"What is Relativity?" or "How Modern Physics showed that Black Holes Don't Suck" by Jeffrey Bennett

What Is Relativity?: An Intuitive Introduction to Einstein's Ideas, and Why They Matter - Jeffrey Bennett

It’s confirmed. Black holes don’t suck…


I always say that TV is the devil's and god's work at the same time.  On the plus-side, the TV has probably provided the biggest push toward making science books more appealing, at least to the eye. It has created a graphic-oriented society, and the persons of today have never known any other kind.  All books deserve good graphics, but science books perhaps have the greatest need to make a good first impression, to say, "Look at me". Unfortunately illustrations can do only so much. Books are for reading, and not only to look at pictures.  On the other hand and on the negative-side, TV takes time away from us (namely to read...). I think I’m reading less and less, so I have to choose my books carefully. As one gets older, the amount of books to read seems to increase, ie, I’m on a race with myself to read the most possible books before being taken to Book Heaven (I hope…). And then this book came along that just gave me a feeling of time well-spent. It avoided the common pitfalls, namely dumbing down the subject, which is always something that ruins a science book as far as I’m concerned. This fact alone just won my heart.


When I was in college I studied physics, the Special and General Theories of Relativity in particular. It was always one of my main interests physics-wise.

In this book you’ll find plenty of mind-boggling concepts: wormholes, warp drives, black holes, etc. Take your pick.


What is the universe made of? All the countless myriads of things, living and non-living, large and small, here and in the farthest galaxies, can’t really be countless myriads. Will faster-than-light travel (FTL) be possible? I have a tendency to say “no!”, but it’s unwise to be too categorical in such things. In any case, back in 1928 Edwards Elmer “Doc” Smith wrote the first story of interstellar travel using FTL speeds, “The Skylark of Space”. He invented the inertialess drive, which is probably impossible, and which in any case would only achieve light-speed, nothing more, but the principle remains. If FTL speeds are devised, they will be far behind Science Fiction. It’s unlikely that science and technology, in their great sweeps, will ever outstrip science fiction, but in many small and unexpected ways there were and will undoubtedly continue to be surprises that no science fiction writer (or scientist, either) has thought of.


What makes a science book an appealing one? I've read many science books, and I've always wondered about the main ingredients that make a science book appealing to a general audience, and not only to science-minded persons. An appealing science book is a contradiction in terms, for science tends to have a vegetable-like reputation… Everyone says it’s good for you, but few people want to read science books.


I'm not the usual reader of science books. The typical readers of science books are unlikely to feel the hair rise in the back of their necks. These readers have to work hard to understand the content. Because of that science is often viewed as being somewhat unpleasant. It doesn't have to be this way. This book proves that's possible to write rigorous texts, without making concessions to the reader.


This book is not exactly “literature” (aka “mainstream literature”), but as a science book it’s pretty good. Its no-nonsense approach to relativity works marvelously.


Recommended reading for everyone (expert or not) who wants to have a firm grasp on one of the most fundamental concepts of the universe. On a personal note, I only wished that some of the concepts would have been explained in more detail, but that would eventually alienate some readers.


Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.