The best books on the theory of relativity

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the theory of relativity and why they recommend each book.

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Relativity Visualized

By Lewis Carroll Epstein,

Book cover of Relativity Visualized

Relativity Visualized is simply the secret weapon for understanding Einstein’s theory of relativity. Professor of physics Lewis Carroll Epstein uses brilliant, accessible visualizations (and no equations!) to help any reader to a good conceptual grasp of special and general relativity. If you want relativity without the math, this is the one.


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I teach courses in the philosophy of space and time, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of science. In addition to several authored and edited books on the philosophy of time, I have published many scholarly articles on time, perception, knowledge, and the history of the philosophy of time. I have always been attracted to the philosophy of time because time is quite simply at the root of everything: through the study of time we confront and illuminate the deepest possible questions both as to the nature of the physical world and as to the nature of human existence.


I wrote...

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

By Adrian Bardon,

Book cover of A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

What is my book about?

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time is a short introduction to the history, philosophy, and science of the study of time-from the pre-Socratic philosophers through Einstein and beyond.

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time covers subjects such as time and change, the experience of time, physical and metaphysical approaches to the nature of time, the direction of time, time travel, time and freedom of the will, and scientific and philosophical approaches to eternity and the beginning of time. I use illustrations and keep technical language to a minimum in bringing the resources of over 2500 years of philosophy and science to bear on some of humanity's most fundamental and enduring questions.

Philosophy of Physics

By Tim Maudlin,

Book cover of Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory

When a world-class philosopher of physics is also a spectacularly gifted writer, you have the makings of an extraordinary book. This book offers a comprehensive introduction to various interpretations of quantum mechanics, while Maudlin's companion volume on the philosophy of space and time is equally highly recommended. Maudlin is a (very) opinionated guide, which makes these books even more valuable (and enjoyable to read). I especially enjoy Maudlin’s refusal to tolerate any of the nonsense that one often finds in quantum mechanics textbooks that depict the “Copenhagen interpretation” of quantum mechanics as indeed a genuine interpretation of quantum mechanics. Rather, as Maudlin forthrightly says, the “Copenhagen interpretation” amounts to a failure to offer any interpretation at all of quantum mechanics. Instead, it treats quantum mechanics merely as a device for predicting the chances of our making various observations.


Who am I?

My undergraduate physics textbook asked, “What is an electric field? Is it something real, or is it merely a name for a factor in an equation which has to be multiplied by something else to give the numerical value of the force we measure in an experiment?” Here, I thought, is a good question! But the textbook said that since electromagnetic theory “works, it doesn’t make any difference" what an electric field is! Then it said, "That is not a frivolous answer, but a serious one.” I felt ashamed. But my physics teacher helpfully suggested that I “speak to the philosophers.” I am very pleased that I decided to become one!


I wrote...

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass

By Marc Lange,

Book cover of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass

What is my book about?

The philosophy of physics did not begin with the notorious puzzles raised by the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Those puzzles arose against a background of deep questions about classical mechanics and the 19th-century field theories of electricity and magnetism. What is energy? Is it some kind of stuff that flows through space? Are the electric and magnetic fields real things pervading all of “empty” space? Do fields actually cause bodies to move or are fields merely bookkeeping devices that we use for predicting our observations? How are electricity and magnetism “unified”?

This book investigates all of these questions so that when it finally reaches relativity and quantum mechanics, there is a philosophical context in which to appreciate the questions that those theories provoke.

Einstein for Everyone

By John D. Norton,

Book cover of Einstein for Everyone

This book has it all. It describes Einstein’s own fascinating path to both the special and the general theories of relativity. It explains why relativity theory involved such revolutionary steps and yet remains continuous with 19th-century physics. It examines (and, in some cases, debunks!) the philosophical morals (about spacetime and about the logic of scientific reasoning) that have sometimes been drawn from relativity theory. And it looks closely at the reasons for Einstein’s critical attitude toward quantum mechanics. Norton is not only one of the world’s leading Einstein experts, but also a superb writer and teacher.


Who am I?

My undergraduate physics textbook asked, “What is an electric field? Is it something real, or is it merely a name for a factor in an equation which has to be multiplied by something else to give the numerical value of the force we measure in an experiment?” Here, I thought, is a good question! But the textbook said that since electromagnetic theory “works, it doesn’t make any difference" what an electric field is! Then it said, "That is not a frivolous answer, but a serious one.” I felt ashamed. But my physics teacher helpfully suggested that I “speak to the philosophers.” I am very pleased that I decided to become one!


I wrote...

An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass

By Marc Lange,

Book cover of An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics: Locality, Fields, Energy, and Mass

What is my book about?

The philosophy of physics did not begin with the notorious puzzles raised by the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. Those puzzles arose against a background of deep questions about classical mechanics and the 19th-century field theories of electricity and magnetism. What is energy? Is it some kind of stuff that flows through space? Are the electric and magnetic fields real things pervading all of “empty” space? Do fields actually cause bodies to move or are fields merely bookkeeping devices that we use for predicting our observations? How are electricity and magnetism “unified”?

This book investigates all of these questions so that when it finally reaches relativity and quantum mechanics, there is a philosophical context in which to appreciate the questions that those theories provoke.

Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity

By Tim Maudlin,

Book cover of Quantum Non-Locality and Relativity: Metaphysical Intimations of Modern Physics

This is a wonderful and highly convincing analysis of quantum non-locality, written by one of the top expert philosophers of science. Personally, I learned a lot from this book, which clearly influenced me and helped me to become an expert in the field. The book goes deep into explaining why we live in a world full of non-local correlations and what that means. It analyses in depth the tension between quantum non-locality and relativity. Moreover, it contains several original ideas, like, e.g., how many bits of communication are needed to simulate quantum non-locality. It is still today a very timely book.


Who am I?

I am totally fascinated by the quest of how Nature does it. In particular, I love the fact that humans managed to enters the strange world of atoms and photons by just using their brute intellectual force and imagination. This world obeys precise rules, but very different ones from those we get used to since childhood. For example, the laws that govern the microscopic world allow for indeterminacy and randomness. Moreover, some random events may manifest themselves at several locations at once, leading to the phenomenon of quantum non-locality. I am very fortunate that I could spend all my professional time on such fascinating conceptual questions, combined with highly timely new technologies.


I wrote...

Quantum Chance: Nonlocality, Teleportation and Other Quantum Marvels

By Nicolas Gisin,

Book cover of Quantum Chance: Nonlocality, Teleportation and Other Quantum Marvels

What is my book about?

I am a specialist in quantum nonlocality, teleportation, and applications like quantum cryptography. With this concise book I want to give everyone a chance to understand these fascinating features of quantum mechanics, without equations but also without hiding the conceptual difficulties. Everyone willing to make an intellectual effort should be given the chance to share my fascination for contemporary quantum theory and its potential applications.

Einstein

By Walter Isaacson,

Book cover of Einstein: His Life and Universe

Walter Isaacson may well be America’s pre-eminent biographer. Einstein: His Life and Universe is a powerful book that leaves no stone unturned in providing an understanding of the motivation and methods of this extraordinary scientist. It also provides the foundation for my book

There is both depth and feeling in Walter Isaacson’s biography. The reader comes away with an understanding and appreciation of how a patent clerk, whom no physicists wanted to work with, managed to find, through his vision and persistence, answers to the most challenging and complex scientific problems of his day. It is a great story.


Who am I?

Albert Einstein famously said that he wanted to know God’s thoughts. At least for now, the best I can hope for is knowing the thoughts of monumental figures of science through the ages. In my short and very readable biographies, I focus on the aha! moments when Einstein, Darwin, Carson, Edison, Carver, and others had their epiphanies, when they not only envisioned how to break through longstanding barriers, but understood how to create the foundation for a better future. I believe we can all not only understand how they did it, but we can identify with these inspiring—and very humancreative acts.


I wrote...

The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity

By Bryant Wieneke,

Book cover of The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity

What is my book about?

Albert Einstein is living a quiet life in Switzerland with his wife and baby, but his mind is not quiet. He is haunted by the belief that there’s something terribly wrong in the world of physics. The Day Albert Einstein Discovered Relativity tells the gripping story of how this simple yet brilliant young man changed the world by recognizing the earth-shattering importance of a common event. No one has ever told the Einstein story in such a personal and insightful way.

The Physicist & the Philosopher

By Jimena Canales,

Book cover of The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

The debate on the nature of time between Henri Bergson, one of the most important philosophers at that time, and Albert Einstein, happened on April 6, 1922. Although many people believe that Einstein gained the upper hand in this showdown, comparable perhaps only with the ‘rumble in the jungle’ between Foreman and Ali in 1974, matters are more complicated. Jimena Canales has written a thriller about this clash of cultures fighting about time. She opens up a cosmos of philosophy and physics embedded in culture and shows how one hour of talk in 1922 still has relevance 100 years later for what it means to be human.


Who am I?

I am a research fellow at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg, Germany. I studied Psychology and Philosophy at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland) and Munich (Germany) and have a Ph.D. in Medical Psychology from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Between 2004 and 2009 I was Research Fellow at the Department of Psychiatry, University of California San Diego. My research in the field of Cognitive Neuroscience is focused on the perception of time in ordinary and altered states of consciousness. The investigation concerning the riddle of subjective time as based on the embodied self leads me to answers of what matters most, the nature of our existence as self-conscious beings.


I wrote...

Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self

By Marc Wittmann,

Book cover of Altered States of Consciousness: Experiences Out of Time and Self

What is my book about?

In Altered States of Consciousness I explore personal reports, individual case studies, and scientific investigations of what happens at the frontier areas of personal experience, where the self and time are affected. In such peak states people report a feeling of ‘timelessness’ together with a loss of the sense of self.

Altered States of Consciousness covers a variety of mind-altering states in the healthy brain, under the influence of psychedelics, during meditation, in spiritual moments, as well as in near-death experiences. Important research is conducted studying the sense of self and time in patients with depression and schizophrenia, and in certain individuals with epileptic auras. This book summarizes anecdotal reports in combination with recent scientific investigations in order to help build ideas for an understanding of phenomenal consciousness, of our existence, of what makes us humans.

The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does)

By Brian Cox, Jeff Forshaw,

Book cover of The Quantum Universe (And Why Anything That Can Happen, Does)

This is a competent, charming account of the various mind-boggling quantum phenomena. It includes the uncertainty principle, the quantum atom, how quanta interact, the quantum vacuum, and the Standard Model. The book also ventures into the discussion of the transistor (the device behind the digital revolution) and the death of stars. Uniquely, we learn why all these results follow the basic principles of quantum physics. The authors explain these phenomena in terms of a qualitative version of Feynman's path-analysis approach to quantum physics. I hasten to emphasize that this analysis is understandable by non-scientists, and shines a nice light on why the quantum world has the unexpected properties that it does have. Cox's popular writings are widely read in the UK. Both authors are physics professors at Manchester University.


Who am I?

Since my first college course in quantum physics, I have been fascinated with this enigmatic, infinitely interesting theory. It's our most fundamental description of the universe, it's been found to be unerringly accurate, yet it's quite subtle to interpret. Even more intriguingly, "nobody really understands quantum physics" (as Richard Feynman put it). For example, the theory's central concept, the wave function, is interpreted radically differently by different physicists. I have always yearned to grasp, at least to my own satisfaction, a comprehensive understanding of this theory. Since retirement 23 years ago, I have pursued this passion nearly full-time and found some answers, leading to several technical papers and a popular book.


I wrote...

Tales of the Quantum: Understanding Physics' Most Fundamental Theory

By Art Hobson,

Book cover of Tales of the Quantum: Understanding Physics' Most Fundamental Theory

What is my book about?

You've heard that we live in a world made of atoms. More fundamentally, we live in a universe made of "quanta." Many things – light, radio, electricity, gravitational fields, neutron stars, black holes, dark energy – are not made of atoms. But everything is made of highly unified bundles of energy called "quanta" that obey the rules of quantum physics. This is a book about these quanta and their unexpected behavior tales, if you will, of the quantum.  

Quanta are reputed to be incomprehensible. But, although their peculiar habits are not what we would have expected, these habits are comprehensible. This book explains those habits – wave-particle duality, fundamental randomness, quantum states, being in two places at once, entanglement, non-locality, Schrodinger's cat, quantum jumps – in everyday language, without mathematics.

What Makes Time Special?

By Craig Callender,

Book cover of What Makes Time Special?

Our best physical understanding of the universe has no place for the passage of time as a distinct dynamical process. What time it is ‘now’ is no more a fundamental aspect of the universe than what place is ‘here’. This strikes many as counter-intuitive or impossible. Philosopher Craig Callender takes the reader on a very thorough examination of modern physical theories of time in search of an explanation as to why the time of physics seems to diverge from the time of human experience. He argues that, due to the way the laws of physics are constituted, time is just the dimension that allows for the most informative explanations for physical phenomena.


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University, with a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I teach courses in the philosophy of space and time, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of science. In addition to several authored and edited books on the philosophy of time, I have published many scholarly articles on time, perception, knowledge, and the history of the philosophy of time. I have always been attracted to the philosophy of time because time is quite simply at the root of everything: through the study of time we confront and illuminate the deepest possible questions both as to the nature of the physical world and as to the nature of human existence.


I wrote...

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

By Adrian Bardon,

Book cover of A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time

What is my book about?

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time is a short introduction to the history, philosophy, and science of the study of time-from the pre-Socratic philosophers through Einstein and beyond.

A Brief History of the Philosophy of Time covers subjects such as time and change, the experience of time, physical and metaphysical approaches to the nature of time, the direction of time, time travel, time and freedom of the will, and scientific and philosophical approaches to eternity and the beginning of time. I use illustrations and keep technical language to a minimum in bringing the resources of over 2500 years of philosophy and science to bear on some of humanity's most fundamental and enduring questions.

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