Understanding the two theories of relativity is not just a pastime for physicists. There is something existential and comforting about imagining ‘riding on a light wave’ and how the Universe might look to such an observer. The glut of books and movies on this topic is mind numbing. To me, however, most of the popular books and movies tend to gloss over the underlying theory (where all the beauty lies) – and only present the final results.
If you have ever wanted to ‘feel’ the texture of spacetime or pretend to be an accelerating non-inertial frame, you need to grasp a deeper understanding of these theories. If you have discussed the incongruent aging of twins in special relativity with your friends till 4 AM (getting nowhere), then these books (especially the first one) will help you sleep better at night.
If you only have time to read ONE of these books, start with ‘A Traveler’s Guide To Spacetime’ by Thomas Moore. It takes a lot of trouble to distinguish between different TYPES of measurement. His nomenclature of ‘Home Frame’ versus ‘Other Frame’ makes it easy to focus on the physics without getting lost in inertial frame terminology. Basically, this book will clear up a lot of misunderstandings and doubts around the basic concepts in Special relativity. It can then serve as a launching book for getting into the advanved stuff – like the problem book in Relativity and Gravitation.
are classic Feynman – he takes a field (quantum field) approach to Gravitation (not a spacetime approach) – and emerges with the General Relativity field equations. Classic – because – like everything else – Feynman tackles gravitation from the ground up. This is not a book that EXPLAINS gravitation – this is a book that DERIVES (a theory of) gravitation – from the ground up. An amazing feat.
by Einstein provides deep insight into the ‘ether debate’ and why no ‘motion’ can be ascribed to an ether. However, Einstein had nothing against an ‘ether’ existing – if by ether is meant the Spacetime fabric. He also provides insights into the nature of space as being described by 10 gravitational potential functions.
is for those who learn best by working through problems. The problems are far from simple and cover everything from coordinate transformation to Differential Geometry to Black Holes and Cosmology. The authors are all authorities on the subject – and presumably, some of the problems are part of their ongoing research. This is NOT an afternoon read !
displays the mind of a great physicist who started exploring spacetime from ‘scratch’. Starting with just a ‘connection’, he evolves towards a spactime structure with a metric (Unconnected Spacetime–>Affinely Connected–>Metrically Connected). Schrodinger has a knack for summarizing complex concepts within a sentence or two.
is one of those rare books that explains everything through diagrams. For those who were scared of SpaceTime diagrams, this (and a Traveler’s guide to spacetime) are probably the best resources for understanding the diagrams. Going beyond flat spacetimes, the authors get into General Relativity and curved spacetimes – also in a highly readable fashion.