Learning about SR (for beginners)

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What, in your opinion, is the best book about special relativity?(For beginners)
 

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  • #2
Ibix
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Spacetime Physics, by Taylor and Wheeler. I have a paper copy, but as of a couple of months ago it's a free download from Taylor's website. Others here prefer Morin's Special Relativity for the Enthusiastic Beginner, the first chapter of which is free online for try-before-you-buy. @bcrowell, a former mentor here, also wrote an SR book which is free to download from www.lightandmatter.com/books - I haven't read that particular one, but his GR book was good.
 
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  • #3
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Spacetime Physics, by Taylor and Wheeler. I have a paper copy, but as of a couple of months ago it's a free download from Taylor's website. Others here prefer Morin's Special Relativity for the Enthusiastic Beginner, the first chapter of which is free online for try-before-you-buy. @bcrowell, a former mentor here, also wrote an SR book which is free to download from www.lightandmatter.com/books - I haven't read that particular one, but his GR book was good.
Thank you
 
  • #5
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No matter which of these you try (and they take interestingly different approaches, so it's worth trying several) we can help you over the inevitable hard spots if you ask specific questions about exactly where you're getting stuck.
 
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  • #6
Dale
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Spacetime Physics, by Taylor and Wheeler. I have a paper copy, but as of a couple of months ago it's a free download from Taylor's website.
I didn’t know that is free! Awesome, and it isn’t even my birthday!
 
  • #7
Ibix
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I didn’t know that is free! Awesome, and it isn’t even my birthday!
vanhees71 posted about it at Christmas , but looking at the archive.org page with the full copy I see it was actually uploaded in February 2019. So we're all slow off the mark...
 
  • #8
caz
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There is also Mermin “It’s About Time” and French “Special Relativity”
 
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  • #10
etotheipi
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You could try the first 50 or so pages of Landau vol 3 vol 2 for an introduction! That is my second favourite special relativity book (although granted, I have not read so many...).
 
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caz
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You could try the first 50 or so pages of Landau vol 3 for an introduction! That is my second favourite special relativity book (although granted, I have not read so many...).
Has anybody else noticed that if a thread goes on for long enough, somebody will inevitable recommend Landau regardless of the level of the OP? :-p

Let me do the required Feynman reference: V1 chps 15-17 V2 chps 25- 26
edit: this is not a real recommendation
 
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  • #12
etotheipi
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Has anybody else noticed that if a thread goes on for long enough, somebody will inevitable recommend Landau regardless of the level of the OP? :-p

What's wrong with Landau? They are the best physics textbooks ever!

In any case, I think the first 50 pages of that book are quite accessible to a beginner, save for the little section in chapter one titled '4-vectors' about tensor algebra.
 
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etotheipi
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Let me do the required Feynman reference: ... V2 chps 25- 26

I would not suggest the chapter 25, his relativistic notation here is not standard/modern usage, and is in places quite confusing. I think I posted a thread once asking about this!
 
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caz
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While agreeing that they are brilliant books, I would not recommend Feynman or Landau as one’s first exposure to anything.
 
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  • #15
etotheipi
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While agreeing that they are brilliant books, I would not recommend [...] Landau as one’s first exposure to anything.

Really? I must disagree, that is not true! I have used Landau vol 6 & 7 for first exposure to hydrodynamics and elasticity theory, and Landau vol 1 was where I started analytical mechanics.

[I wish my first exposure to SR was with Landau vol 3 vol 2, it would have saved a lot of confusion! 😅 ]
 
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caz
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Really? I must disagree, that is very incorrect! I have used Landau vol 6 & 7 for first exposure to hydrodynamics and elasticity theory, and Landau vol 1 was where I started analytical mechanics.

And I have also seen many times users of this forums refer students to the Feynman lectures, e.g. there was a recent thread in the QM forum where OP was referred to a lecture in Vol. 1 about energy.

Such a blanket statement is not justified!!

First exposure to special relativity comes as a lower level undergraduate or possibly a precocious high schooler. While a prodigy might be able to handle Landau, to recommend him to the bottom 99% is a mistake. Feynman makes a wonderful supplement, but it would make a very difficult primary text.

You have turned out all right using Mechanics and The Classical Theory of Fields as your freshman/sophomore texts, but I think most would not.
 
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  • #18
etotheipi
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Respectfully @caz, that is nonsense. Sorry. The first 50 pages of Landau are no more difficult than Rindler [which was also recommended!], and I think you will be pleasantly surprised by his clarity if you go and skim through them again.

Anyway, I was told to try and avoid arguing with other users, so I have no more to say. That is my suggestion, take it or leave it :wink:
 
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  • #19
caz
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Peace out.
 
  • #20
vela
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What, in your opinion, is the best book about special relativity?(For beginners)
Many intro physics texts can give you a good introduction to special relativity, but a book like Spacetime Physics appeals to many of us because it emphasizes the geometry of spacetime, which I think is really the fundamental discovery of SR about our universe.
 
  • #21
robphy
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It's been available on Taylor's website for much longer than that. @robphy linked to it back in 2013!

https://www.physicsforums.com/threa...n-f-taylor-and-john-archibald-wheeler.665422/
here’s one of mine from 2009...
https://www.physicsforums.com/threads/general-relativity-books.290554/post-2073198

note: the version I referred to and still prefer is the 1st edition “maroon version with worked solutions” . (Some maroon versions don't have the worked solutions.)
Only parts of that version have been available on Taylor’s site.

The second edition has some nice revisions... but no worked solutions... and worse... they dropped rapidity from the 2nd edition.
 
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  • #22
robphy
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What, in your opinion, is the best book about special relativity?(For beginners)
Define “beginner”.
Elementary school? high school? College? grad school?
Mathematical preparation? physics preparation?
Immediate goal? Long-term goal?

The answer really depends on these options.
 
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My Landau Volume 3 is titled "Nonrelativistic Quantum Mechanics" . Are you sure this is the one you are referring to. I do not remember it even addressing the Special Theory of Relativity
 
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  • #24
etotheipi
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My Landau Volume 3 is titled "Nonrelativistic Quantum Mechanics" . Are you sure this is the one you are referring to. I do not remember it even addressing the Special Theory of Relativity

Whoops! I misremembered the number. Yes, it should instead be volume 2.

Yeah, I think it's a fairly safe bet a book containing "nonrelativistic" in the title isn't going to be a great SR reference... 🤭
 
  • #25
robphy
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In my opinion, it is essential to have spacetime diagrams and use them throughout, emphasizing the geometry of spacetime... and encouraging the use of appropriate analogies with Euclidean space.

"A spacetime diagram is worth a thousand words"

(Maybe "spacetime diagram" is too scary...
just say "position-vs-time graph".)

Maybe introductory relativity problems are essentially hyperbolic-trigonometry problems involving a Minkowski-right-triangle, where a length or an "angle" (rapidity) must be found. One has to reformulate the word problem into a spacetime diagram.

Many books have good presentations of formulas and formalism, but not enough connection to the spacetime geometry.

Books that I like that emphasize the spacetime diagrams and "spacetime thinking"... in order of increasing difficulty...
  • Bondi, Relativity and Common Sense (especially the development of "operational definitions via the radar method" and the k-calculus [secretly the eigenbasis of the Lorentz boost]. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bondi_k-calculus https://www.physicsforums.com/insights/relativity-using-bondi-k-calculus/ )
  • Geroch, General Relativity from A to B (although it may seem verbose, it is unusually deep in terms of spacetime thinking)... I read it as a first-year undergrad (assigned as optional reading)... interesting but I didn't appreciate until I sat in on a more advanced course by Geroch (see reference later). Even in the advanced course, he made similar points at a more advanced level. He is a remarkably deep thinker.
    The emphasis on spacetime thinking, operational methods, causal structure, modeling spacetime structure.
  • (New, possibly interesting)
    Bais, Very Special Relativity.
    Tatsu Takeuchi, An Illustrated Guide to Relativity.
  • Taylor and Wheeler, Spacetime Physics 1st edition (Maroon) with worked problems. Uses rapidity and spacetime diagrams. Worked problems were very useful. Good use of geometrical analogies.
  • Ellis and Williams, Flat and Curved Space-times. Lots of spacetime diagrams.
  • William Burke's, Spacetime, Geometry, Cosmology, developed some intuition on various geometrical structures that would be seen in more advanced courses.
  • Tom Moore's, Traveler's Guide to Spacetime and Six Ideas that Shaped Physics (Unit R).
    This is part of an introductory physics sequence. (More recently, he wrote
    A General Relativity Workbook https://pages.pomona.edu/~tmoore/grw/ )
  • Andrew Steane, Relativity made Relatively Easy and The Wonderful World of Relativity (I like the first book and and am looking into this on occasion.)
  • Geroch, lecture notes ( drafts at http://home.uchicago.edu/~geroch/Course Notes , see also http://www.minkowskiinstitute.org/mip/books/ln.html ) and Mathematical Physics [has two chapters of interest for relativity: Minkowski Vector Space and Lorentz Group]. These may be a useful supplement to Wald's General Relativity. (Both Bob's are at Chicago.)

Other books of interest:
  • John L Synge, Relativity: The General Theory (1960) and Relativity: The Special Theory (1956)
    probably one of the first textbooks to really use spacetime diagrams.
  • Misner, Thorne, Wheeler. Gravitation. (The phone book)
  • Wald, General Relativity
 
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