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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 13 October 2010
I have read several books on this subject, including those by Jim al-Khalili (very good) and that rather annoying Brian Cox (OK) but surprisingly it was THIS book that pulled it all together and helped me grasp some of the finer points. Lots of bang-on analogies (which are the key to getting your head round relativity) and clear, crisp explanation. Even the odd bit of humour ! Not that long at only 109 pages but it packs it in and I reckon this is where everyone should start - I wish I had read this first before attempting the wordier efforts.
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on 2 May 2009
There's been a review of this in the CERN Courier, and they said it all. It is a very good and deep intro to the subject, in a few pages, basically the one to read if you ever read only one (and there 's quite
a competition on the market there). Very good job. Recommended.
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on 17 March 2010
For people interested in Relativity, wanting a reliable descripion of what it is and the effect it has without going through the mathematics that Einstein used to support his theory, this is an excellent little book. Its very readable and packed with facts.

I have two other volumes in the series, Particle Physics and Quantum Theory, and can recommend these also - an excellent series.
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on 8 April 2015
On page 7 of this book the author refers to 'the expression under the square root sign'. He is setting out the mathematical basis of the phenomenon of time dilation. Unfortunately, there is no square root sign in the equations set out here, so mathematically challenged folk like me are even more at sea. I take the view that relativity is so interesting that, despite its practical irrelevance to common experience, anyone with a reasonable education ought to be able to understand the basic concept. Why not put the final equation of a series like that at (1) on page 7 in a box on the page with identifying notes for each of the symbols? The box could be headed 'It can be shown that'. As to how, the whole sequence of equations could be put in an appendix for those who are better at manipulating abstractions. For some, mathematics is a language, but not for all.
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on 2 July 2016
I have no problem with this book as an interpretation of relativity as it is well written and the author has made every effort to simplify this complex subject. However, while the theories of relativity have been with us for over a hundred years and experiments have supposedly proven these theories to be valid, I remain somewhat sceptical of phenomena, the existence of which can only be explained by abstract analogies and esoteric mathematics. Unfortunately, this VSI does little to alter my view as it requires too much to be taken at face value which seems to be a common failing with books on this subject.
Perhaps this is the nature of relativity, but given the absolute certainty that eminently qualified physicists exhibit about the validity of their interpretations, it is not unreasonable to expect at least one of them to be capable of explaining the principles in terms which have some relevance to the real world. There is an interesting quote attributed to Einstein that says ‘If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough’, so I suspect many concepts such as time dilation, curved space and a flat universe will remain in the domain of the mind for the foreseeable future.
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When "Time" magazine chose Albert Einstein as the person of the century for the 20th century it was due to his incredible intellectual achievements. Among those, two stand as particularly remarkable, becoming forever uniquely associated with their inventor, in minds of general public and professional scientists alike. These are the special and general theories of relativity. Their reputation is fully deserved. The two theories of relativity forever changed the way that we look at the space, time and matter. They touch upon our deepest understanding of physical reality and their core principles have stood the test of time, a remarkable achievement after a century full of usurpations of some of our most cherished notions.

The special and general relativity also have a reputation of being incredibly complex and hard to understand. In the case of special relativity this has primarily to do with the non-intuitive way that the world of four dimensions appears to us. In the case of general relativity, however, the complexity is substantially increased by the use of very advanced mathematical structures that it requires. And yet, all of the mathematical and conceptual implications of relativity stem from a few very simple ideas: the relativity of all reference frames, the constancy of the speed of light, and the equivalence of acceleration and gravitational field. It is a remarkable achievement of Russell Stannard's book to explain so much with just a very basic application of those principles. This makes it possible for a general reader to appreciate these beautiful theories without having to get bogged down in heavy mathematics. All examples in the book are intuitive and accessible. The illustrations are clear and serve to reinforce the main points in the text. One of the particularly remarkable features of this thin book is that it gives a full treatment of the "Twins Paradox" taking into the account the principles of general relativity - something that is usually brushed over in many other treatments.

The only problem with the book that I have concerns a few math examples that are used. The math notation is not quite clear, and even as simple a math symbol as a square root is printed in a very inadequate way. Also, there are a few glaring math mistakes (3/5 is not .67), but overall these are minor points that don't distract too much from the main content of the book.

I would strongly recommend this book as a good starting point for learning about relativity.
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on 9 March 2016
Knowing of Russell Stannard's books for children and given the glowing reviews here, I had high hopes for this book. I was hoping I would have a clear understanding of relativity after reading this book, but I am sorry to say that I am still a bit confused about some aspects of relativity. The section on special relativity was fine although it was a fairly standard treatment in my view. But he lost me when he started using the Doppler shift to explain the effect of acceleration (or gravity) on time. For example I still have no clear idea why gravity affects time and I found his discussion of the rocket on the launch at this point in the book confusing (despite having a first-class degree in chemistry). Nor is the principle of maximum proper time explained (why maximum time, surely it should be minimum?). The book then becomes very cursory as it discusses topics associated with relativity (black holes, cosmology), perhaps inevitably so since he is running out of space. But Stannard does not make it clear if the universe really is flat or not and he falls into the common error of saying that the visible universe has a radius of 13.7 billion years. One plus of the book is that he sticks with one analogy (a spacecraft and an earth-bound controller) throughout the book rather than constantly changing the analogy used as other books on relativity do. I guess I will have to try reading the difficult bits again although I may read William Kaufmann's famous book instead.
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on 18 November 2010
One of the difficulties in teaching A level is that the text books tend to be curriculum specific. This means the basic concepts are often stirred in with various calculations and practical investigations.
If you are to teach any subject you need to nail the basic concepts and theory first and that's what these very short introductions (VSIs) do very well. I am currently working through thermodynamics as I will be teaching this again soon and it is not a favourite subject however the VSI has helped clarify key points and has given some useful analogies that will be used in the classroom. The particle physics has improved my teaching and I have had positive feedback from students who have read it (I know some do actually use the reading list!!)
These should be in the school library and listed as recommended reading for all A level physics students and teachers old and new.
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on 3 October 2010
Excellent introduction to the subject. However, if you are already more or less familiar with the fundamental concepts of relativity, then this Very Short Introduction is a little too short. You probably want something a little more advanced - maybe something at the "intermediate" level.
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on 8 December 2012
Quite simply this is the best introduction to Special and General Relativity you will ever read. It's taken scientists a couple of generations to make it this easy. This book is suitable for introducing an 'A' level student to the subject. The only thing I would like to add is the observation that gravity IS the time dilation gradient. In other words it's just a part of the fabric of space-time.
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