As helpful as the relativity-related information on the web might be – for a broader and deeper understanding, there’s nothing like a good book. On our “Further reading” pages, you’ll find a few select examples.
First of all, there are the classic, “100% math free” popular science books. Why not explore the search for gravitational waves with
Marcia Bartusiak, Einstein’s unfinished symphony
or satisfy your relativistic curiosity with the other books in our Popular science section.
Or do you want more – and are ready to re-activate a bit of that old high school math knowledge, just a few simple formulae, if it means a much better understanding of Einstein’s theories? Then the Beyond prose section is for you – for instance,
Bernard Schutz, Gravity from the ground up.
Here, you will find a small, but growing selection of popular-science books dealing with Einstein’s theories – no formulae, no math.
Bartusiak, Marcia: Einstein’s Unfinished Symphony. Listening to the Sounds of Spacetime
Exhaustingly researched and engaging description of the hunt for gravitational waves – from the beginning in the 1960s to the construction of modern interferometric detectors. Apart from acquainting the reader with the basic physics, Bartusiak does a great job showing how science actually works – from funding politics to the human face of research.
Thorne, Kip: Black Holes and Time Warps – Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy
W. W. Norton 1995
Thorough presentation of general relativity, from the basics via historical developments and astrophysical applications right down to wormhole time-machines (and a look at the media circus surrounding them). The focus is on the relativistic physics of compact objects, from White dwarfs to black holes. Thorne, himself a relativistic expert, clearly knows what he’s writing about, and has himself played a role in the developments recounts. With lots of historical information, this book should be of interest not only to the general public, but also to physicists working in the field.
Greene, Brian: The Elegant Universe. Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory
The popular science book about string theory, one of the candidates for a theory of quantum gravity. In the opening chapter, the reader is taken onto an entertaining tour of both special and general relativity, itself a masterpiece of lucid explanation. Then Greene, himself a string theory expert, moves on to superstrings and M theory. A great book that has won justified acclaim; if anything, one might criticize the somewhat too optimistic picture of the status quo and future of string models that Greene paints, and the fact that the increasing complexity in the final chapters will likely overwhelm most readers.
Greene, Brian: The Fabric of the Cosmos. Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality
In how far is space absolute or relative? What does spatial separation mean in a quantum world? Why is there a past and a future? Following up on such fundamental questions, Greene takes his readers on a journey from Newtonian physics to quantum gravity where often times, for seemingly simple questions, modern physics has found fascinating and surprising answers. Written as intelligibly and engagingly as the Elegant Universe, but with a significantly broader scope.
Hawking, Stephen: A brief history of time
Stephen Hawking’s “Brief history of time”, now available in newly illustrated and expanded editions, is truly the classic of popular science writing about physics, and one of the best-selling popular science books of the planet. For millions of readers, this was where they first heard about curved spacetime, black holes or cosmic inflation.
Hawking, Stephen: The universe in a nutshell
A colourful panorama of general relativity, quantum theory, time travel and brane worlds – with many playful professional graphics, with an emphasis on Hawking’s personal areas of research, from black holes to his favourite candidate theory of quantum gravity, quantum cosmology with “imaginary time”.
Here, you will find books that allow you to dig deeper and gain a more thorough understanding of Einstein’s theories – using simple formulae and basic high school mathematics.
Born, Max: Einstein’s theory of relativity
Dover Publications 1962
A classic introduction to special (and a bit of general) relativity, using only basic high school mathematics. In this way, readers who have seen a square root before and dimly remember what triangles were all about (calculus not required) can gain a much better understanding of Einstein’s theories than from a mere prose description. However, given its age, the book does not include any modern developments of the theories and their applications.
Schutz, Bernard: Gravity from the Ground Up: An Introductory Guide to Gravity and General Relativity
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2004
A thorough and extensive presentation of pretty much all aspects of gravitational physics, from Newton to gravitational waves. Again, basic math skills are required, but nothing as fancy as quadratic equations or, god forbid, calculus. Schutz, one of the directors of the Albert-Einstein-Institute in Potsdam, uses many instructive examples to guide the reader through the world of gravity – from the basics to interplanetary space travel, from stellar equilibrium to galaxies, and of course Einstein’s ideas are explored in depth: The basics of general relativity are patiently explained, and the last quarter of the book is devoted to relativistic astrophysics, from black holes and gravitational waves to cosmology. As a bonus, the book has its own web-site with helpful simulations, animations, exercises (with solutions). Heartily recommended for high school students as well as undergraduates.
Website “Gravity from the Ground Up”
Mermin, N. David: It’s About Time
Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press 2005
Take a physicist bent on really understanding what relativity is all about, let him think long and hard about the subject and about the simplest way to teach it to non-physicists, add the ability to write exceptionally clear prose, and you have David Mermin’s first book on special relativity, “Space and Time in Special Relativity”. Let the author’s ideas and views evolve and mature for about three decades, leavened by the experience of teaching special relativity to non-science students, pour the result into a highly readable form, and you get “It’s About Time” – probably the best book for anyone who wants to understand the basics of special relativity using no more than the simplest geometry and algebra.
Giulini, Domenico: Special Relativity. A First Encounter
Oxford: Oxford University Press 2005
An excellent basic introduction to special relativity and its consequences. The first four chapters give an overview of the theory, from its history and its basic concepts and formulae to important applications in various areas of physics. In the fifth chapter, each section takes a closer look at some special aspect of relativistic physics, including the key experimental tests of the theory, the question of superluminal velocities, and more abstract concepts like the group property of Lorentz transformations. The text is very clear and concise. Great care is taken in including all those caveats that sometimes fall by the wayside in simplified texts about special relativity. All but a few parts of the presentation can be understood with the help of pre-calculus high school mathematics. While familiarity with vectors will be of advantage to the reader – vectors are briefly introduced and sometimes used in the manner of a short-hand notation -, it is by no means a prerequisite. The book can be recommended both to students – high school and beyond – looking for a brief introduction to Einstein’s famous theory, and to anyone looking for a compact refresher course.