this and non-Euclidian geometry are only generally discussed. The implications of dealing with a four dimensional description of a universe that we can only perceive in three dimensions helped to clarify some misconceptions that I had concerning the various analogies used to explain general relativity.
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