Skip to main content

The Reality Frame - Brian Clegg *****

I’ve read quite a few of Brian Clegg’s books, but this one’s outstanding. Relativity is a topic that many writers struggle to get across - Clegg does this brilliantly thanks to two tactics I’ve never seen before. First, he makes use of that most fundamental requirement for relativity, the frame of reference. It’s not just the title of the book that suggests frames of reference - this concept forms the backbone of his exploration of relativity. But then he goes totally mad and builds a universe from scratch!

This audacious approach enables us to see, piece by piece, that relativity is about far more than Einstein’s work - fascinating though that is. It’s not that he ignores special and general relativity. There’s even an appendix where he shows how it only takes a maths GCSE to follow the mathematics that make time dilation happen. (I'd like to see more of this kind of thing in popular science books.) But he goes far beyond Einstein's work. For example, in the final chapters he introduces life and creativity to his universe and shows the essential roles that relativity and frames of reference have to play in those cases. 

In bringing in creativity, Clegg gives the book a human focus, and this then builds to a chance to reassess humanity’s place in the universe. The book mentions Bronowski's classic The Ascent of Man, which is a brave parallel to draw, but there are some real parallels in a very different kind of book. I thought I knew the basics of relativity - yet despite never becoming over-technical, The Reality Frame really opened my eyes to a different way of looking at the universe. Clegg quotes my favourite physicist, Richard Feynman on the laws of nature - this is a chance to see those laws in a new light.


Hardback:  

Paperback:  

Kindle 
Review by Peet Morris
Please note, this title is written by the editor of the Popular Science website. Our review is still an honest opinion – and we could hardly omit the book – but do want to make the connection clear.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Statistics - David Spiegelhalter *****

Statistics have a huge impact on us - we are bombarded with them in the news, they are essential to medical trials, fundamental science, some court cases and far more. Yet statistics is also a subject than many struggle to deal with (especially when the coupled subject of probability rears its head). Most of us just aren't equipped to understand what we're being told, or to question it when the statistics are dodgy. What David Spiegelhalter does here is provide a very thorough introductory grounding in statistics without making use of mathematical formulae*. And it's remarkable.

What will probably surprise some who have some training in statistics, particularly if (like mine) it's on the old side, is that probability doesn't come into the book until page 205. Spiegelhalter argues that as probability is the hardest aspect for us to get an intuitive feel for, this makes a lot of sense - and I think he's right. That doesn't mean that he doesn't cover all …

Six Impossible Things - John Gribbin *****

On first handling John Gribbin's book, it's impossible not to think of Carlo Rovelli's Seven Brief Lessons in Physics - both are very slim, elegant hardbacks with a numbered set of items within - yet Six Impossible Things is a far, far better book than its predecessor. Where Seven Brief Lessons uses purple prose and vagueness in what feels like a scientific taster menu, Gribbin gives us a feast of precision and clarity, with a phenomenal amount of information for such a compact space. It's a TARDIS of popular science books, and I loved it.

Like rather a lot of titles lately (notably Philip Ball's excellent Beyond Weird), what Gribbin is taking on is not the detail of quantum physics itself - although he does manage to get across its essence in two 'fits' (named after the sections of Hunting of the Snark - Gribbin includes Lewis Carroll's epic poem in his recommended reading, though it's such a shame that the superb version annotated by Martin Gardi…

Elizabeth Bear - Four Way Interview

Elizabeth Bear won the John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has since published 15 novels and numerous short stories. She writes in both the SF and fantasy genres and has won critical acclaim in both. She has won the Hugo Award more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. Her latest title is Ancestral Night.

Why science fiction?

I've been a science fiction fan my entire life, and I feel like SF is the ideal framework for stories about humanity and how we can be better at it. Not just cautionary tales - though there's certainly also value in cautionary tales - but stories with some hope built in that we might, in fact, mature as a species and take some responsibility for things like reflexive bigotry and hate crimes (as I'm writing this, the heartbreaking news about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshipers in Christchurch is everywhere) and global climate destabilization. These are not intractable problems, but we need, as a species, the will to see that we …