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Relativity: The General and Special Theory by Albert Einstein

  1. Mar 11, 2012 #1
    Dear Professors and learned readers,

    The book Relativity: The General and Special Theory by Albert Einstein is, in my opinion worthy of discussion in this forum.

    My particular questions concerning this book are:

    1. Why do you think it not used in high schools since the author recommends this on the cover?

    2. What opinions do you have about the usefulness of this book for learning Relativity?

    http://www.sandroid.org/GutenMark/wasftp.GutenMark/MarkedTexts/EinsteinRelativity.pdf

    Respectfully
    Rob
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2012
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  3. Mar 11, 2012 #2

    Bill_K

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    With all due respect to Albert Einstein, the book is 100 years old and things are by now much better understood. The book is primarily of historical interest.
     
  4. Mar 11, 2012 #3
    I agree largely with Bill_K that things are better, but I have to say that I, too, found Einstein's writing surprisingly clear. Evidence that the better you understand something the better you are at explaining it. Another great teacher was Sir Arthur Eddington - his book Space, Time and Gravitation is a fantastic example of clarity.

    But I'd still recommend some of the newer texts. People who have written them have the advantage of the experiences of earlier authors. If they're good at their job, books should be getting clearer as time goes on.
     
  5. Mar 11, 2012 #4

    bcrowell

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    It's not a bad exposition in some ways, but, yes, it is extremely out of date. It's nice because it covers both SR and GR in a decent amount of mathematical detail, but in a way that's accessible to readers who only know algebra and no higher math. I don't know of another treatment that does that.

    For people who haven't had calculus and freshman physics, I recommend reading the following two books, in order:

    Gardner, Relativity Simply Explained

    Takeuchi, An Illustrated Guide to Relativity

    The Gardner book is fun and provides good connections with experiments and observations. However, it doesn't really provide any rigorous logical framework for the subject as Takeuchi does, and parts of it are out of date. The problem with Takeuchi is a total lack of connection to experiment.

    A book that is slightly more difficult than Takeuchi but otherwise has about the same pros and cons is Mermin's It's About Time: Understanding Einstein's Relativity.

    For someone who's had calculus and freshman physics, the best intro is Taylor and Wheeler, Spacetime Physics.
     
  6. Mar 12, 2012 #5
    Thank you Sir for your insightful comments, particularly when you mentioned about the book that:

    " It's nice because it covers both SR and GR in a decent amount of mathematical detail, but in a way that's accessible to readers who only know algebra and no higher math. I don't know of another treatment that does that."

    This comment illustrates my motivation for starting this thread. If the author believes that the theory is accessible to such readers and provides us with:

    "... an exact insight into the theory of Relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics."

    Then why, as my first question asks, is it not used in high schools since the author recommends this on the cover and so therefore believes that both SR and GR can be covered with a decent amount of mathematical detail to those readers who only know algebra.

    The second part of your comment:
    " I don't know of another treatment that does that."
    Provides evidence that the complete theory of Relativity (both Special and General) is not being taught as the author would intend it to be presented.

    Respectfully,
    Rob
     
  7. Mar 12, 2012 #6
    You can also read it here:
    http://www.bartleby.com/173/

    1. For high school it is perhaps a bit too much, except for bright students with spare time. And I guess that many school teachers prefer newer books. There may also be an issue with how books for high school are selected (I remember having read a critical commentary about that, but I forgot the details).

    2. It's not enough, but could be very helpful in addition to the usual textbook.
     
  8. Mar 14, 2012 #7
    I think you're right, it would be good to introduce relativity at a intuitive plane for those young. There are a lot of surprising concepts coming from it, as magnetism being able to be treated as a 'illusionary force'.

    "Relativistic physics: Consider the two particles flying along. If you’re moving with them, then they’re sitting still from you’re point of view, and they just fly apart (stationary charges don’t generate a magnetic field). But (classically) if the charges are moving past you they generate a magnetic field, and that keeps them from flying apart quite as fast.

    However, if you write down how much time dilation the charges will experience from moving past you, the slowness of their separation is explained away. The “magnetic field” is just an illusion created by the slowing of time." What is a magnetic field?

    And Einstein wrote a pretty good book in my eyes :) If you have a link for Eddington Goodison? I would be well pleased to read that one too. Physics is about relating equations and experiments, leading to new equations leading to new experiments leading to.. but finally to the 'reality' we see around us, in an as descriptive way as possible as I think of it. And if you learn the right way to think of it intuitively at a early age?

    I kind of like that idea, but it assumes that the teachers understand the material naturally.
     
  9. Mar 15, 2012 #8
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