Very Special Relativity: An Illustrated Guide

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9780674026117: Very Special Relativity: An Illustrated Guide

Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, first published in 1905, radically changed our understanding of the world. Familiar notions of space and time and energy were turned on their head, and our struggle with Einstein's counterintuitive explanation of these concepts was under way. The task is no easier today than it was a hundred years ago, but in this book Sander Bais has found an original and uniquely effective way to convey the fundamental ideas of Einstein's Special Theory.

Bais's previous book, The Equations, was widely read and roundly praised for its clear and commonsense explanation of the math in physics. Very Special Relativity brings the same accessible approach to Einstein's theory. Using a series of easy-to-follow diagrams and employing only elementary high school geometry, Bais conducts readers through the quirks and quandaries of such fundamental concepts as simultaneity, causality, and time dilation. The diagrams also illustrate the difference between the Newtonian view, in which time was universal, and the Einsteinian, in which the speed of light is universal.

Following Bais's straightforward sequence of simple, commonsense arguments, readers can tinker with the theory and its great paradoxes and, finally, arrive at a truly deep understanding of Einstein's interpretation of space and time. An intellectual journey into the heart of the Special Theory, the book offers an intimate look at the terms and ideas that define our reality.

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About the Author:

Sander Bais is a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam.

Review:

Einstein’s theory of special relativity charmed some physicists immediately, and the general public soon after. More than a century later, guides to the topic are still in demand. This attractive little book mirrors Einstein’s theory in simplicity and design. Like a user manual for nonexperts seeking to understand the counterintuitive predictions of relativity, every page of concise text is paired with a space-time diagram. Bais, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam, chose a geometric approach intentionally, as it was the theories of relativity that drove physics back into the arena of geometry in the early 20th century. Visual learners will appreciate the pictorial language and lack of algebraic equations. (Science News 2008-02-02)

A valiant attempt to visually depict the counterintuitive truths in Einstein's 1905 theory. Bais' vocabulary is friendly (to a point), and his spacetime grids, with their red, yellow and blue arrows, are certainly tantalizing. Staring at these grids long enough may well provide a flash of insight.
--Sara Lippincott (Los Angeles Times 2007-09-30)

None of us will ever have the opportunity to travel at the speed of light. We will therefore never directly experience the malleability of a world governed by Einstein's special theory of relativity. But spending time with this elegantly designed little book is a great way to try. With its fantastic visual aids and concise explanations, we get a glimpse of what it's like to live in a world of flexible time and pliable objects. (Seed 2007-11-01)

When space shrivels and time slows, the world according to Einstein's special theory of relativity can be a confusing place. Luckily, Sander Bais's new book is here to help...Pages of diagrams accompanied by concise explanations illuminate all the oddities of relativity, from the twin paradox to E=mc2. For visual learners looking for a substantial, no-frills tour of Einstein's universe, this little book is a trusty guide. (New Scientist 2007-11-10)

The elegant illustrations help Bais lead the reader from Einstein's postulates through the ideas of simultaneity, inertial frames, time dilation and relativistic energy and momentum, eschewing the usual admonitions against equations. The author's clever idea of pairing every page of text with a space-time diagram (a graphical tool actually used by relativists) to illustrate the concepts and mathematics suits the geometrical basis of its subject perfectly...It is rare for science books to rate as objects in their own right, but Very Special Relativity is a lovely little object. You could easily imagine a web-based version of it, with a bit of animation to serve its pedagogical needs. Still, there is some quality about the hard covers and high resolution that even my 26-inch screen wouldn't be able to capture. No longer is there an excuse for physics textbooks to be expensive, boring, thick or stuffed with equations in order to qualify as good teaching material.
--Andrew Jaffe (Nature 2007-11-01)

This is an absolutely delightful little book...A work that is pleasing to the eye and to the mind.
--A. Spero (Choice 2008-05-01)

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