Skip to main content

Einstein and Relativity – Paul Strathearn ***

This is part of author Paul Strathern’s ‘Big Idea’ series, with each book in the series aiming to provide a condensed, readable introduction to a particular scientist’s life and work. The format is the same each time, so we also have, for instance, ‘Darwin and Evolution’, ‘Curie and radioactivity’ and ‘Newton and Gravity’.
This offering on Einstein really is very short – at under 90 pages, it can be read in about 90 minutes. Still, Strathern manages to get in a good overview of the major episodes of Einstein’s life, encompassing his political activities and his ultimately unsuccessful work towards the end of his career on unification, and we get some insights into Einstein as a person.
Clearly, given the length of the book, you will need to go elsewhere to get a full account of relativity. But, again, the book does well to fit in what it does into such a small amount of space. We get brief but useful explanations of the special and general theories, Einstein’s thinking whilst coming up with each, and the context within which the breakthroughs were made. And via discussions of the Michelson-Morley experiment, the differences between Galilean relativity and Einstein’s relativity, and the action at a distance problem in Newton’s theory of gravitation, the truly revolutionary nature of Einstein’s theories comes through.
The book is easy to read throughout and would be particularly good for those new to popular science, and as something to look at before going on to, say, Walter Isaacson’s detailed Einstein: his life and universe. All in all, this is a useful summary of the man and his ideas, which definitely has a place in the popular science genre.

Paperback:  
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Matt Chorley

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lucy Jane Santos - Four Way Interview

Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium. Her debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020.

Why science?

I have always been fascinated by the idea of science especially our daily interactions with and understandings of science – especially in a beauty context. I could spend hours pondering the labels of things on my bathroom shelf. What is 4-t-butylcyclohexanol (as a random example)? Do I really understand what I am putting on my face and spending my money on? Would it change my purchase habits if I did?  

Why this book?

This book came from an accidental discovery – that there was a product called Tho Radia which contained radium and thorium. I found out about it because I actually bought a pot of it – along with a big batch of other produc…

Rewilding: Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe ****

Those who are enthusiastic about saving the environment often have a mixed relationship with science. They might for example, support organic farming or oppose nuclear power, despite organics having no nutritional benefit and requiring far more land to be used to raise the same amount of crops, while nuclear is a green energy source that should be seen as an essential support to renewables. This same confusion can extend to the concept of rewilding, which is one reason that the subtitle of this book uses the word 'radical'.

As Paul Jepson and Cain Blythe make clear, though, radical change is what is required if we are to encourage ecological recovery. To begin with, we need to provide environments for nature that take in the big picture - thinking not just of individual nature reserves but, for example, of corridors that link areas allowing safe species migration. And we also need to move away from an arbitrary approach to restricting to 'native' species, as sometimes…

Is Einstein Still Right? - Clifford Will and Nicolas Yunes ***

If there's one thing that gets a touch tedious in science reporting it's the news headlines that some new observation or experiment 'proves Einstein right' - as if we're still not sure about relativity. At first glance that's what this book does too, but in reality Clifford Will and Nicolas Yunes are celebrating the effectiveness of the general theory of relativity, while being conscious that there may still be situations where, for whatever reason, the general theory is not sufficient.

It's a genuinely interesting book - what Will and Yunes do is take experiments that are probably familiar to the regular popular science reader already and expand on the simplified view of them we are usually given. So, for example, one of the first things they mention is the tower experiments to show the effect of gravitational red shift. I was aware of these experiments, but what we get here goes beyond the basics of the conceptual experiment to deal with the realities of d…