BOOK REVIEW: The Einstein Theory of Relativity by H.A. Lorentz

The Einstein Theory Of RelativityThe Einstein Theory Of Relativity by Hendrik Antoon Lorentz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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It’s hard to complain about this book because: a.) it’s a free kindle book, b.) the author was brilliant, a Nobel Laureate, and a man whose work contributed to the discoveries of Einstein, and c.) it’s a very short book, clocking in at about 60 pages, and so it’s not a huge time investment–though for most it will be a bigger time investment than its page count would suggest.

All that being said, I’ll be upfront and tell you that his work is the product of a different era and doesn’t establish its audience clearly.

Science writing, particularly on subjects as arcane as relativity, is a challenge. One has to pick an audience and carefully write for that audience. If ones audience is broad (i.e. not well-trained in science), this means one has to accept a lot less precision in exchange for clarity. In other words, one has to write like Brian Greene or Michio Kaku do in their popular works. On the other hand, if you want to write for technical people, you should probably feel free to show your math and sling the technical jargon.

This book tries to walk a middle ground. It doesn’t lay the subject out in clear, simple, and entertaining analogies. (With the exception of a moving car analogy early on that gets bogged down.) However, there’re no equations or highly technical and jargon-suffused discussions. (Though the section on deflection of light does get into measurements and is bit technical.)

So the question the reader needs to ask themselves–provided they haven’t had physics since high school or their freshman year of college–is whether they are willing and able to grind through reading that will require them to think hard the whole way. One doesn’t need a big science vocabulary, and you aren’t asked to ponder any equations, but you do have to noodle out what the author is saying to get value out of the reading. As I implied earlier, this book (pamphlet) took me considerably longer to read than 60 pages normally would–and I read a fair amount of popular science works.

Of course, given that it’s free, it’s worth a try if you have a Kindle. If nothing else, you should come away with some basics– such as what differentiates special from general relativity. If you don’t like the book you can always buy a Greene or Kaku book to explain the subject in a more palatable fashion.

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BOOK REVIEW: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Einstein's DreamsEinstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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One might think that a novel written by a physicist would make for dreadful reading–and most of the time one would probably be correct. However, Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams is a fascinating read. The arc of the book–what makes it a novel rather than a series of short scenes–is conveyed by a prologue, a few interludes, and an epilogue. These brief sections show an Albert Einstein as he went about life trying to work out his special theory of relativity.

In between the interludes are a series of written sketches that depict dreams that might have been had by Albert Einstein between April 14th and June 28th of 1905. Each of these dreams depicts an alternative universe in which time is not experienced as we experience it: that is, as an inexorably flowing river with a clearly defined arrow. In one dream, time is circular. In another, a lifetime is compressed into a day. In another, there is no flow of time; the world is a snapshot. In another, immortality is the norm. In the latter dreams of the book, we see a convergence on time as we know it–though in dream-like abstraction.

This short book is both creative and well-written. Lightman excels at creating scene through vivid description. His approach to structure is unique.

One thing that might have improved the book is if the author had been a little bolder. Lightman feels the need to explicitly state what is going on in each dream world. However, his description is strong enough that such discussion is generally anti-climactic–one already knows how time is working (or not working) in a given universe before the author states it explicitly. Thus, these explicit descriptions succeed only in taking one out of the dream.

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