Most helpful critical review
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Still pretty incomprehensible, I'm afraid
on 16 January 2014
I picked up this book because I've always wanted to understand the mathematical ideas and insights - the 'story' if you like - underpinning General Relativity.
I studied Mathematics at Oxford 30 years ago, and took courses in Special and General Relativity. The SR course was very clear and I quickly got the explanation for the formula of the Gamma factor, Minkowski spacetime and 4-momentum and I feel I could probably go through the essentials of the theory all the way to E=MC2 with any reasonably switched on class of Maths GCSE students. However, I just didn't get GR at all, perhaps because there was too much to fit in in a typical course. My recollection was that the course started with some general background on cosmic phenomena that GR informs us about, and then promptly dove into lots of abstruse talk of tensor arithmetic, without any discussion of the physical concepts we were trying to model. I think my initial enthusiasm about determining the secrets of cosmology was eventually washed away by a tsunami of boring talk of summation indices, covariant tensors and other sleep-inducing terms.
I was hoping that this book would succeed where my University course failed. However, it seemed much the same story - a lot of terms and arithmetic conventions without any accompanying physical discussion of the point of the exercise. Add to this the fact that the equations are basically unreadable on Kindle and I found myself skipping past most of the meat of the book.
I'm also a bit disappointed in the treatment of those parts of SR that I am familiar with. The derivation of the Gamma factor seemed a lot more wordy and equation heavy (and therefore less intuitive to the lay reader) than the "Imagine a light clock on a train" story that I'm familiar with, and the equation for the total energy seemed to be plucked out of thin air (was a logical step missed out there?) and again the point was less clearly made than the "conservation of the time-like component of 4-momentum" argument I remember from Uni.
To be fair, the synopsis does say that this is fundamentally a maths book, and you do need to "do the math" to get to the gold. However, it does claim to be a book for the lay reader, and I do wonder what sort of lay reader the author has in mind.