Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Relativity: The Special and the General Theory" by Albert Einstein

We're finally back from our road trip, and amazingly enough, my sanity is mostly intact. Less surprising is the fact that I did not finish all six books I brought with me, though I gave it a good go and finished 3 1/2 of them.

Trip Book #3 pretty much blew my mind, and not in a good way. I have had this book for years and have never been able to force myself to read more than the first few pages (and that, only once). I can’t remember where the wild hair came from, but for some reason once upon a time I decided I ought to know something about the theory of relativity, so I googled it, and that didn’t help. But during my search I was directed to this book, which claims that Einstein explains his theories “in simple words that anyone with the equivalent of a high school education can understand.” If you look closely, you can see right there on the cover that this is supposed to be "a clear explanation that anyone can understand."

Well, they lied. Egads! I could make neither head nor tail of this book. It wasn’t the vocabulary that was the problem; it was just that I could not wrap my brain around these concepts. I know that I grew stupid when I got pregnant with my first child and I’ve been waiting ever since to become smart again, but I’m not sure if I could have understood this book even at the peak of my mental prowess. This book is mercifully short (178 smallish-sized pages, including the appendices) but it took quite some time to get through, since I often had to read a sentence three or four times to attempt to make any sense out of it—and sometimes even that didn’t work. I found that through most of the book I had to read it aloud to myself in order to come anywhere near concentrating on it and comprehending it. Which Hud, trying to stay awake while driving, didn’t much appreciate. It's not exactly a thrill-a-minute narration.

Einstein starts most of the chapters by laying out a basic premise, and I’d be reading along thinking, I get it, I get it, I get it, then all of a sudden, um . . . whaaaaaaat? Because he’s made a leap that my mind just can’t seem to follow. Not only that, but most chapters build on concepts that received treatment earlier in the book and which needed to be understood in order to grasp the new material. And I pretty much skipped over all of the equations in the appendices. It's not as if I needed to check Einstein's work for errors.

Even after reading this entire book (or maybe reading is too strong a word—I should probably replace “reading” with “looking at every word in”) I can barely explain the difference between the “special theory of relativity” and the “general theory of relativity.” (The special theory applies to “the physical relativity of all uniform motion," but I really don't even know if the general theory applies to non-uniform motion or something different. All I can tell you is that the special theory mostly dealt with linear motion while the general theory discusses curved space. I think.) I guess the most I can hope to have learned from this book is that there is more than just the “theory of relativity.” I also learned that you don’t want to take highway 385 across Oklahoma to get from Colorado to Texas, because they sure could use some of that Obama money that’s being thrown around, but I would have figured that out even if I wasn't reading anything at all.

Can I pay you to take this book from me, read it, and summarize it for me in four sentences or less? As cool as it seems to own a book that was actually written by Albert Einstein, I know for sure I will never touch it again. I mean, it's not like it's a signed copy or anything. Now THAT would be pretty cool.

I will leave you with a quote that was not found in this book, but it's related because it is attributed to Einstein, and it makes more sense to me than anything I read in his book:

"Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character."


Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

When I saw the title-- I thought: Wow-- she really does read a lot less fluff than I do--- she probably thinks I'm the biggest fluffhead around. Then I saw you couldn't make heads or tails of it... ;o)

Brave of you to give it a go--- Sorry it left your brain boggled.

hahaahahahhahhaahah.. Okla highways!

Anonymous said...

Einstein's special theory of relativity is wrong.
You can check/verify the documents/proofs by visiting

Kathy said...

Ha! THAT must be why I didn't understand it. ;)

badara said...

Hello Kathy,

As you said, this book starts quiet simply and gets very complicated by the end.

That's why I had bean reading it every 3 years since I got it, in 2002 from a little shop in Hong Kong, and until I lost it a couple of years ago .

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find it on the same edition until now.

So ...

As I leave in Paris and ...


as I read in your blog that your are "une amatrice de bon vin"
I propose to ship you a bottle
of my favourite Champagne (from a terroir so called Bouzy) against this book.

This sounds to me like a good deal. Isn't it ?



Kathy said...

Hi Biba! I really, REALLY love your idea . . . but, unfortunately, more than four years ago I mailed my copy of this book to someone named Sonja G. in Kentucky, USA through I'm sorry! Good luck on your search. I envy the person who can offer you a copy of this book in return for a bottle of your favorite champagne!