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Robert Geroch builds on Einstein's work with commentary that addresses the ideas at the heart of the theory, bringing a modern understanding of relativity to the text. He elucidates how special relativity is a reconciliation of the contradictions between the nature of light and the principle of relativity; he expands on Einstein's treatment of the geometry of space-time and the fundamental notion of an "event"; he explains in detail, but without technical language, the equivalence of inertial and gravitational mass, a cornerstone of general relativity.
Published: Penguin Group on
ISBN: 9781101117705
List price: $16.99
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I stand at the window of a railway carriage which is travelling uniformly, and drop a stone on the embankment, without throwing it. Then, disregarding the influence of the air resistance, I see the stone descend in a straight line. A pedestrian who observes the misdeed from the footpath notices that the stone falls to earth in a parabolic curve. I now ask: Do the "positions" traversed by the stone lie "in reality" on a straight line or on a parabola?

Moreover, what is meant here by motion "in space" ?more
The rating doesn't reflect the importance or quality of thinking of this book. It's relative... and subjective. It reflects rather how much I understood and enjoyed it, and at that is overated, although I gave it as high as I did because I'm glad I tried and might come back to it. In Einstein's preface to the 1916 book he said he wrote it for the general educated reader--college graduates--even though it would require "a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader." The front cover of my edition calls it "a clear explanation that anyone can understand." I am a college graduate (and beyond). I don't think I'm stupid. And the equations that are in the book (and the book is littered with them) don't even require college mathematics. We're not talking calculus here--just algebraic equations. So, did I understand the entire book given "patience" and "force of will." No. Maybe I didn't have enough of both. It's a very short book, only 157 pages--but by God, it's not an easy one. Did I understand most of it? No. Some of it. Well, yes. But I suspect my American education in universities in the 1990s isn't the equivalent of German college graduates in 1916. It's not the mathematics--it's the physics. In my American high school biology and chemistry was required. Physics wasn't even offered. To graduate college I had to take some science courses--but the requirement could be fulfilled by "soft" sciences such as biology and anthropology. I have a friend that protests that there's a difference between "verbal" and "mathematical" gifts and people like us shouldn't be forced to take those hard, meanie sciences. I'm not convinced that on the contrary we haven't been short changed. I'd love to know if someone who took at least one course on physics had a different experience with this book.So, did I learn anything by tackling this? I was able to squeeze out some knowledge after banging my head repeatedly on my desk reading (and rereading) such chapters as "The Principle of Relativity." Einstein does try to illustrate some of the ideas by using everyday examples such as a moving train on an embankment, pans on a stove and a man tethered to a chest. I learned:1) Special relativity deals with electromagnetic forces; General Relativity deals with gravity.2) Given the speed of light is a constant, the addition of velocities of moving objects according to classical mechanics fails because it would indicate that the speed of light would be diminished by the velocity of an object. (I think.)3) Space and time are not absolute in position but relative to the observer; they are not independent of each other but influenced by the distribution of matter (gravity).4) The theory of general relativity unites the principles of the conservation of mass and of energy.5) Since college my brain has turned to mush. Maybe I should try to get through a physics textbook? Probably not... (See above on lack of patience and force of will.)I got this book because Einstein's The Meaning of Relativity was on a list of 100 Significant books. I've since learned that what I bought (and am reviewing here) isn't the same book. Relativity was originally published in German in 1916. The Meaning of Relativity was based on a series of lectures given at Princeton University in 1921. I'm not sanguine I'd do any better with that book given a review quoted from Physics Today says it's "intended for one who has already gone through a standard text and digested the mechanics of tensor theory and the physical basis of relativity." Bottom line, unless you're willing to do some homework to ground yourself in physics you're better off reading more...well dumbed down books by the likes of Asimov, Sagan or Hawking. Incidentally I also recently read Darwin's Origin of Species. That book I found easy to comprehend. Oh well.more
Not what they'd call "popular" today, but it's written at exactly the level that if I squint and focus my brain real hard, I can follow the arguments despite not having done a real math or physics (intro astro or Fractals for Nonmajors don't count) class since high school.A few of the suspicions and conclusions are a wee bit corrected since the time (quantum happened, Unified Field Theory didn't so far), but this book is really good at giving you a deeper look at the _why_ of relativity, the parts that always get glossed over or oversimplified ("oh yeah, space is curved") for people who can't do the math on their own. His sentences on this stuff aren't luminously obvious, but he never pulls his punches either.more
I abandoned this to re-read Hawking after an uninspiring start. I think relativity is most interesting with a little more time and cosmology under out collective belt.more
No. Without a decent math and physics background, you will not understand this. It does help to grasp one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. This attempt fails to easily impart a good understanding of the theory, but it does give someone the sense of the enormity of the discovery itself.more
This book is subtitled "A clear exlanation that anyone can understand". Unfortunately, I found that to be untrue, although I must admit I have no science training at all. For me, though, this book made a nice companion piece to the biography on Einstein I'm reading, and the Einstein for Dummies book (which does provide a clear explanation that anyone can understand). It was nice to read Dr. Einstein's own words.more
Let’s face it. If you think you want to read this, then you may as well go ahead and dive in. The surprise…it is relatively easy to read. (Last time for that word, honest) I have slogged through a number of books trying to get a grasp of the concepts within Einstein’s theories. Every time I feel like I make some headway, but it feels like some of it is always out of my grasp. With the promise that Einstein himself was the best to explain it, I dove in. The good news is that he does try to take it down to our level. The bad news is he uses some math in doing so. Accordingly, at the end of it all, I have made more headway, but I still can’t get my head around gravity being just a bend in space. (Or maybe, that isn’t what it is, and that shows the ignorance I’ve still got to overcome.) Bottom line, you really can’t beat the primary source. Maybe if I read it one more time….more
Diminished my presumption of my own supreme intelligence. Completely inaccessible somewhere around chapter 9 but then again I probably wasn't his intended audience. I have zero scientific training. Loved how he used phrases such as "the observer will immediately notice..." or "the reader will obviously infer from the following...". I found very little either immediate or obvious.more
Read all 9 reviews

Reviews

I stand at the window of a railway carriage which is travelling uniformly, and drop a stone on the embankment, without throwing it. Then, disregarding the influence of the air resistance, I see the stone descend in a straight line. A pedestrian who observes the misdeed from the footpath notices that the stone falls to earth in a parabolic curve. I now ask: Do the "positions" traversed by the stone lie "in reality" on a straight line or on a parabola?

Moreover, what is meant here by motion "in space" ?more
The rating doesn't reflect the importance or quality of thinking of this book. It's relative... and subjective. It reflects rather how much I understood and enjoyed it, and at that is overated, although I gave it as high as I did because I'm glad I tried and might come back to it. In Einstein's preface to the 1916 book he said he wrote it for the general educated reader--college graduates--even though it would require "a fair amount of patience and force of will on the part of the reader." The front cover of my edition calls it "a clear explanation that anyone can understand." I am a college graduate (and beyond). I don't think I'm stupid. And the equations that are in the book (and the book is littered with them) don't even require college mathematics. We're not talking calculus here--just algebraic equations. So, did I understand the entire book given "patience" and "force of will." No. Maybe I didn't have enough of both. It's a very short book, only 157 pages--but by God, it's not an easy one. Did I understand most of it? No. Some of it. Well, yes. But I suspect my American education in universities in the 1990s isn't the equivalent of German college graduates in 1916. It's not the mathematics--it's the physics. In my American high school biology and chemistry was required. Physics wasn't even offered. To graduate college I had to take some science courses--but the requirement could be fulfilled by "soft" sciences such as biology and anthropology. I have a friend that protests that there's a difference between "verbal" and "mathematical" gifts and people like us shouldn't be forced to take those hard, meanie sciences. I'm not convinced that on the contrary we haven't been short changed. I'd love to know if someone who took at least one course on physics had a different experience with this book.So, did I learn anything by tackling this? I was able to squeeze out some knowledge after banging my head repeatedly on my desk reading (and rereading) such chapters as "The Principle of Relativity." Einstein does try to illustrate some of the ideas by using everyday examples such as a moving train on an embankment, pans on a stove and a man tethered to a chest. I learned:1) Special relativity deals with electromagnetic forces; General Relativity deals with gravity.2) Given the speed of light is a constant, the addition of velocities of moving objects according to classical mechanics fails because it would indicate that the speed of light would be diminished by the velocity of an object. (I think.)3) Space and time are not absolute in position but relative to the observer; they are not independent of each other but influenced by the distribution of matter (gravity).4) The theory of general relativity unites the principles of the conservation of mass and of energy.5) Since college my brain has turned to mush. Maybe I should try to get through a physics textbook? Probably not... (See above on lack of patience and force of will.)I got this book because Einstein's The Meaning of Relativity was on a list of 100 Significant books. I've since learned that what I bought (and am reviewing here) isn't the same book. Relativity was originally published in German in 1916. The Meaning of Relativity was based on a series of lectures given at Princeton University in 1921. I'm not sanguine I'd do any better with that book given a review quoted from Physics Today says it's "intended for one who has already gone through a standard text and digested the mechanics of tensor theory and the physical basis of relativity." Bottom line, unless you're willing to do some homework to ground yourself in physics you're better off reading more...well dumbed down books by the likes of Asimov, Sagan or Hawking. Incidentally I also recently read Darwin's Origin of Species. That book I found easy to comprehend. Oh well.more
Not what they'd call "popular" today, but it's written at exactly the level that if I squint and focus my brain real hard, I can follow the arguments despite not having done a real math or physics (intro astro or Fractals for Nonmajors don't count) class since high school.A few of the suspicions and conclusions are a wee bit corrected since the time (quantum happened, Unified Field Theory didn't so far), but this book is really good at giving you a deeper look at the _why_ of relativity, the parts that always get glossed over or oversimplified ("oh yeah, space is curved") for people who can't do the math on their own. His sentences on this stuff aren't luminously obvious, but he never pulls his punches either.more
I abandoned this to re-read Hawking after an uninspiring start. I think relativity is most interesting with a little more time and cosmology under out collective belt.more
No. Without a decent math and physics background, you will not understand this. It does help to grasp one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century. This attempt fails to easily impart a good understanding of the theory, but it does give someone the sense of the enormity of the discovery itself.more
This book is subtitled "A clear exlanation that anyone can understand". Unfortunately, I found that to be untrue, although I must admit I have no science training at all. For me, though, this book made a nice companion piece to the biography on Einstein I'm reading, and the Einstein for Dummies book (which does provide a clear explanation that anyone can understand). It was nice to read Dr. Einstein's own words.more
Let’s face it. If you think you want to read this, then you may as well go ahead and dive in. The surprise…it is relatively easy to read. (Last time for that word, honest) I have slogged through a number of books trying to get a grasp of the concepts within Einstein’s theories. Every time I feel like I make some headway, but it feels like some of it is always out of my grasp. With the promise that Einstein himself was the best to explain it, I dove in. The good news is that he does try to take it down to our level. The bad news is he uses some math in doing so. Accordingly, at the end of it all, I have made more headway, but I still can’t get my head around gravity being just a bend in space. (Or maybe, that isn’t what it is, and that shows the ignorance I’ve still got to overcome.) Bottom line, you really can’t beat the primary source. Maybe if I read it one more time….more
Diminished my presumption of my own supreme intelligence. Completely inaccessible somewhere around chapter 9 but then again I probably wasn't his intended audience. I have zero scientific training. Loved how he used phrases such as "the observer will immediately notice..." or "the reader will obviously infer from the following...". I found very little either immediate or obvious.more
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