Riding the Curvatures ofSpacetime recommended book list

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. I am furtherdistinguishing two categories, the classical (common sense) andmodern (spacetime geometry) approaches. In the course, I amtaking the modern approach, but some people prefer the classicalapproach, as it is founded on learning Relativity by thinkinghard about common things. I think of the classical approach asharder, but some of my friends think that I just make commonthings harder than they have to be. In reality, of course, thetwo approaches are the same, just taking slightly differentstarting viewpoints.

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 Amazon.com

Modern Approaches

Special Relativity:

Relativity Visualizedby Lewis Carroll Epstein, Insight press, 1985 $23.95

A delightful book full of pictures. Theonly book that takes the spacetime view yet never loses view ofeveryday things. Although it borders on being a littleavant-garde (i.e. weird), it presents a nice balanced view andstays light. I highly recommend it. Easy to find.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spacetime Physics (2nd Ed.)by Edwin Taylor and John A. Wheeler, W.H. Freeman and Co., 1963$32.95

The technical introduction to themodern spacetime view of Special Relativity. It is anintroductory text for physics students, but the text is so clearand concise I feel that anyone would find reading it (andignoring the equations) worth the price. My inspiration for how Ilook at the subject. Recommended for those with either technicalbackgrounds or willingness to read a section ten times in orderto understand it. Easy to find in college bookstores.

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Discovering Relativity forYourself by Sam Lilley, Cambridge University Press, 1981(out of print)

A purely modern approach book that wasdeveloped from a non-technical college course taught by Lilleyfor 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 book thatapproaches Special Relativity by looking at the so called 'TwinsParadox'. 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.

General Relativity:

General Relativity From A to Bby Robert Geroch, University of Chicago Press, 1979 $12.95

A popular treatment written by a masterof the modern geometrical approach to relativity. Geroch does athorough job of describing the spacetime structure, especiallythe importance of the length element. I do not know anyone whohas actually read it and it looks like work to read, but I amsure it is worth the effort. Easy to find.

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Space, Time and Gravity byRobert Wald, University of Chicago Press, 1978 $13.95

Another popular book by a master in thefield, this gives a standard account of General Relativity andGravity with an orientation towards astrophysical applicationssuch as black holes. Readable and easy to find.

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Black Holes and Time Warpsby Kip S. Thorne, Notron, 1994 $15.95

A book on black holes by one of themasters of experimental relativity and relativistic astrophysics.

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Gravity's Fatal Attraction - BlackHoles in the Universe by Michael Begelman and MartinRees, Scientific American Library 1996 $19.95

General relativity and gravity with afocus on black holes. Lots of nice pictures.

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The Whole Shebang byTimothy Ferris, Simon & Schuster 1997 $14.00

General relativity and its applicationsto cosmology.

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Stephen Hawking's Universeby Joseph Boslough, William Morrow & Co., 1985 $5.99

A biography of Stephen Hawking, one ofthe leading researchers in General Relativity. This book surveysmany of the more exotic applications of relativity whileglamorizing Hawking. Readable and available.

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The First Three Minutes byStephen Weinberg, Basic Books 1977 in paperback. $14.50

A fine account of the standard theory ofthe early universe and cosmology by one of the top people inphysics. Very readable and highly recommended for those who wishto know current views of where everything came from.

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Superforce by Paul Davies,Simon and Schuster, 1984 (out of print)

A fine introduction to the other forcesof nature and grand unified theories by one of the fewresearchers who straddles all of them. Davies is one of myfavorite authors for both technical and non-technical books. Thisone is very readable and fairly available. It has recently comeout in paperback.

Was Einstein Right? PuttingGeneral Relativity to the Test by Clifford Will, BasicBooks, 1986 (out of print)

A popular account of the experimentaltests of General Relativity by one of the chief experimenters.Very personable and readable it gives a good feel for thedifficulty of testing relativity while teaching a lot of physics.New and fairly available.

For those who like to look at impressivetechnical books, There is no better introduction to relativitythan to read John Wheeler saying "There is nobetter..." in the classic book

Gravitation by CharlesMisner, Kip Thorne, and John Wheeler, Freeman and sons, 1972,about $65.95 for 1270 pages in paperback.

Affectionately known as 'the phonebook', this is the technical introduction to the moderngeometrical approach in relativity. It surveys the necessarymathematical background (from an advanced calculus startingpoint) and goes through just about every basic application ofrelativity theory. Though outdated in some places, it is full ofpictures and is a great show off coffee table book.

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Classical Approaches

Relativity: The Special andGeneral Theory by Albert Einstein, Crown 1952 7.00(common in used bookstores)

Hear it from the man himself! Still theclearest and most concise common sense introduction to thesubject. A little dry, it does require concentration but is wellworth the effort. Requires ability to work with high schoolalgebra. Highly recommended, and easy to find.

Clickhere to buy Relativity: The Special and General Theory fromAmazon.com for 20% off.

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.

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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.

Useful Web Sites

www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Cyberia/NumRel/NumRelHome.html An introduction to general relativity with anemphasis on computer-based simulation.

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