Relativity: A Very Short Introduction

Front Cover
OUP Oxford, Jul 24, 2008 - Mathematics - 128 pages
2 Reviews
100 years ago, Einstein's theory of relativity shattered the world of physics. Our comforting Newtonian ideas of space and time were replaced by bizarre and counterintuitive conclusions: if you move at high speed, time slows down, space squashes up and you get heavier; travel fast enough and you could weigh as much as a jumbo jet, be squashed thinner than a CD without feeling a thing - and live for ever. And that was just the Special Theory. With the General Theory came even stranger ideas of curved space-time, and changed our understanding of gravity and the cosmos. This authoritative and entertaining Very Short Introduction makes the theory of relativity accessible and understandable. Using very little mathematics, Russell Stannard explains the important concepts of relativity, from E=mc2 to black holes, and explores the theory's impact on science and on our understanding of the universe. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

What people are saying - Write a review

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

When "Time" magazine chose Albert Einstein as the person of the century for the 20th century it was due to his incredible intellectual achievements. Among those, two stand as particularly remarkable, becoming forever uniquely associated with their inventor, in minds of general public and professional scientists alike. These are the special and general theories of relativity. Their reputation is fully deserved. The two theories of relativity forever changed the way that we look at the space, time and matter. They touch upon our deepest understanding of physical reality and their core principles have stood the test of time, a remarkable achievement after a century full of usurpations of some of our most cherished notions.
The special and general relativity also have a reputation of being incredibly complex and hard to understand. In the case of special relativity this has primarily to do with the non-intuitive way that the world of four dimensions appears to us. In the case of general relativity, however, the complexity is substantially increased by the use of very advanced mathematical structures that it requires. And yet, all of the mathematical and conceptual implications of relativity stem from a few very simple ideas: the relativity of all reference frames, the constancy of the speed of light, and the equivalence of acceleration and gravitational field. It is a remarkable achievement of Russell Stannard's book to explain so much with just a very basic application of those principles. This makes it possible for a general reader to appreciate these beautiful theories without having to get bogged down in heavy mathematics. All examples in the book are intuitive and accessible. The illustrations are clear and serve to reinforce the main points in the text. One of the particularly remarkable features of this thin book is that it gives a full treatment of the "Twins Paradox" taking into the account the principles of general relativity - something that is usually brushed over in many other treatments.
The only problem with the book that I have concerns a few math examples that are used. The math notation is not quite clear, and even as simple a math symbol as a square root is printed in a very inadequate way. Also, there are a few glaring math mistakes (3/5 is not .67), but overall these are minor points that don't distract too much from the main content of the book.
I would strongly recommend this book as a good starting point for learning about relativity.


1 Special relativity
2 General relativity
Further reading

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2008)

Russell Stannard is Emeritus Professor of Physics at The Open University where for 21 years he headed the Physics Department. A high energy nuclear physicist, he has carried out research at CERN and Geneva, as well as other laboratories in the USA and Europe. Among his awards he has the OBE, he received the Bragg Medal from the Institute of Physics, and been made Fellow of University College London. A prolific writer for both adults and children, his books are translated into 20 languages and have been shortlisted for many scientific book prizes. He is perhaps best known for his Uncle Albert books which explain relativity and quantum mechanics for young people.

Bibliographic information