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:  
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 Dialogues - Clifford Johnson ***

The authors of science books are always trying to find new ways to get the message across to their audiences. In Dialogues, Clifford Johnson combines a very modern technique - the graphic novel or comic strip - with an approach that goes back to Ancient Greece - using a dialogue to add life to what might seem a dry message.

We have seen the comic strip approach trying to put across quite detailed science before in Mysteries of the Quantum Universe. As with that book, Dialogues manages to cover a fair amount of actual physics, but I still feel that the medium just wastes vast acres of page to say very little at all. This is brought home here because quite a lot of the sections of Dialogues start with several pages with no text on at all, just setting up the scenario.

As for using a discussion between two people to put a message across, Johnson makes the point that, for instance, Galileo's very readable masterpiece Two New Sciences is in the form of a dialogue (more accurately a discu…

Liam Drew - Four Way Interview

Liam Drew is a writer and former neurobiologist. he has a PhD in sensory biology from University College, London and spent 12 years researching schizophrenia, pain and the birth of new neurons in the adult mammalian brain. His writing has appeared in Nature, New Scientist, Slate and the Guardian. He lives in Kent with his wife and two daughters. His new book is I, Mammal.

Why science?

As hackneyed as it is to say, I think I owe my fascination with science to a great teacher – in my case, Ian West, my A-level biology teacher.  Before sixth form, I had a real passion for the elegance and logic of maths, from which a basic competence at science at school arose.  But I feel like I mainly enjoyed school science in the way a schoolkid enjoys being good at stuff, rather than it being a passion.

Ian was a revelation to me.  He was a stern and divisive character, but I loved the way he taught.  He began every lesson by providing us with a series of observations and fact, then, gradually, between …

A Galaxy of Her Own - Libby Jackson ****

This is an interesting book, even if it probably tries to be too many things to too many people. I wondered from the cover design whether it was a children's book, but the publisher's website (and the back of the book) resolutely refuse to categorise it as such. The back copy doesn't help by saying that it will 'inspire trailblazers and pioneers of all ages.' As I belong to the set 'all ages' I thought I'd give it a go.

Inside are featured the 'stories of fifty inspirational women who have been fundamental to the story of humans in space.' So, in some ways, A Galaxy of Her Own presents the other side of the coin to Angela Saini's excellent Inferior. But, inevitably, given the format, it can hardly provide the same level of discourse.

Despite that 'all ages' comment and the lack of children's book labelling we get a bit of a hint when we get to a bookplate page in the form of a Galaxy Pioneers security pass (with the rather worrying…