A large number of books have been published in recent years that attempt to explain relativity to the layman. Many cover the standard topics, often in a similar way; very few have a really original approach to what is, after all, well-trodden ground. So what makes this book different? Well, for one thing there is the dog; the book is partly a continuing dialogue between the author and his (talking) dog Emmy. It follows his successful book "How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog". Not haven't read that, I approached the present volume with some hesitation, because a talking dog seemed to be a rather twee device and I assumed it would be simply annoying. But I was wrong. Yes, the dog doesn't always add much to the narrative, but the exchanges are often humorous, and usually to the point. Moreover, the conversations are interwoven with somewhat more technical discussions (but still without mathematics) covering the same ground, so the canine ones provide lighter intervals to break up these latter explanations. Overall, it works rather well, certainly better than I had expected.
The first half of the book deals with difficult concepts like measurement, simultaneity and synchronization. These are vital to appreciate relativity and so are discussed in considerable detail, with many examples and some repetition. Without care, there is an obvious danger of this being rather dull, but the author, in the main, successfully avoids this by the extensive use of easily understood diagrams, and exploiting the device of the dog. The book covers special and general relativity, and in the second half discusses some interesting applications of the latter. As to be expected, these are mainly from the field of cosmology, although there is a brief discussion of the GPS system that we all rely on, and a quick venture into the field of particle physics, with a chapter on attempts to unify the forces of nature and the difficulties of constructing a quantum theory of gravity. Of particular note is the excellent detailed description of the physics of black holes, done without significant `dumbing down'. These discussions do mean that the book is somewhat longer than some other popular expositions (there is a useful glossary if you forget some definition), but including this material gives a much better overview of the importance of relativity in modern physics and brings the subject alive.
Above all, the book works primarily because the author is a highly skilled expositor of intrinsically difficult concepts. His students must love his lectures, with or without the dog.
Some people may have slept through their physics classes but not me: I barely did any at all and what was taught at our rather demure girls' school was delivered so badly that I could not wait to drop the subject. History was much more fun.
Nowadays, I rather regret it and I have been trying to make up for lost ground. Of course Einstein is a "must know" and Chad Orzel and his dog, Emmy, have ridden to my rescue with this totally enchanting little tome. Mind you, as the proud owner of six cats, I am not sure whether it would be Nero (a cat, of course) whom I would have been consigning to a black hole...
Professor Orzel explains Relativity via conversations with his dog, an eager creature who is anxious to understand his master's work. He is also clearly an extremely intelligent beast with a natural talent for understanding complex theories at "first pass". I am not sure that the same can be said for me.
The subject is presented in a logical fashion. First, we have some basic ground work, then move to Special Relativity and finally to General Relativity. There are also diagrams along the way to assist in grasping the topic. The most interesting bits for me were when we came to applying the topic and I readily understood the synchronisation of GPS systems and the astrophysics. I had more difficulty with the light cone and the space time chapter where the diagrams were more complex.
I absolutely loved the book, especially since the author is a clear enthusiast who delights in his subject. This made up for the fact that I felt that the reader really needed some prior knowledge to grasp the topics thoroughly and I found myself resorting to some background reading to support my learning. (I researched Newton, for a start.) The knowledge acquisition curve was really very steep for a novice but I was determined to continue lest lost momentum might lead me to lose interest. I also thought that the diagrams were not over clear in places and I would have appreciated larger ones and, perhaps, in colour! Perhaps I should have read Professor Orzel's first book on teaching physics to your dog before embarking on this one.
This is a splendid book to buy for an intelligent friend who adores science. I, for one, found it riveting in the end and started reading it in corridors at work and even allowing it to accompany me to the toilet. It has certainly enhanced my life and I have encouraged friends to buy copies as a result. For my part, I now have a list of topics to research as a spin-off so I am (Emmy, please forgive me) a very happy bunny!
on 26 October 2012
Well, you expect the dog bit to get annoying after a while, but hey, it's what it says on the cover! Otherwise it is a great, easy to understand introduction to the concepts of relativity. The dog of the conversations can be substituted with any figure you wish: student, child, adult, whatever. The important thing is the author has approached the subject from the point of the layman who doesn't have an extensive physics background (unlike some other recently lauded works, which claim to be an everyday introduction to subjects such as quantum mechanics and so on but are way beyond this layman's understanding). If you need to understand what is meant by relativity and its importance and relevance to us, then you should start here.
on 6 June 2015
Having previously read "How to Teach Quantum Physics to your Dog" I had a good idea of what to expect in this other book by Chad Orzel. In each chapter, Orzel seeks to explain some element of physics linked to relativity, while Emmy, his dog, frequently interrupts with questions or opinions. The concept is an interesting one, in that the role of Emmy is to ask the dumb questions that the reader might be pondering. This approach also gives Orzel an opportunity to restate what he's already written, therefore reinforcing the points he wants to get across.
To a great degree this approach works and it also allows some humour to lighten the text. For example Emmy, rather than being impressed by what she learns, is quite scathing and sarcastic in places about how much physicists don't know about the universe. It's also clear that Emmy, despite being a dog (although no average dog since she can hold conversations), already understand a lot about physics - certainly more than does the average non-physicist who might be reading the book. Consequently, many of the points she raises probably wouldn't have occurred to "ordinary" readers. She's also irritating in that despite an in-depth knowledge of physics, Emmy is naive is other areas, such as referring to elevators [or lifts, in British-English] as Magic Closets, although I suppose a cynic might say that theoretical physicists may also have such an unworldliness about them.
Notwithstanding these minor irritations, this is a good book which, besides covering the core areas of relativity, also ventures into related areas such as particle physics, cosmology, black holes, dark matter, dark energy, and unified theories (including string theory). I struggled somewhat in Orzel's explanations of Minkowski diagrams, but to a large extent I blame this on me reading the Kindle version where viewing pictures at the same time as reading the text is challenging. I would have fared better in this regard had I read a paper version of the book.
on 1 July 2014
Once you get used to the folksy style of Orzel's conversations with his talking dog (sic), this is really a very clear and thorough survey of both special and general theories of relativity. Actually about half the text consists of straightforward author-to-reader explanations, and you realise after a while that the intervening doggy dialogues provide welcome, often genuinely funny, relief, allowing you to digest the sheer enormity of the concepts. Furthermore, Orzel puts questions into the dog's mouth which anticipate a reader's likely demands for more clarification. I thoroughly recommend this book and look forward to reading the companion volume on Quantum Physics.
Professor Chad Orzel and his mad mutt Emmy are back, this time to explain the concepts of relativity. I enjoyed enormously the companion book on quantum physics last year, and was very much looking forward to seeing the other great area of modern physics receive the same treatment.
As before, Orzel sets out a clear account of the field, working in many cases from first principles, but continuously framed by very funny exchanges between him and his dog, who, like any of her kind, is constantly looking for ways to increase her food intake, and her success in hunting bunnies and squirrels.
The quantum physics volume introduced me to a lot of relatively new thinking and experimental evidence, and I was hoping for the same this time, but relativity is obviously a more mature field, and there was less that was new to me in this book. That said, the teaching of this field has obviously moved on since my student days, and I was surprised to find, for example, the concept of relativistic mass increase referred to as an "old" model, with the book focusing much more on momentum calculations. Similarly the basics of special relativity are presented using a range of geometrical models, with a heavy emphasis on the spacetime diagram, which is a different approach to some previous books I've read.
I had some complaints about the Kindle edition of the quantum physics volume separating diagrams and footnotes too far from the relevant text. On this occasion I received a physical copy of the book and was looking forward to that being less of an issue. The physical book layout is definitely better, but could still be improved, as diagrams are often a page or more away from the descriptive text.
However, that's a minor niggle, and really my only one. If you want to learn more about relativity and also have a good laugh, this is a strong recommendation.
on 25 October 2012
I like to think that I'm a well-educated person, but I know next to nothing about relativity beyond the famous mass-energy equivalence "e=mc2" and the infamous prohibition against faster-than-light travel. Orzel's book is my first crack at understanding it since I last opened "A Brief History of Time" or, perhaps, my tragically doomed attempt at "The Road to Reality" by Roger Penrose (if that counts; I never got far enough to encounter relativity). It's a marvelously lucid explanation of the topic that doesn't understate the difficulty of the project, or reduce it to a few fatuous metaphors.
Central to Orzel's success is the book's star, Emmy the dog. Aside from injecting some much-needed comic relief and surprisingly deep musings on the implications of relativity (for a dog, anyway) Emmy and her cat-chasing life provide a familiar, consistent backdrop for relativistic events to unfold. By sticking to a handful of setups throughout the book and expanding upon them, Orzel makes it easy to keep a grip on the material. This is most crucial as he moves from special to general relativity; I don't think I'd ever have understood this section if I didn't feel one hundred percent confident about the consequences of the principle of relativity upon dogs in cars.
That's not to say that this is a technical tome translated into dog-ese, though. Orzel weaves a history of relativity into the text, with many diverting notes and asides, and his writing is warm, conversational, and focussed. I can't say I'm not still confused about relativity, but I will say that at least I know what's giving me trouble now. The best compliment I can give the book is that I look forward to moving onto something more technical.
I have read through "How to Teach Relativity to your dog" - and so far the approach by the author - Chad Orzel - has been helpful. I think the reader takes the role of the dog - Emmy - ably helped by the cat - Nero in asking dumb questions about a very heavy subject.
Relativity -at least one object moving relative to another -is a very tricky subject to get your head around. Chad Orzel is making a sterling effort to help you understand relativity without frying your brains whilst you try to get your head around clocks running slower or your mass reducing -especially as you get closer to the speed of light.
I can't say that I have understood everything that Chad has described -but that is my fault. His diagrams and explanations do build slowly to help the reader to understand quite complex issues.
One "relative" example is the 2 trains in the station. You are on the carriage of one them and you see someone in the carriage on the adjacent one. The person begins to move backwards -relative to you. Does that mean that his train is pulling out of the station in the "x direction" or that he is stationary and you are moving in the "-x direction"??!!
Chad Orzel gives examples of dogs and cats moving at speed along the road, of a ball being thrown, of clocks ticking etc and how observers in different positions moving relative to each other see what they see. Also about Galileo being bored in a church service and watching the swing of a candle and timing it -with his pulse -and hey presto periodicity and clocks appear!
How Einstein took the perfectly good laws of Newton and expanded them into relative movements between objects. How Maxwell and Lorentz came up with elegant equations and that light electric and magnetic fields are closely related.
I like his discussions about e=mc2 and that -on page 173 - falling Kibble may have more energy than a proton but to convert enough Kibble into mass you would only gain about 1 x 10 to the power minus 19kg! Tiny indeed!
The Feynman diagrams (page 186 onwards) are interesting as they link time upwards from the bottom whilst left and right lines show the position of say an electron in space. The interaction of 2 electrons is interesting - but still very difficult to grasp
The book is slightly out of date now as the elusive Higgs boson particle has just been "found" (page 190)
How Michelson timed light travelling at right angles to itself and how clock times on jet planes can vary when the planes whizz around the Earth.
How long is your dog? Well you need to measure its nose and tail at the same time to be really sure.
This book does have some simple equations -which still need time to get your head around
I have encountered "spacetime" -so yes, there is x,y,z three dimensions but as objects move in these directions relative to each other and at speed -then time becomes an equally important fourth member dimension
Then -if you accelerate -changing velocity as you go -the picture needs more thought
I think Chad Orzel is doing his best to open the box to the man and woman in the street. Like Emmy I am looking forward to what this means in my ability to catch bunnies or travel through a tunnel where my lead seems to be getting shorter..
I would think that the book is well worth a look compared to all those other books out there. Maybe as a support reader to "A" level physics..
From page 199 there is some familiar stuff like Galileo's observations with falling objects and their size -plus of course Newton's laws. How black holes can absorb and bend light. There is also THE Einstein equation on page 226 (no, not the e=mc2 one)which links mass and energy and is a wee bit more complicated than the e=mc2 equation.
I like the idea of "spaghettification" as Emmy approaches a black hole she gets stretched so much that...bang!
A large part of the rest of the book talks about astronomy items -some of which I know already -like neutron stars, the Big Bang and the Cosmic Background Radiation -oh, and pulsars too
I like the explation for parallel lines not crossing in space (p261) but that lines of longitude do eventually converge as you approach the poles.
The subject of the just right Goldilocks universe and just what is all that dark matter?
Also about String Theory bridging the way waves move and gravity + electromagnetism and nuclear forces together
My final thoughts after reading the book -and true, not understanding a lot of it..is that Man has been able to lift the bonnet on an amazing universe. The universe has worked fine without Man being involved at all. So now we observe it - but just how was it created. There was something before the Big Bang to create the ingredients for the Big Bang.....I hope you enjoy delving into this book -it's a heavy subject for humans -never mind Emmy!
Chad Ortzel has written another book that appeals to those of us who have an interest in the science of physics. His previous book - the one I read first anyway, was How to Teach Your Dog Quantum Physics. Now he managed to get across some very hard to grasp concepts in as good a way as possible to those laypeople who don't have a degree in astro-physics. I won't say I got it all but certainly be did a better job than Brian Cox because I now have a glimmer of understanding something that is fundamentally at odds with the large scale Newtonian physics we see each day.
With regard to relativity he is on easier ground. At least for me anyway as I have a little understanding of it already being an engineer. Of course I got the book to increase that knowledge and Chad manages to do that very well indeed. His writing style is deceptively easy to read and he is clearly a good conveyor of hard to grasp concepts. If his dog can get it then I figured I could too. What I will say is that if you cannot in your head deal with spacial orientation it's going to be a tougher ride. If you can then what is written here is understandable with a bit of thought and effort.
Overall a great book if you are interested in this area of physics or I guess have a love of astronomy where understanding relativity would probably be useful.
This is by far the most accessible book about any aspect of physics that I have ever read. My fascination for this subject is un-ending; unfortunately my capacity to understand many of the concepts is not and when reading entire books devoted to this most discombobulating of subjects I often find my brain turning off before the end in a bid to save my sanity. This book is different. By using the device of conversations with Emmy, the author's lovably cheeky and inquisitive dog, he is able to talk to the reader in a way that is amusing and sometimes fairly simplistic (well, as simplistic as the subject allows), whilst conveying all the concepts that, in the hands of many other authors would lead to said brain failure. There are still many jaw droppping, head scratching, brow furrowing moments but in most cases these are followed by clear and concise explantations. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject but think it's too hard to understand. In the hands of the author (and Emmy), it's not. Oh, and there are very few equations, which is always a good thing for me. Mind you, I started to understand even those with this book's help!