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

4.24  ·  Rating details ·  279 ratings  ·  63 reviews
It is common knowledge that if the Sun suddenly turned into a black hole, it would suck Earth and the rest of the planets into oblivion. Yet as bestselling author and astrophysicist Jeffrey Bennett points out, black holes don't suck. With that simple idea in hand, Bennett begins an entertaining introduction to Einstein's theories, describing the amazing phenomena readers w ...more
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Columbia University Press (first published January 1st 2014)
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4.24  · 
Rating details
 ·  279 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Manuel Antão
Oct 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

"What is Relativity?" or "How Modern Physics showed that Black Holes Don't Suck" by 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. Al
Daniel Bastian
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
"It's not your fault; rather, it is a result of the fact that we don't commonly experience the extreme conditions under which the true nature of time and space is most clearly revealed."

Jeffrey Bennett's handy resource is probably the best primer on Einsteinian relativity on the market today. Far more lucid than your average physics textbook, Bennett runs through a slew of accessible thought experiments that are easy to commit to memory. While quick to emphasize that each of the ideas discussed
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Before reading this book, I had a rather confused idea about relativity. Basic concepts lying around in my head without anything to connect them in a coherent way. I knew that time slows down the closer you get to the speed of light. I knew that the same happened the closer you got to a black hole. I had no idea how those things were connected. This book helped a lot putting some order in my head.
There's no math here at all. It begins with a couple of assumptions (e.g.: everyone records the same
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: review
Do you know everything about the Theory of Relativity? Then this book is not for you. However, if you are like me, and know little-to-nothing about Relativity but are highly intrigued by the topic, then this new book by Jeffrey Bennett may be just what you are looking for. Bennett takes the reader through the reality of the universe on a quest to understand why “black holes don’t suck”.

Bennett’s tone makes the book approachable. He uses humor well and writes in a way that minimizes the daunting
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book, even the parts I didn’t understand until I had read it several times. That is not a reflection on the author’s writing ability, it is just that my knowledge of relativity is lacking. Some of the math parts, I confess, I just skipped over as there is no way I could understand it. However, if you are like me, and have little or no background in this area, this book is for you.

The actual theory of relativity is not so hard to understand after the author explained it. But
Ryan Frantz
Apr 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Even as an introductory text, I felt I learned a lot about special and general relativity. To be honest, I realized how much I didn't know about what I didn't know.

This book has whetted my appetite to learn more about relativity, spacetime, and quantum mechanics.
Bill Seaward
Feb 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Bennett's four hour overview was very intuitive and enlightening. His descriptions were clear and understandable, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a simplified view of General and Special Relativity.
Katie/Doing Dewey
Mar 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a primer on the basic ideas of relativity. It includes great, illustrative cartoons and very little math. The author addresses many of the misconceptions people might have about concepts related to relativity because of pop culture and introduces some surprising ways relativity affects our daily lives.

Even though relativity is a topic I’ve been interested in since high school, I learned fascinating new facts from this book. The author made incredibly complex and counterintuitive concepts
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Grundläggande och pedagogisk. Har dock en känsla av att den förenklar så pass mycket att man går miste om en stor del information om orsak och verkan.
Alex Zakharov
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
It seems that with SR and GR you are either forced into a math-heavy textbook or into an “introductory intuition” category. Being insufficiently committed to suffer through the math of Lorentzian manifolds I was looking for the latter, so Bennett is what I got. Unlike Landau’s classic it covers both SR and GR, and unlike say Brian Green or Max Tegmark who cover the subject in passing, with Bennett you get a dedicated but light 150-page dip. Glad I read it, although I wish Bennett took it easy wi ...more
Troy Sievertsen
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing

What is Relativity? by Jeffrey Bennett is a nonfiction book that describes Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in a simple way. It goes over the main ideas of relativity and uses thought experiments to help readers understand them.

The main ideas of the book are that the laws of nature are the same for everyone, the speed of light is the same for everyone, and that space and time can be different depending on the situation, but spacetime is the same for everyone. So, nature acts the same for everyon

Tristram Spitsnaugle
I have to give it to him, this is incredible. I read this book because I received “A Brief History of Time” for Christmas and quickly realized that I would need a little background in science and physics before I attempted that read. That’s where this book came in.

People have attempted to explain relativity to me before. All I knew is that it allows for time travel and has to do with gravity and black holes. This book took me infinitely deeper than that. Although I do have some questions that I
Lee Belbin
Nov 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I have read dozens of books on physics and cosmology, I thought it would be good to see how well Bennett covered relativity. He did a fabulous job, hence 4-stars. Pretty much anyone with an interest in what is out there in the universe would enjoy this book. His teaching experience has honed an approach that is simple and effective in getting your head around some of the physics that are not apparent in the eveyday life of 99.99% of us. If you REALLY get it, it is literally awesome, scary, ...more
Jan 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Learned a ton from this book. I now see why general and special relativity are so important to things like GPS (time dilation) and why we can see multiple images of celestial bodies (gravitational lensing). This should be taught at the high school level because our common sense is actually a liability to our knowledge of how things work deeper in the universe.
Matt Gever
Sep 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good background reading for novices like me who want to know more about Einstein and what relativity is.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Didn’t finish—found it confusing
Jan 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This is not your definitive guide to the theory of relativity. Important concepts are glossed over and not elaborated on, so this book would serve better as an elementary introduction to the topic.
Feb 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It’s not you, book, it’s me. (I should start out by saying that I’ve had a very long history of not liking physics, which is kind of ironic since I have an engineering background.) But really, if I were a normal non-physics-hating person, I would’ve really liked What Is Relativity? for Bennett’s ability to explain abstract concepts in a fun and simple way. I loved the first half of this book, but by the end, the physics concepts and the repetitiveness of the thought experiments overpowered Benne ...more
Mark Flowers
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A couple years ago, when I reviewed Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Space Chronicles, Angela mentioned that Tyson had been picked to host a sequel to Carl Sagan’s famous “Cosmos” miniseries. That sequel, “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is now being aired to great acclaim (and some controversy, among creationists)–the 8th of 13 episodes will air on Sunday.

So now seems like a perfect time to dip into some great science writing. Jeffrey Bennett’s What is Relativity? is certainly one of the best nonfiction book
Susanne Doorn
Read the full review at

The book is easy to read. There are no hard mathematical equations in it.
It has a lot of nice thought experiments in them that you might want to try yourself.
I was immediately taken by the chance to interpret my understanding of the theory of relativity to apply it to human nature. We live in nature, and obey the laws of nature. It would be very obvious that our psyches are effected by those laws in a way that mirrors those laws.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
In my ongoing quest to understand relativity, it was recently time for me to read yet another book on the subject so I turned to Jeffrey Bennett's What Is Relativity? Do I now understand? Not completely, but much better than before. Is this a good book? Absolutely.

What Is Relativity? is extremely well written. The concepts are clearly explained, and there is frequent movement back and forth between abstract ideas and concrete examples. The overall structure of the book is well organized and logi
Apr 14, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: net-galley
Received via NetGalley and Columbia University Press for an completely unbiased review.

Jeffrey Bennett is no Brian Greene, but then again his own method of explaining basic physic principals seems to weave its way into its own set of followers. What is Relativity? Special Relativity? Why is it important for scientists that Einstein created Relativity, and what can it be used for? These are a few of the questions that Mr Bennett covers in his brief book of a mere 192 pages.

This concise book in
Destiny Dawn Long
I received an advanced review copy of this title from the publisher, through NetGalley.

For a long time I've wanted to learn about relativity. When I took an astrophysics class in university, it was discussed a little bit--but was mostly glossed over in favor of topics considered more essential. So, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to review this title from Columbia University Press.

Bennett takes a topic that is considered by many to be too advanced to understand--and makes it accessible t
Donald Mosier
Feb 11, 2015 rated it liked it
This book offers a very clear, non-mathematical explanation of both special and general relativity. I really, really wanted to give it more than three stars. I suspect that anyone who had not read a lot about this topic already would give it four or even five stars. For those people, I would highly recommend this book. They would learn a lot about the topic.

Unfortunately, there were many of those almost right but not totally correct statements, probably stated that way to not overly annoy those
Jenny Boyce
Sep 18, 2013 rated it liked it
I do not recommend that you read this book unless you have a pretty solid understanding of mathematics and physics principles. There were numerous parts throughout the book where I got somewhat confused because I couldn't keep up with the authors math/reasoning.

There was a lot of math in this book. Instead of just writing out what you'd do, or giving a rough idea of the equations used to come up with justification, the author writes out and solves the exact equation. This bogged down the book fo
Sep 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
The book is full of tiny nuances that delighted this practicing physicist/teacher. So many irritating but standard aspects of others' attempts are quietly and elegantly corrected in Bennett's book. And I kept finding great new gems:
* page 29 "asking how you can go faster than light is somewhat like asking how you can walk north from the North Pole." Perfect. It's not an exact analogy, but it's indeed "somewhat" similar to this conceptual thing that anyone can understand.
* same page: Pausing to h
Jun 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
This was a good book for those who want to dip their toes into the pool of physics and the theories of Albert Einstein. He does a admirable job breaking down complex physics topics into digestible bits which you can wrap your head around. It is a quick read and broken up well enough that you do not need to read it all the way through. You can take breaks and pick the book up after a couple days and carry right on through

The only issue I had with the book is the fact that it sometimes breezed ove
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received a copy of this book from Goodreads FirstReads program.

Jeffrey Bennett did an excellent job explaining this subject, but also making me feel like I should care. I knew basically nothing about relativity other than it existed, Einstein did it, and that it seemed hard. I did not realize at all how much it explains including gravity and space.

This book was really easy to read, entertaining thought experiments with a sense of humor kept my attention throughout. The pictures and diagrams
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

The book is written at such a level that a person with some technical background or without it can grasp the main ideas. I have some technical background (very basic though); and I found the book easy to read, understand the main concepts even though following every single idea is difficult but because of the topic and not the author.

The best of the book is the discussion of the implications of the general relativity theory. The author
Oct 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, ya
It's difficult for me to review a nonfiction book. The elements that make me love or hate a fiction book just aren't here. It wasn't exactly a riveting page-turner, but the author did present the information in a way that would appeal to science-minded high schoolers and maybe a few middle grade readers with astrophysicist dreams. I didn't love the book (probably because I am not just wild over the theory of special relativity) and it did crush all the things I thought I knew about the universe ...more
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“The event horizon is the point at which the speed required to leave the vicinity of the black hole (the escape velocity) is the speed of light, and because Einstein’s theory tells us that no material object can reach that speed, nothing can escape from within the event horizon.” 1 likes
“In principle, time would come to a halt for an object moving at the speed of light.” 0 likes
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