Monday, 3 November 2008

Relativity: A Very Short Introduction – Russell Stannard ***

This little book does very much what it says on the tin – gives a clear, concise introduction to both special and general relativity. So why only three stars? I don’t think it quite makes it as a popular science book. It’s a tad too technical. There are too many equations, and too many parts where the general reader will probably get stuck.
This is particularly obvious when Russell Stannard is using Minkowski diagrams, those plots of spacetime where time is the vertical axis and space the horizontal axis. These are particularly difficult to use without losing the reader (it’s one of the biggest faults of A Brief History of Time) and combining insufficient explanation with rather poor graphics, these really don’t do anything for the book.
It’s by no means a (relativistic) train wreck, though. For an A-level physics student or someone just starting a first year degree course, it’s ideal as a quick introduction or refresher. It combines quite thoughtful content – it emphasizes that the equivalence principle isn’t strictly true, for example, something that many books on relativity don’t – with a light and readable style. But I’m afraid it will leave many readers without any physics background struggling after a few pages.
Review by Brian Clegg

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