|The Einstein Theory of Relativity:
A Trip to the Fourth Dimension
7th December 2013
During the college years the study of the theory of relativity is usually restricted to the Special Theory of Relativity. Even that is superficially touched upon at best. The traditional reference texts explaining the General Theory of Relativity, are very good providing a solid starting point. What we lack is a reference with an intuitive feel for the subject, especially for someone who is not well versed in mathematics involved.
But there is at least one exception that we know of. Recently "The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Trip to the Fourth Dimension", authored by Lillian R. Lieber and illustrated by Hugh Gray Lieber, has been republished by Paul Dry Books.
Initially published in 1945, it is a superb first introduction to anyone interested in Special and General Theories of Relativity, experts and non-experts alike. It has a very unusual manner of presenting the text. Rather than writing the prose in the traditional paragraph format, it is written in a sequence of phrases helped along by some really beautiful and meaningful illustrations. The mathematics is not neglected either. The emphasis is on explaining the concepts to the weakest student in the class using just enough mathematics.
The section I on the Special Theory of Relativity is complete within itself and it makes sure that the reader gets the story straight before moving on to GTR. The section II on GTR is the one which really makes the reader appreciate the clarity with which the author has presented the material. For example rather than merely juggling the tensor indices up and down to define contravariance and covariance which seems to be fairly common in most of the text books, the physical concepts behind both type of tensors are explained. This is just one of the many gems this little book presents. By the time the reader is done reading the book, which by the way does not take very long, the reader is likely to be left with a very different mindset than the one he started with.
It will be very beneficial, if more books can be written with similar approach to reach out a broader audience. Maybe the topics we consider too advanced for ourselves, can be introduced at much earlier stages of a formal education system. It is a bit unfortunate that most of the students can relate Einstein to E = mc2 only, without appreciating his true legacy. We can only imagine what our schools and colleges will be like with students with an understanding of the basic principles behind STR and GTR, rather than cramming up all sorts of entropy.