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General Relativity Guidance

  1. Feb 4, 2014 #1

    Can anyone help guide me in order to stabilize my General Relativity background. Little do I know about GR, I know the very simple basics! I feel that I need to start from the first beginning. ANy recommendations? How to start learning this on my own? Do I need to watch videos or read textbooks or even lecture notes?

    Thank you!
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 5, 2014 #2
    First of all, why did you choose this very specific area of physics to learn more about? Is it interesting to you, are you starting to tackle a research project on it, or what?
  4. Feb 5, 2014 #3


    Staff: Mentor

    I taught myself GR and feel I can comment after doing it on my own from Wald and MTW.

    I would NOT do it that way if I had my time again.

    Start out easy, then progress to something a little harder, and so on is my suggestion

    To start with I suggest Relativity Demystified:

    Then Zee:

    Then at an intermediate level Carrol:

    Then finally Wald:

    Strangely, even though I learnt from it I don't suggest MTW:

    Get it as a reference but I find Wald much better mathematically, which IMHO you want as your final stop.

  5. Feb 5, 2014 #4


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    Wald is my all time favorite GR book. That being said, you won't learn much physics from it so let me list the books I like best apart from Wald:

    (1) https://www.amazon.com/A-First-Course-General-Relativity/dp/0521887054 is what I first used but in retrospect, the following would be a much better first choice: https://www.amazon.com/Gravity-Introduction-Einsteins-General-Relativity/dp/0805386629

    Also see here: https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=730724

    (2) https://www.amazon.com/Gravitation-Spacetime-Second-Edition-Ohanian/dp/0393965015

    (3) https://www.amazon.com/Gravitation-Physics-Series-Charles-Misner/dp/0716703440 (easily the most useful GR textbook in existence and as such it's better used as a reference rather than a pedagogical tool)

    (4) https://www.amazon.com/General-Relativity-Graduate-Texts-Physics/dp/9400754094 (much better than Wald mathematically and obviously much better for physics since Wald basically touches on little to no physics)

    (5) https://www.amazon.com/Relativity-Geometry-Dover-Books-Physics/dp/0486690466 (if you really want to understand the foundations of GR I would recommend you get this-it's really cheap anyways)

    I never understood why Carroll became such a popular text. It's basically Wald lite which isn't really a good thing. There are a myriad of better GR books out there.
  6. Feb 6, 2014 #5
    Having taken a course based on Carroll and studied some Weinberg and a little bit of Wald +Straumann, I have to say this is the the nº 1 first introduction to GR. Cheap, designed for self-study, and loaded with practical problems, should be 100% intelligible to you if you have a reasonable understanding of multivariable calculus and linear algebra. Pretty much all of the nomenclature is laid out clearly, after that you can probably tear through Dirac in a weekend. The problems don't feel largely pointless like they do in Wald.

    People seem to swear by Hartle and Carroll for first intros. Can't speak for Hartle, but Carroll IMO is terribly overrated even as an intermediate book.

    The chapters on relativistic covariance and kinematics in Ribicky & Lightman are great especially the problems, which show very practical applications of SR and some GR, so do peruse and study this if you have access to it in your library.
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2014
  7. Feb 6, 2014 #6
    Thank you very much for all of this. I will take all of your 1st options into consideration. I guess this will be a good start and then I will move on to higher levels.
  8. Feb 6, 2014 #7
    But I have a question to WannabeNewton, why is that I won't be learning much physics from Wald's? What would I learn instead?
  9. Feb 6, 2014 #8


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    Well he doesn't discuss any physics so you won't be learning any if it isn't there :wink:

    Mostly the mathematical foundations of GR. The physics is more interesting, trust me :)
  10. Feb 6, 2014 #9
    Oh ok, great thanks.
  11. Feb 6, 2014 #10


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    Just do as many problems as you humanly can from Hartle, MTW, and Ohanian and you'll be in great shape...and feel free to ask for help on the problems!
  12. Feb 6, 2014 #11


    Staff: Mentor

    Hmmmmm. Yes and no. But I did a degree in math, so the math struck a chord.

    I agree Carroll is Wald lite which is why I think its a great warm up to Wald.

    Actually Wald and MTW were not my first, Ohanian was and most definitely I highly recommend it, but after the rest. Its approach is quite different and would break the flow of the highly geometrical approach of Carroll and Wald - but that difference IMHO needs to be better known ie the field theory basis of GR, rather than geometry.

    Depends on bent I think. Wald simply grabbed me as - this is it - but my background is math.

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