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ISBN 0955706823 / 0955706807
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ForeWord Clarion | BookReview.com 
ForeWordMagazine.comCLARION Review:

SCIENCE Five Stars (out of Five)

Every time we find a problem with general relativity, the reason why that problem exists turns out to be the same: it’s that things have to be that way in order to avoid creating conflicts with special relativity,” writes Eric Baird. Could special relativity actually be, well…wrong? In Relativity In Curved Spacetime, Baird, the author of a popular Web site on relativity, takes readers on a guided tour of nearly every complex concept of modern physics, and along the way comes to the taboo conclusion that in light of what we are learning about the rest of the universe, special relativity seems to fall short of describing reality.

It is amazing how much Baird is able to cram into one book, and do it in a manner that truly puts these ideas within the grasp of the average reader. He covers a multitude of concepts, from the speed of light and whether energy has mass, to special relativity, black holes, Hawking radiation, wormholes, quantum foam, and warp drives. 

The concepts are not simple, and some understanding of physics is helpful as a starting point, but Baird has a way of explaining difficult ideas in language that makes sense. His description of quantum mechanics, leading into the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is a good example: “…we couldn’t study the finer detail of systems in a passive, nondestructive way…the energy that we’d have to pump into a region to sense and interact with fine detail would be so drastic that it could destroy or dramatically change the very systems that we were trying to measure…we found ourselves relying on probabilities as it became increasingly difficult to distinguish between pre-existing effects and those caused by our own attempted measurement process.

Baird looks at things with a fresh, honest perspective. While everyone else is frustrated over the uncertainty principle, he mentions a positive aspect: “…if information could seep out of atomic nucleii, then so could energy—this inability of atoms to allow energy to trickle out may be part of what gives them their stability…without these…properties, regular, dependable atoms as we know them might not be able to exist.

Baird avoids hiding information in the obscurity of “mathematical conventions and technical details.” He believes information about relativity to be “part of humanity’s scientific and cultural heritage” and should not be reserved for people “with a technical need to know.” He suggests technical details about special relativity “that may have crept in by the back door,” and “scary numbers, where they do appear, can be skipped by those not interested.

In Relativity In Curved Spacetime anyone interested in physics, but not quite satisfied with other explanations, will find real enlightenment, and those who are steeped in the traditional assumptions about relativity will be challenged by logic, simplicity, and a long honest look at supporting evidence. Here Baird presents physics with the clarity of one who truly understands what he is talking about.

David George
BookReview.com review, as posted on amazon.com

***** This book is excellent!, November 19, 2007

By BookReview.com (Madison, WI United States)

In this excellent discussion of relativity theory, Eric Baird introduces the reader to the history and practice of relativity theory, jauntily condensing and critiquing centuries of research as he builds his accompanying argument: that Albert Einstein's 1905 flat-spacetime special theory cannot be fully reconciled with emerging concepts of curved spacetime, and that a more general and flexible theory is required to account for the paradoxes and pseudo paradoxes implicit in Special Relativity.

Eyes glazing over already? Take heart. The book opens with a lucid and understandable primer on "Background" physics, introducing us neophytes to the central actors of the relativity drama: light, gravity, space, time and relativity itself. Once thus fortified, the reader is then prepared to penetrate denser matter. Although it can be slow going at times, the work proves surprisingly readable, and is mapped so that you can easily move back and forth in the text to refresh your understanding. It is also beautifully referenced and indexed so that you can check out Baird's many distinguished sources. Dozens of little illustrations, graphs and diagrams can be found throughout, providing excellent aids for conceptualization. In addition, Baird ornaments his discussions and section introductions with lively and thought-provoking quotes from scientists, poets, Lewis Carroll, and even Peter Sellers' obtuse detective Inspector Clouseau.

With Baird as our guide, we dopple through the workshop of quantum mechanics, navigate the vortices of black holes, explore the nooks and cranies of theory past and present, and join in the mysterious dance of the observer and the observed. Along the way, Baird postulates plausible flaws in the theories of physics giants like Issac Newton and Albert Einstein, and sheds light on the sometimes subjective manner in which scientific theory has historically evolved. A special target is Einstein's work, in particular the critical dependence of Einstein's Special Relativity theory on the assumption of flat-space time. "What if a general theory of relativity is not reducible to Einstein's original 1905 theory?" Baird asks. It is a question of some gravity.

All this, of course, can be somewhat consciousness warping for those of us who nearly failed physics 101. Fortunately, for all those brave enough to plunge in and persist, Baird has written a lucid primer on contemporary physics and relativity theory, which any attentive layperson can digest. At the same time he makes his case for "Life without Special Relativity" in language that is transparent, and enlightening. Whether you agree with him or not, you will know a lot more about physics when you finish this book than you did when you picked it up. Anyone fascinated with relativity, or seeking a deeper understanding of the subject will profit from reading Relativity in Curved SpaceTime.

394 printed pages: pp. i-xvi, 1-378. Colour cover, b&w interior, 234156mm, >200 b&w illustrations
 


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