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Relativity: The Special and General Theory (1916)

by Albert Einstein

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,398332,601 (3.95)38
Time's 'Man of the Century', Albert Einstein is the unquestioned founder of modern physics. His theory of relativity is the most important scientific idea of the modern era. In this short book Einstein explains, using the minimum of mathematical terms, the basic ideas and principles of the theory which has shaped the world we live in today. Unsurpassed by any subsequent books on relativity, this remains the most popular and useful exposition of Einstein's immense contribution to human knowledge.… (more)
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» See also 38 mentions

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Einstein, with all his insights and all his flaws, was alas a good writer. ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 9, 2023 |
It's remarkable to read about physics in Einstein's own words. He has a wonderful way of communicating his insights in simple terms, building up from first principles toward complex ideas. There is still much about this theory that I fail to grasp, but I got more from reading his prose than from most other sources I've found on the subject. I encourage anyone curious about relativity to engage with this primary text. ( )
  awesame | Apr 26, 2023 |
This year is the centennial of the publication of Einstein's general theory of relativity. I got my hands on the Pi Press edition, which was published 10 years ago (coinciding with the centennial of the special theory of relativity.) Yesterday, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto, sending huge volumes of information back to Earth - and the day before, CERN announced that the LHC has found proof of the existence of the pentaquark. Science continues to reach new frontiers, though nothing that can compete with the relativity revolution ushered in by Einstein a century ago.

This edition has an introduction by Roger Penrose which focuses on Einstein's theories in the history of science – where he argues (and he’s certainly not alone about that) that the special theory of relativity had in fact long been in the works in 1905 and would have been formulated eventually also if there had been no Einstein. But it is the general theory of relativity that is Einstein’s unique contribution, and which proved to be so thoroughly revolutionary.
The book also includes an essay by David C. Cassidy titled "The Cultural Legacy of the Relativity Theory" which examines the impact of the theory outside of physics. This proved to be an interesting read and for me it contained lots of new information. On the reception of the theory among the general public he writes: "Relativity was not just another important new theory. It profoundly challenged the common understanding of everyday physical concepts — space, time, mass, simultaneity.(...) Even the very name "theory of relativity," coming after the rise of Darwin's theory of evolution, seemed to confirm the decline of old absolute values and beliefs, together with the old world order, and the triumph of a universal relativism. Einstein, of course, objected to such interpretations. Relativity theory had nothing to do with relativism, he insisted. In fact, he had first called it the "theory of invariants," for its emphasis on the unchanging character of natural laws within different reference frames."
Though Einstein’s objections were indeed to the point, they also regrettably didn’t help much. It would seem that the real problem was - and still is - the widening gap between specialists and non-specialists; between scientists and the general public.

My first read of Einstein’s Relativity contained only his own text as published in 1916. After the read I didn’t really feel a whole lot wiser, but rereading Einstein's text was definitely useful. It also helped that this time I knew the disposition of the text and could attack it proceed with more patience. I also identified what had hampered me so much on the first read: that pesky Lorentz transformation! It wasn't quite as daunting this time around. Still, in comparison Gaussian coordinates is a piece of cake. So when Einstein states the general principle of relativity as "All Gaussian coordinate systems are essentially equivalent for the formulation of the general laws of nature," I feel rather relieved that I can say ok I get that - somehow. Stephen Hawking writes in A Brief History of Time that "seventy years ago, if [Arthur] Eddington is to be believed, only two people understood the general theory of relativity." Which really brightened my day -- if only for a split second however, since he goes on to say: "Nowadays tens of thousands of university graduates do, and many millions of people are at least familiar with the idea." I liked that he used the term "familiar", I feel it applies to me as well.

Also included in this edition is a commentary by Robert Geroch which provides some useful elucidations expanding on the explanations Einstein uses in the various chapters. Einstein’s own examples aren't necessarily the best, so for myself Geroch's comments were very welcome and mostly quite helpful – and he also describes more recent developments in this field. I’m certain it would have made a difference if I had started out with this edition, and I’d recommend it to anyone.




This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. ( )
  saltr | Feb 15, 2023 |
Definitely not an easy read, but worth the effort. ( )
  colinkh | Dec 15, 2022 |
I read this about 25 years ago, when I was in college and rather enamored with physics. I must have been pretty odd already; I couldn't put it down and stayed up all night reading it. I was absolutely captivated. I had to stretch my mind to its limits to not nearly grasp concepts Einstein had clearly visualized well before it was possible to verify them empirically. It’s been a long time, but I remember it being well written, even simple, and charming as well. It explained relativity (and discussed the question of whether the universe is bounded or not) infinitely better (okay, bad pun) than my physics texts and professors. It’s not Harry Potter, but you just might find it hard to put down, too. ( )
  garbagedump | Dec 9, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (50 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Albert Einsteinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hagar, AmitIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Larrucea, Miguel ParedesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lawson, Robert W.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In your schooldays most of you who read this book made acquaintances with the noble building of Euclid's geometry, and you remember—perhaps with more respect than love—the magnificent structure on the lofty staircase of which you were chased about for uncounted hours by conscientious teachers.
Das vorliegende Büchlein soll solchen eine möglichst exakte Einsicht in die Relativitätstheorie vermitteln, de sich vom allgemein wissenschaftlichen, philosophischen Standpunkt für die Theorie interesseren, ohne den mathematischen Apparat der theoretischen Physik zu beherrschen.
Gewiß hast auch du, lieber Leser, asl Knabe oder Mädchen mit dem stolzen Gebäude der Geometrie Euklids Bekanntschaft gemacht und erinnerst dich vielleicht mit mehr Achtung als Liebe an den stolzen Bau, auf dessen hohen Treppen du von gewissenhaften Fachlehren in ungezählten Stunden umhergejagt wurdest.
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Be careful when combining the title La teoria de la relatividad, translation Relativity Theory or The Theory of Relativity. The title may belong to another book and not this one.

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Time's 'Man of the Century', Albert Einstein is the unquestioned founder of modern physics. His theory of relativity is the most important scientific idea of the modern era. In this short book Einstein explains, using the minimum of mathematical terms, the basic ideas and principles of the theory which has shaped the world we live in today. Unsurpassed by any subsequent books on relativity, this remains the most popular and useful exposition of Einstein's immense contribution to human knowledge.

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Certamente un'esposizione della teoria della relatività, recante il nome di Einstein, basterebbe da sola 'a far libro', a garantire, anzi, un libro eccezionale per densità di idee, rigore concettuale e chiarezza di linguaggio anche al lettore meno esperto. Le esigenze critiche di un pubblico non più alle prime armi (la nascita della relatività risale al 1905, e gli ultimi anni visto un netto progresso della letteratura divulgativa ed epistomologica) non debbono tuttavia essere ignorate. E' la comprensione della - chiamamola così - 'relatività della relatività' che vuol essere ora perseguita: cioè di quelle premesse della teoria che sono inscritte nella precedente storia della scienza e della filosofia, e che ne costituiscono dunque sia la solida base che la condizione e il limite di validità. Il compito di introdurre il lettore a tale nuova dimensione è stata affidato dal curatore alle pagine di questi grandi, Descartes a Newton a Reimann a Maxwell, che fondarono la scienza fisico-matematica classica e ne avviarono l'evoluzione in senso relativo.
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