by Steve Bryson (in associationwith Amazon.com)
In the last several years there has beenquite a deluge of books on relativity, both the Special andGeneral theory, aimed at all levels of readership. For this booklist, I am only listing those books that can be read (perhapswith work) by anyone in the class, and that approach it from areasonably standard physical standpoint. Within specialrelativity, I am further distinguishing two categories, theclassical (common sense) and modern (spacetime geometry)approaches. In the course, I am taking the modern approach, butsome people prefer the classical approach, as it is founded onlearning Relativity by thinking hard about common things. I thinkof the classical approach as harder, but some of my friends thinkthat I just make common things harder than they have to be. Inreality, of course, the two approaches are the same, just takingslightly different starting viewpoints.
I only mention books that I haverecently held in my hands. Those that are omitted are notnecessarily unrecommended, they simply weren't at Cody'sbookstore the day that I was there. Those books that I knowthoroughly are in bold type, and those in plain type Ionly looked at in the bookstore (Cody's in Berkeley).
Good bookstores to try:
SF: Clean Well Lighted Place for Books,opera plaza
Border's (of course!)
Stacy's on market
East Bay: Cody's in Berkeley
ASUC bookstore on UC Berkeley campus
South Bay: Stacy's in Palo Alto
Of course there's always
Relativity Visualizedby Lewis Carroll Epstein, Insight press, 1985 $23.95
A delightful book full ofpictures. The only book that takes the spacetime view yet neverloses view of everyday things. Although it borders on being alittle avant-garde (i.e. weird), it presents a nice balanced viewand stays light. I highly recommend it. Easy to find.
Inside Relativity by Delo E. Mook andThomas Vargish, Princeton University Press, 1987 $17.95 paperback
A very nice looking introduction via spacetime diagrams.Includes a derivation of the Lorentz transformation.
Understanding Relativity - A Simplified Approach toEinstein's Theories by Leo Sartori, University ofCalifornia Press, 1996, $22.50 paper
A slightly technical introduction, requiring no more thanalgebra. Very complete with a nice discussion of the paradoxes.
A Traveler's Guide to Spacetimeby Thomas A. Moore, McGraw-Hill, 1995 $26.90
A book written solidly from thespacetime viewpoint, using (as far as I could tell from examingit in the book store) nothing more than high school algebra.Recommended if you want to take a somewhat simple mathematicalapproach to relativity.
Spacetime Physics (2nd Ed.)by Edwin Taylor and John A. Wheeler, W.H. Freeman and Co., 1963$32.95
Thetechnical introduction to the modern spacetime view of SpecialRelativity. It is an introductory text for physics students, butthe text is so clear and concise I feel that anyone would findreading it (and ignoring the equations) worth the price. Myinspiration for how I look at the subject. Recommended for thosewith either technical backgrounds or willingness to read asection ten times in order to understand it. Easy to find incollege bookstores.
Discovering Relativity forYourself by Sam Lilley, Cambridge UniversityPress, 1981 (out of print)
A purely modern approach bookthat was developed from a non-technical college course taught byLilley for many years. It seems to be 415 pages of hard and heavyreading (I have not read it), but it is clearly a very thoroughtreatment. If you are willing to work very hard on a book, thisis the perfect introduction to the spacetime approach to specialrelativity, no matter what your background. Lilley does not,however, make the subject fun. Somewhat easy to find.
Time and the Space Travelerby L. Marder, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971 (out ofprint)
A slightly non-standard bookthat approaches Special Relativity by looking at the so called'Twins Paradox'. Marder presents all the various versions of thisparadox and shows how they are all misunderstandings of thetheory. Done with a light tone, one learns a lot of relativity bylooking at other peoples' mistakes. I like it as it spends timeon where your understanding might go wrong. It gets rathertechnical sometimes, but the text sections are clear and somewhatindependent of the mathematics. Recommended for those who havesome technical background. Hard to find.
Relativity: The Special andGeneral Theory by Albert Einstein, Crown1952 7.00 (common in used bookstores)
Hear it from the man himself!Still the clearest and most concise common sense introduction tothe subject. A little dry, it does require concentration but iswell worth the effort. Requires ability to work with high schoolalgebra. Highly recommended, and easy to find.
Relativity Simply Explained(formally The Relativity Explosion and Relativity for theMillions) by Martin Gardner, Dover 1997 $11.95
An old classic that never attracted me,though I know many people who read it and got a lot out of it.Repackaged as a new-age book (all the way down to the meditativewoman's profile on the cover), this is squarely in the old-viewcommon sense tradition. I do, however, recommend this as I likeGardner's writing in general, and the book has a solidreputation. Easy to find, look in used bookstores for the oldversion.
The Universe and Dr. Einsteinby Lincoln Barnett (out of print)
Another classic, I read this book when Iwas a freshman in high school (it was the start of my interest inthe subject), but I do not remember it well enough to put in boldprint. I do remember that I got a lot out of it so I highlyrecommend it. Fairly easy to find used.
The ABC of Relativity byBertrand Russell, (out of print)
Still another classic, I read this justafter the Barnett book. I remember that it was not as much fun asthe Barnett book but gave a somewhat deeper understanding of thetheory. Again, highly recommended. Easy to find.
I view the above three books as more orless equivalent with their order indicating how accessible I feelthey are.
Again, this does not pretend to be anexhaustive list. There are many good books not listed here.
A Book to stay away from:
The Meaning of Relativity byAlbert Einstein. Though found in many a bookstore in the popularscience section, This is a highly technical book! It is aseries of lectures that Einstein gave to Professors atPrinceton's Institute for Advanced Study. Why I see it so oftenin popular science sections I do not know.
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