Recommended general relativity textbook

In summary, Sean Carrol's book is good, but it may be too advanced for you at this stage. Gravity by Hartle and A First Course in General Relativity by Schutz are both good, but Schutz puts all the mathematical background up front.
  • #1
jqmhelios
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Hi,
I am looking to study general relativity at my own steam (currently finishing 1st year physics at Warwick) during the summer. What textbook(s) would you recommend?
I've heard good things about A. Zee's 'Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell'- is that worth it, and would it be suitable for someone looking to self-study the subject? And what about 'Spacetime and Geometry' by Sean Carrol?
 
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  • #2
jqmhelios said:
currently finishing 1st year physics at Warwick
How are your special relativity and tensor analysis skills?
 
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  • #3
I would recommend the following
1. "Spacetime Physics. Introduction to Special Relativity" - Taylor, Wheeler
2. "Exploring Black Holes. Introduction to General Relativity" - Taylor, Wheeler
This may be enough for one summer for a first year student, but next would be
3. "Gravitation" - Misner, Thorne, Wheeler

If you are more mathematically inclined, then
1. "Relativity from A to B" - Geroch
2. Geroch's lecture notes on general relativity + his lecture notes on differential geometry
And for later
2. "General Relativity" - Wald (+ Hawking and Ellis)
 
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For a first encounter with GR, I'd recommend Landau and Lifshitz vol. 2. It's also excellent to cover special relativity and relativistic electrodynamics first, if you haven't done so to get familiar with "relativistic thinking" before tackling the more subtle general relativity.

In general, I'd not recommend books by Zee. At the first glance they are fun to read, but usually tend to be quite superficial aiming to explain too much in but nothing completely.
 
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  • #5
malawi_glenn said:
How are your special relativity and tensor analysis skills?
Special relativity is good. Although I haven't studied 4-vectors yet, I am very well versed in everything else. I have an exam on it in June, after all. Tensor analysis is more difficult, I haven't studied it yet, but have started looking at the topic in my own time, such as tensor contraction and calculus
 
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  • #6
jqmhelios said:
Special relativity is good. Although I haven't studied 4-vectors yet, I am very well versed in everything else. I have an exam on it in June, after all. Tensor analysis is more difficult, I haven't studied it yet, but have started looking at the topic in my own time, such as tensor contraction and calculus
I think Sean Carrol's book is very good, but it may be too advanced for you at this stage. GR is really a high-end undergraduate subject at least.

The most accessible treatment I think is Hartle's Gravity. You won't need the full mathemetical tensor formalism, as he minimises the level of mathematics required. And, you get a good few chapters on SR and an accessible introduction to GR.

Finally, you could check out Professor Scott Hughes lectures on GR on the MIT website. It begins with an excellent geometric treatment of SR, although again it is a graduate course.
 
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vanhees71 said:
For a first encounter with GR, I'd recommend Landau and Lifshitz vol. 2. It's also excellent to cover special relativity and relativistic electrodynamics first, if you haven't done so to get familiar with "relativistic thinking" before tackling the more subtle general relativity.

In general, I'd not recommend books by Zee. At the first glance they are fun to read, but usually tend to be quite superficial aiming to explain too much in but nothing completely.
His QFT book is sketchy, but his GR book is something different imo. If you want to develop good intuition for the subject (and not at the cost of superficiality) and like historical nores, I would highly recommend it to starters like TS.
 
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  • #9
In addition to the suggestions by @martinbn (which I would have made myself),
check out Tom Moore's A General Relativity Workbook https://pages.pomona.edu/~tmoore/grw/
and his Six Ideas That Shaped Physics http://www.physics.pomona.edu/sixideas/ unit R.

Another set of books worth looking at are the
Relativity made Relatively Easy volumes by Andrew Steane.
https://www.amazon.com/dp/0192856782/?tag=pfamazon01-20 (hardback editions)
[The paperback versions are probably cheaper.]

Possibly useful:
https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/physics/staff/academic/galexander/general_relativity_px436.pdf
https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/physics/staff/academic/galexander/
 
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  • #10
Here's a quote from Kevin Zhou:
"If you want to start heading towards general relativity, the two gentlest books are Gravity by Hartle and A First Course in General Relativity by Schutz. While both cover similar ground,Schutz puts all the mathematical background up front (including a great introduction to fourvectors and tensors), while Hartle starts with physical results, having you take some of the math on faith until it’s filled in later. Both are good, so just pick whichever style you prefer."
 
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  • #11
Zee's book has a lot of great stuff in it, but it's just too much for a first pass. I think Schutz is still the best intro. The 3rd edition came out last summer. Combine it with the MIT GR lectures on youtube. Cambridge also publishes a student's manual for the book.

If you just want to get a start on some of the mathematics, Needham's Visual Differential Geometry and Forms is very accessible, full of great insights, and a fun read.
 
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  • #12
haushofer said:
His QFT book is sketchy, but his GR book is something different imo. If you want to develop good intuition for the subject (and not at the cost of superficiality) and like historical nores, I would highly recommend it to starters like TS.
I like Zees qft in nutshell just because of its sketchyness.
 
  • #13
jqmhelios said:
Hi,
I am looking to study general relativity at my own steam (currently finishing 1st year physics at Warwick) during the summer. What textbook(s) would you recommend?
I've heard good things about A. Zee's 'Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell'- is that worth it, and would it be suitable for someone looking to self-study the subject? And what about 'Spacetime and Geometry' by Sean Carrol?
General Relativity Step by Step - Michael Cole, is a good first book.
The description:
Learn the mathematics of curved space-time. Understand Einstein's field equations and the principles of General Relativity in this step by step guide. Even if the reader's calculus is rusty and they need a refresher on linear algebra, this book provides the bite-sized lessons that explain each concept with no steps left out. This is not a layman's overview of General Relativity. Real understanding and learning are contained within. Neither is this an unapproachable graduate level text. Undergraduates, high school students and, even, enthusiastic amateurs can learn to solve basic problems in General Relativity. How much does light bend going around the Sun? Why is the acceleration on the surface of the Earth 9.8 meters per second every second? The reader will be able to use the principles of General Relativity to answer these questions for themselves.
 
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  • #14
colemi4117 said:
General Relativity Step by Step - Michael Cole, is a good first book.
The description:
Learn the mathematics of curved space-time. Understand Einstein's field equations and the principles of General Relativity in this step by step guide. Even if the reader's calculus is rusty and they need a refresher on linear algebra, this book provides the bite-sized lessons that explain each concept with no steps left out. This is not a layman's overview of General Relativity. Real understanding and learning are contained within. Neither is this an unapproachable graduate level text. Undergraduates, high school students and, even, enthusiastic amateurs can learn to solve basic problems in General Relativity. How much does light bend going around the Sun? Why is the acceleration on the surface of the Earth 9.8 meters per second every second? The reader will be able to use the principles of General Relativity to answer these questions for themselves.
Just in case I didn't make it clear - I am the author of this book.
 
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  • #15
I say read Dirac's book, it's ultra short, and it's written by one of the greatest physicists. It doesn't have a lot of stuff in it but that's the point. Most books on the subject have too much stuff. If you read this first you will see the basic structure of the theory, and then you can find exercises in other books to solve.

In my opinion the MTW book is the worst possible book to learn the subject for exactly this reason. It's massive. GR is not a massive theory. It has a small core and a lot of stuff you can explore on top of that. Dirac teaches you the core. Then you can use something like MTW to find interesting exercises to solve and topics to explore.
 
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  • #19
MTW and Schuz are both good - but in a very different way.
 
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  • #20
Vanadium 50 said:
MTW and Schuz are both good - but in a very different way.
When I started studying relativity, I would try to read MTW.
When I got stuck on something in MTW, I would read Schutz.

By the way, Schutz's advisor is Thorne, and Thorne's advisor is Wheeler.
https://www.mathgenealogy.org/id.php?id=63787
 
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