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Learning relativity

  1. Mar 9, 2004 #1
    Hi, I am an undergraduate engineering student and I was briefly introduced to relativity a couple years ago in a physics class. Since then, I was facinated with the subject. I want to try to learn relativity on my own time because my school don't offer any courses on it. I was wondering if you guys have any suggestion on where to start. Should I start by learning the math first, like tensors, differential geometry, and field theory? Or should I read books on relativity for beginners? Is there a good book that will introduce both? I want to understand this subject down to its last detail. Thanks for any inputs

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  3. Mar 9, 2004 #2


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    If you have a rather good knowledge of SR you can try "A short course in General relativity" by J. Foster, J.D. Nightingale.
    It starts with an introduction of tensors and then goes on with the spacetime and paths of particles, the field equations of GR, the Schwarzschild solution, black holes, gravitational radiation and finally cosmology. There is also a brief repetition chapter about SR.
    Although the book contains a lot of math, you don´t need to know so much to be able to read it. Most of it is explained in the text.
  4. Mar 11, 2004 #3


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    "Relativity: Special, General, and Cosmological" by Wolfgang Rindler is so far my favorite introductory text. It is quite recent, and it gives good intuitive conclusions at the end of the sections. I think you will need to be rather comfortable with calculus, and probably a little differenetial equations, though, to really get the meat of this book.

    I advise that you get a good appreciation (not necessarily a good knowledge, but that wouldn't hurt) for field theory, or you may be swayed later on down the road by the anti-relativists.
  5. Mar 12, 2004 #4
    nabby1 said that he was only briefly introduced to relativity. That may be insufficient to start in on GR using this text. One needs at least the edcuation in SR that one would obtain in a modern physics class. In fact the authors of that text state in the Preface
    Rindler is nice as is "Special Relativity," A.P. French and "Spacetime Physics - 2nd Ed." Taylor and Wheeler. But Taylor and Wheeler don't get into SR to the extent one ususally desires. It's a nice supplement to something like French.
  6. Mar 12, 2004 #5
    There is a lot of stuff on the Internet, but perhaps you are interested in books only. If the Internet is acceptable, you can try Google and see what comes up.

    However, I have been visiting Ned Wright's site for some time now and can recommend it. Even if you are not interested in Internet self-study, he does recommend books for beginners. Just scroll through his site and you'll find many recommendations.

    Relativity tutorial
  7. Mar 12, 2004 #6
    I find that Moore's "A Traveller's Guide to Spacetime" is a decent, more 'modern' intro book to SR. French is somewhat "old school", I feel.
  8. Mar 12, 2004 #7


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    Well "briefly" is relative, that´s why I pointed out it would be good to have a "rather" good knowledge of SR before using "A short course in General relativity" by J. Foster, J.D. Nightingale.
    By "rather" I ment that you should be familiar with things like simultaneous events, time dilation, length contraction, but don´t have to know so much about four-vectors before using it.
    At least that was my situation when I started reading it, and it gave me a lot...
    It can be good to point out that the text may not be easy to understand at first, but gives a rather solid description of GR.
  9. Mar 13, 2004 #8
    I just recently came to the same conclusion, nabby1. I purchased two books recently:

    "The Special Theory of Relativity" by David Bohm
    "A short course in General relativity" by J. Foster, J.D. Nightingale

    I have the intention of becomming familiar with SR through the first book, then tackling the second book with fervor once I feel confident enough. My plans may change obviously, but can anyone else offer a yea or nay to this idea? Sure appreciate it.

    Thanks, oh and I just found this group tonight. I'm a Purdue grad (class of '01) with a degree in Liberal Arts, a minor in Computer Science, and a humungous love for this topic! I finally decided I want to stop reading about relativity in pop science books and get down to the nuts and bolts. I've had math education through multivariate calculus...I'm very intimidated but hope my interest can fule the necessary fire for learning more advanced math as necessary.
  10. Mar 13, 2004 #9
    Multivariate calculus, eh? Tensor calculus won't be too tough, then.
  11. Mar 14, 2004 #10
    You should supplement those with online notes. See Thorne and Blanchard's new text which is online and free at


    They are an excellant online resource.
  12. Mar 14, 2004 #11
    Thank you for the encouraging words, outandbeyond2004. I've printed off the 52 page Chapter 1 notes and will begin with them right now. The SR book hasn't come in the mail yet (the GR one did last night)...I'm very thankful for the reading material, pmb_phy. Now I don't have to jump right into the GR book.

    Because I was going to out of sheer excitement
  13. Mar 15, 2004 #12
    These resources are AWESOME...thank you so much.
  14. Mar 16, 2004 #13


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    The Taylor and Wheeler book is very good. Rindler has a few very interesting sections but otherwise is not very good. Instead I recommend Misner Thorne an Wheeler's "Gravitation". I think its not so advanced as people make it out to be. It is just a "big" book because they do a good job of written explanations for a lot of things.
  15. Mar 16, 2004 #14
    Gravitation by Misner Thorne Wheeler itself does recommend some prior exposure to SR, such as knowing what the 4-momentum vector is. Fortunately, the online course resources recommended by pmb_phy looks very good.
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