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Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell [Hardcover]

A. Zee
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 May 2013 069114558X 978-0691145587

This unique textbook provides an accessible introduction to Einstein's general theory of relativity, a subject of breathtaking beauty and supreme importance in physics. With his trademark blend of wit and incisiveness, A. Zee guides readers from the fundamentals of Newtonian mechanics to the most exciting frontiers of research today, including de Sitter and anti-de Sitter spacetimes, Kaluza-Klein theory, and brane worlds. Unlike other books on Einstein gravity, this book emphasizes the action principle and group theory as guides in constructing physical theories. Zee treats various topics in a spiral style that is easy on beginners, and includes anecdotes from the history of physics that will appeal to students and experts alike. He takes a friendly approach to the required mathematics, yet does not shy away from more advanced mathematical topics such as differential forms. The extensive discussion of black holes includes rotating and extremal black holes and Hawking radiation. The ideal textbook for undergraduate and graduate students, Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell also provides an essential resource for professional physicists and is accessible to anyone familiar with classical mechanics and electromagnetism. It features numerous exercises as well as detailed appendices covering a multitude of topics not readily found elsewhere.

  • Provides an accessible introduction to Einstein's general theory of relativity
  • Guides readers from Newtonian mechanics to the frontiers of modern research
  • Emphasizes symmetry and the Einstein-Hilbert action
  • Covers topics not found in standard textbooks on Einstein gravity
  • Includes interesting historical asides
  • Features numerous exercises and detailed appendices
  • Ideal for students, physicists, and scientifically minded lay readers
  • Solutions manual (available only to teachers)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 888 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (5 May 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 069114558X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691145587
  • Product Dimensions: 25.2 x 18.8 x 5.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 104,472 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2013

"Zee writes in an informal, conversational style, displaying his extensive experience and close contacts with many undergraduate and graduate students."--Choice

From the Inside Flap

"Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell is a remarkably complete and thorough textbook on general relativity, written in a refreshing and engaging style. Zee leads us through all the major intellectual steps that make what is surely one of the most profound and beautiful theories of all time. The book is enjoyable and informative in equal measure. Quite an achievement."--Pedro Ferreira, University of Oxford

"Zee's new text on gravitation provides a wonderful introduction to Einstein's theory. Written at a level accessible to undergraduates, it prepares its readers for work at the research frontier, gently leading the reader to a modern and sophisticated understanding of the subject with a humorous, often conversational style. Providing broad coverage of the subject, including cosmology and black holes, it is an excellent complement to Hartle's book and good preparation for Carroll's."--Michael Dine, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell is richly infused with the author's wit and wisdom, with a refreshing emphasis on concepts rather than mathematics. Zee's writing is characteristically insightful, humorous, irreverent, and accessible."--Andrew Hamilton, University of Colorado, Boulder


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A good bedtime read - or was for me 5 July 2014
By Eric
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A good, well written book. It explains concepts in an easy to understand way. Relativity is tricky, but I achieved and understanding, this book has closed the loop for understanding gravity.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a big, pretty, strong, and formidable nutshell 5 Aug 2013
By Ramses
Format:Hardcover
Zee has produced another "nutshell" book, applying the same recipe as in his brilliant Quantum Field Theory book. This is largely in the same vein, with all the nitty gritty details mixed with anecdotes, humour, and quite unique personal writing style. This is heavy going, very heavy in parts, but it will be a book to keep you busy and interested for a long while. Other reviewers have said it all - I have hundreds of GR books at home, not claiming to have perused them all though, but this one is one of the best on the topic (I admit I had a quick read through - if you wanted to go into all the details, it could indeed take years).
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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The one GR book I'd bring to a deserted island 26 April 2013
By FC22 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
My favorite popular physics book happens to be Prof. Zee's own _An Old Man's Toy_. I found that book more enlightening than (the likewise excellent) books by Brian Greene or Michio Kaku, for example. _Toy_ is infused with physical insight and clear writing. This unique textbook from Prof. Zee reads much like _Toy_ but with all the added mathematics. Thus, it imparts that same physical insight but this time backed by the underlying mathematical and scientific details. The result is a textbook that's humorous, playful, and authoritative mixed with equal parts irreverence, verve, and gusto. Learning general relativity has never been so fun.

And funny, I might add. There are lots of excellent textbooks on general relativity. Professor Zee's new offering differs from all of them, however, in that he takes a lighthearted approach to the subject without sacrificing rigor or thoroughness. Passages describing light following a least time principle because light isn't "stupid" enough not to and dutifully informing us that "After Lagrange invented the Lagrangian, Hamilton invented the Hamiltonian" made me break out laughing. The book abounds with dry humor and witticisms. His introduction of the action principle is particularly mirthful.

But for all the comedy, the book is thorough. One example is the treatment of Hawking radiation. It's as complete as I've seen in other relativity textbooks and even Raine and Thomas's textbook on specifically black holes. Another example is the emphasis on the action principle. For that Prof. Zee discusses the background variational calculus and derives in detail the familiar Euler-Lagrange equation; I mention this only because these steps are often omitted in books on more advanced subjects that assume knowledge of the action principle. There's also a discussion on the relativistic relationship between electricity and magnetism. Some electromagnetism texts, such as Purcell, Schwartz, or Ohanian, perform this derivation in one form or another (I happen to think this is how electromagnetism should be taught), but I haven't seen many general relativity texts step outside their usual confines to broach this subject. I suspect Dr. Zee did so because it beautifully illustrates the symmetry and unification of physics that he has eloquently written about previously. And the last 100 pages or so touch on peripheral topics found also in quantum field theory and string theory, such as Kaluza-Klein theory, Yang-Mills theory, branes, and twistors. A discussion on quantum gravity is included as well. A lot of this is speculative, but as Prof. Zee wryly, and funnily, asserts, textbooks "should not consist exclusively of material that has been carved in stone, or even worse, embalmed." Dr. Zee further demonstrates that the theory of gravity extends beyond the merely secular by thoughtfully providing a section that employs gravitational theorems to prove that Hades isn't on (or in) Earth. Or that if it is, it's not how conventional wisdom depicts it. This book truly has something for everyone, even those unfortunate souls doomed to perdition.

Adding immensely to this book's charm are the analogies. That objects of different mass fall at the same rate can be shown easily enough mathematically, but Prof. Zee likens that fact to different airlines following the same flight path between Los Angeles and Taipei. So masterfully simple, yet I'd never thought of it that way before. The book is packed with similar insights and thought experiments that crystallize many of the concepts. Professor Zee also includes numerous interesting anecdotes and personal observations from the world of relativity, many of which are contained in the end-of-chapter notes. Whenever I came across a superscripted number I immediately paged to the chapter end to read that corresponding note. Those are as fascinating as the main text itself. The notes range from literature references to detailed excursions into topics off the beaten path to the just plain funny. They're not to be missed.

Reading this textbook is like being regaled by that friendly, enthusiastic professor during a profound hallway conversation. I gleaned insight after insight, had several forehead-slapping "Of course!" moments, and chuckled heartily at the humor. It was worth the month I had to wait for it to arrive. If you liked Prof. Zee's quantum field theory textbook, you'll enjoy this one even more. The words on the pages come alive, almost as if he were right there in the room lecturing to you. For self-study especially, as I'm doing, this book is ideal; and, likewise, students whose professors assign this textbook will be in for a fun semester. Whatever the occasion, _Einstein Gravity In A Nutshell_ is a wonderful, worthy addition to the canon of general relativity books.
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the Best That's Out There 4 Jun 2013
By William O. Straub - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I learned general relativity from the old 1965 Adler-Bazin-Schiffer introductory text, which at the time was the best available. Then Misner-Wheeler-Thorne's Gravitation book came out in 1973 which, though commendable, was basically an advanced graduate-level text. Since then many more general relativity books have appeared, but to me none as useful as ABS.

Now we have Anthony Zee's Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell. There is nothing to compare with it, and whether you are an undergraduate who wants to get some general relativity under her belt, a graduate student seeking more advanced topics for study, or a professor getting ready to teach the subject, then by all means buy this book.

What is truly amazing about Zee's book is its sheer breadth and scope of everything general relativity touches, from black holes to electromagnetism to dark energy to string theory and far, far beyond. Zee has thrown everything in here, including the kitchen sink, and the only way he could keep it down to 865 pages was to typeset a major portion of the book in smallish print.

I haven't counted, but there must be thousands of equations in the text, most of which Zee takes you by the hand through, but there are also many challenging exercises that Zee assumes the student can handle alone.

Perhaps best of all is Zee's entertaining way of writing. He can be deep and profound as well as clever and funny, and his many anecdotes, sprinkled throughout the text, give the reader a sense of the sheer awe and wonder that he and hundreds of other great physicists have experienced since Einstein's 1915 announcement of his general relativity theory.

Other than the fact that it could take years to work one's way through the entire book and its derivations and exercises, I could find no fault with the book. After many hours of reading, I could find only one typo in the text -- on Page 490, Zee misspells "ad nauseam."

Though not as advanced as the 40-year-old MWT book (which I was hard pressed to learn anything from anyway), Zee's book simply stands far and above everything else that's out there.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A witty and wise introduction to general relativity 7 Jun 2013
By Lubos Motl - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Anthony Zee - as Zvi Bern noted - decided to do something else than just to teach some technical material. His mission is make many readers fall in love with the physics of general relativity by having written this wonderful tome, Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell. Bern said that the goal wasn't to create new experts but Zee corrected him that he wanted to make the readers fall in love so deeply that they may dream about becoming experts, too. And the clearly enthusiastic Anthony had to enjoy the writing of the book, too.

I received this large, almost 900-page scripture on Einstein's theory a relatively short time ago. Obviously, I haven't read the whole book yet but I may have spent more time with it than most readers of this review (more than zero) so that I can tell you why you should buy it and what philosophy, style, and content you may expect.

It's a book addressed to a wide variety of readers, including very young ones (perhaps college freshmen and bright high school students) and amateur physicists. Experienced physicists and professionals may find some gems or at least entertainment in the book, too. Because of this goal, the book starts with elementary things such as the units including G,c,ℏ and Planck units, relativity even in classical physics, as well as basics of curved spaces, differential geometry, and so on.

The style is witty and somewhat dominated by words - and amusing titles. You may find lots of philosophical and historical remarks and stories from Anthony's professional life but the physics is always primary. And I mean physics, not rigorous mathematics. Zee is focusing on objects, phenomena, and their measurable and calculable quantities and the purpose of physics is to understand them and calculate them. So he spends almost no time with various picky issues - whether a function has to be smooth; whether one should use one fancy word from abstract mathematics or another. In fact, he considers the suppressed role of rigorous maths to be a part of the "shut up and calculate" paradigm that he subscribes to.

In some sense, you could say that the approach resembles the Feynman Lectures on Physics. It is very playful and the author is always careful to tell you things that are still fun and stop elaborating on details when he could start to bore you. So the book (probably) keeps its fun status at every place (it's true for the portions I have read). But Anthony Zee manages to penetrate much more deeply into general relativity with this strategy.

Once he goes through all the basics - which allow a beginner to start with the subject almost from scratch but which seem very entertaining for a reader who doesn't really need such introductions anymore - and he answers all the FAQs on tensors and lots of other things, he offers some of the simplest derivations of Einstein's equations and is ready to apply them.

It's useful to know what concepts are considered primary starting points by the author. I would say that Zee is elevating the concept of symmetries and the action - the latter allows us to formulate most dynamical laws in classical and quantum physics really concisely (although we know perfectly consistent quantum systems that don't seem to have any nice action; and the action always assumes that we prefer a particular classical limit of a quantum theory - and the classical limit isn't necessarily unique).

Concerning the applications, some of the historically important applications that were designed to verify the theory are suppressed in the book. But you get very close to the cutting edge, including the general-relativistic aspects of topics that are hot in the contemporary high-energy theoretical physics and the cosmological/particle-physics interface. So you may actually learn advanced topics about black holes including some Hawking radiation (including the numerical prefactors of the temperature; but the author doesn't go extremely far here; note that amusingly enough, the Hawking radiation is even discussed in an introductory chapter); large and warped extra dimensions; de Sitter and anti de Sitter space including a discussion of conformal transformations (although it doesn't seem like a full-fledged textbook on AdS/CFT); topological field theories; Kaluza-Klein theory (with extra spatial dimensions) and braneworlds; Yang-Mills theory (there's lots of electromagnetism in the earlier chapters); even twistor theory; discussions on the cosmic inflation and the cosmological constant problem; and heuristic thoughts on quantum gravity (some of them are more heuristic than the state-of-the-art allows us; but Zee's philosophy is that textbook shouldn't be composed exclusively of the totally established stuff ready to be carved in stone).

Using lots of witticisms and clever analogies, Zee also proves some things you wouldn't expect - e.g. that Hades isn't inside the Earth. The equivalence principle is compared to the decision of all airlines, regardless of the size (and the size of their aircraft), to fly between two distant cities along the same path on the map. Witty and apt.

Anthony is convinced that most authors are explaining things in unnecessarily complicated ways - in some cases, perhaps, they want to look smart by looking incomprehensible. That's not Zee's cup of tea. He enjoys to simplify things as much as possible (but not more than that). And he loves to formulate things so that the reader is led to the conclusion that things are simple and make sense, after all. For example, there is a fun introduction to the least action principle (light isn't stupid enough not to know the best path) and we learn that "after Lagrange invented the Lagrangian, Hamilton invented the Hamiltonian". It makes sense, doesn't it?

There's a lot to find in the book. Some readers say that the book is less elementary than Hartle's book but more elementary than Carroll's. Maybe. Anthony is more playful and less formal but there are aspects in which he gets further than any other introductory textbook of GR.

The book is full of notes, a long index, and simply clever (unsolved) exercises. The illustrations are pretty and professional. If you are buying books to see photographs of attractive blonde women with toys, you won't be disappointed, either.

Because the book is really extensive and even the impressions it has made on your humble correspondent in those several days are numerous, I have to resist the temptation to offer you examples, excerpts etc. because that could make this review really long by itself. Instead, I recommend you once again to try the book.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Perfect 25 Dec 2013
By Nate - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell" had some problems. The book was for a very small segment of people and completely useless to others. It was basically "A quick look at QFT for those who already know QFT."
- If you didn't know physics, you would get stuck at page 1.
- If you didn't have a BS in Physics, you wouldn't get past page 10.
- If you didn't know QFT yet but are ready to take it, you wouldn't get past page 25. The book is too brief to learn anything from. Too many equations seem to be pulled out of a hat.
- If you knew QFT already, you would absolutely love the book.

This book really took the same enjoyable style and presentation, but alleviated this above problem of Zee's previous book. This book teaches you everything that you need to know to learn GR from scratch. You could read this book with only a year or two of physics and make some serious progress. If you are ready to learn GR, this book will thoroughly teach you GR. The same could not be said about QFT Nut.

All in all, this is one of my favorite books. A must buy for anybody learning GR.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars all the good and wealth that a nutshell can contain 31 May 2013
By Joshua Feinberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Tony Zee's new book Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell is an excellent new addition to bibliography on this subject.
It is aimed at a population of readers on all scales, from novices making their first steps in the subject to practicing researchers. Great effort is dedicated on pedagogic clarity, examples, exercises and assorted solutions for greenhorns. The book is self-contained, careful enough to include clear introduction to prerequisite topics such as analytical mechanics and the variational principle, basic differential geometry, special relativity and electrodynamics. Serious good students and autodidacts will find this tome very friendly and an efficient guide for self-studying. Experts are rewarded by clear discussions on advanced cutting edge topics for experts. Anecdotes and interesting historical comments are an extra bonus.

Chapeau to Professor Zee for work well done! It's destined to become a major resource on GR and
gravitation for many years to come.
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