- Paperback: 184 pages
- Publisher: Basic Books (April 6, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0465023932
- ISBN-13: 978-0465023936
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 74 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,724,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – April 5, 2005
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I can understand how experiment can find the mass of an electron, for example. But how can a series of equations predict the mass?
This book provides just such insight without a lot of heavy mathematics. You should brush up on basics of motion and the calculus of derivatives to make the most of the book, but it's really not required.
Feynman has an almost unique ability to locate the genuinely fundamental aspects of physics, and by emphasizing these, concepts that others seem to make extraordinarily turgid, in Feynman's hands become remarkably clear. Yes, you need some mathematical ability to follow this, but not exceptional mathematics. As an example, in discussing curved space, where most authors simply present a barrage of equations, Feynman shows, using elementary geometry, how curved space works.
Nothing is perfect. The role of symmetry in physics is explained well, but the discussion on the chirality of alanine, while correct as far as it goes, seemed to me to be taking the previous discussion a little out of bounds, and the discussion of the phase of the wave function has to be qualified for multiple particles. Also, a footnote on how an electron could possibly outrun a photon left open the question, given the derivation of the Lorentz contraction, why is that not a function of refractive index? But those are quibbles. The book is brilliant, and, as a challenge, if an organic chemist can follow it, why can't you?
· Symmetry in Physical Laws
· Relativistic Energy and Momentum
· Curved Space
"Six Easy Pieces" was a bit unfocused because it covered a number of different topics. In contrast, "Six Not So Easy Pieces" is focused on just one topic, Relativity Theory. Feynman uses each topic to build up to Einstein's theory of gravitation, which is not the easiest subject to grasp.
Relativity theory is generally covered in one of two ways. Some books give a general treatment, focusing on the many implications of the theory, with no mathematics. At the other extreme are texts that require considerable knowledge of matrix algebra and differential equations. This book takes a middle ground. There is some math, but only some simple algebra and vector analysis. (The vector analysis does go beyond what is taught in high school, venturing into 4 dimensional vectors, but Feynman shows this to be only a modest extension from the typical 3 dimensional vectors.) Feynman dispenses with the usual introduction to relativity theory that employs moving trains and lightening strikes. Instead he starts with a superb analysis of the Michelson-Morley experiment (alone this is worth the price of the book) and the Lorenz transformation that was developed to explain the null result that Michelson-Morley obtained. He then uses this as the starting point for the analysis of special relativity. This is followed with a discussion of relativistic energy and momentum, subjects that are generally left out of "popular" treatments of relativity theory. The final chapter discusses curved space and Einstein's theory of gravity. These topics will be hard for people without some basic physics background, but are not too advanced for the intended audience of college undergraduates, although Feynman admitted that only the best students did as well as he had hoped.
As with all of Feynman's books there is a wealth of knowledge packed a small package (in this case a bit less than 150 pages) and while these six lectures are not a substitute for a complete course in the special and general theories of relativity, it does hit the highlights and as usual provides very valuable insights for readers with all levels of knowledge.
These six pieces books are great for people who aren't going to buy the larger editions though.