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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.
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on 1 August 2014
Einstein's achievements are foundation stones of modern physical theory, but like so many are quite impenetrable to laymen. Numerous books have explained their conceptual basis in terms that are too simplistic to be satisfying, since they either omit the mathematics altogether, or, like Max Born's superlative book on relativity, use very simplified alternatives. "You can't understand it without the maths" is the dismissive response by the High Priests of Science to any persistent enquiry. Yet there would be many, like the present writer, who suspect that they are intellectually equal to understanding at least some of the maths, but lack time and motivation for so tedious an undertaking.

If you're one of them, here's your chance to put your suspicion to the test.

Most people think that mathematics is about calculation. Whilst true of Elementary Maths, Higher Maths is a very different animal. Key to understanding it is to realize that it is a formal symbology for representing and manipulating abstract concepts. In Pure Maths, these have no physical interpretation; but in Theoretical Physics, some or all of the initial symbols are given correlates in physical theory. This is not unique; alchemists have a large symbology with well-defined real-world interpretations, as do many occult schools and secret societies. The difference with Applied Advanced Mathematics is the carefully-constructed set of rules for manipulating the symbols - Higher Algebras, if you like. The initial symbols are expanded into parameters within these algebras, which may or may not have physical correlates, and manipulated according to the rules to produce results, sometimes amenable to numeric solutions, that are claimed to describe or predict physical equivalents.

This is a fascinating intellectual exercise that can be followed if the underlying concepts are clearly grasped. Few have the patience or interest needed to master the mechanics of calculation, nor is there any need for this if one seeks only understanding rather than calculational expertise. Peter Collier has done all such aspirants the inestimable favour of plodding through the luminous fields of theory and barren wastes of exercises to emerge, not only with a clear conceptual perspective, but the ability to condense and present it in very readable form.

This book is a valuable contribution to a wider understanding of the inner workings of modern theories that have subtle but profound consequences in today's knowledge-based societies. The High Priests will doubtless wish him exiled to the Siberian tundras along with the likes of Edward Snowden. The rest of us can sing his praises.
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on 17 July 2014
Awesome book. Probably the best GR book I've read. The other good one is Exploring Black Holes by Wheeler.
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on 21 October 2013
Started straight on Page 171 as an introduction to general relativity and worked through the end One of the clearest expositions on the subject I have seen A few typos but less than what I have seen in other books on the subject. I felt that the author had developed the theory of tensors sufficiently well to have derived the Riemann tensor rather than leaving it as a statement The short section on the energy momentum tensor could have been a little clearer I really liked the derivation of the Schwarzschild metric, very thorough and very clear Would have kied an appendix setting out the calculations for the precession of Mercury and the bending of light but well done!
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on 24 February 2014
I describe the book as the BEST, BEAUTIFUL, BOLD, and A SUPERB ONE.
The way the book explains and teaches one of the most difficult subjects, (special and general) theory of relativity
is simply amazing. After reading this book , one would be able to understand the technical things related to tensors very easily, and would be able to do calculations with ease as well. Peter Collier has done a great job. I wanted to give more than 5 stars to this book!!
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on 2 February 2014
I have a background in mathematics for economics and econometrics but no training in physics. I have looked for this type of book for some time and A Most Incomprehensible Thing explains in a most comprehensible fashion the mathematics of relativity theory.
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on 29 October 2013
An excellent book. I am an undergraduate physicist starting level 3 studies and this book was more useful than the official university texts. A couple of days with it cleared up my frustrations, it is a pleasure to read.
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on 4 February 2014
Moves at a reasonable pace and references where you can seek further clarification when required. Excellent over of a complex subject
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on 4 January 2015
Great book, but quite hard!
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on 19 May 2014
What I liked was the commonsensical approach which is rarely found in scientific books with the right mix of formulae, worked examples and general comments. I nonetheless found the treatment of tensors very hard going : there must be some way of showing what's going on by diagrams. This book needs to be read alongside Schutz, A First Course in General Relativity that Peter Collier himself recommends highly. The latter though more advanced is sometimes more illuminating. But one fails to see why such an incredibly convoluted way of going about things should be necessary in the first place. The universe does not know Tensor Calculus and apparently does not need to. Newton's God did know Newton's Laws of Motion &c. but there is no equivalent Einsteinian God. Peter Collins does not address this issue but then neither does anyone else. Sebastian Hayes
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