Sunday, March 23, 2014

Space, Time, and Gravity The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes (Book review)

I'd like to post at least one review per week.  I'm posting two reviews today since I didn't post one last week.  This is a review that I originally posted on of Space, Time, and Gravity The Theory of the Big Bang and Black Holes by Robert M. Wald.  The review has been modified for the blog.  (The oriiginal review had a thank you to a category lead, dramastef, who added the product to the Epinions database.)

Every so often, I feel the need to read a science book.  Usually, it’s something current.  When I get something older, the book is either by an author I like or I don’t realize how old the book is until I get it home.  In this case, it’s the latter.  The book was published in 1977 and is based on lectures that the author, Robert M. Wald gave the year before.  The book is, as you might expect, about physics.  Each chapter corresponds to a single lecture that the author gave.

The first three help set up the rest of the book.  Chapter One is called The Geometry of Space and Time and explains about spheres and what it means to be simultaneous.  Chapters Two and Three are called Special Relativity and General Relativity, respectively, and deal with how Einstein helped to further define our universe.

The remaining five chapters deal with Black Holes.  Chapter Six, Stellar Evolution, deals with a few ways that a star might end up as a black hole.  Chapter Seven, Gravitational Collapse to Black Holes, deals with the actual collapse and what that might look like.  From there, you have Energy Extraction from Black Holes, The Astrophysics of Black Holes and Quantum Particle Creation near Black Holes.  These are yet more technical chapters on black holes.

In the introduction, Wald says that the book was intended that anyone could pick it up and read it regardless of what they know previously.  As you might have guessed from the last paragraph, it did tend to be on the technical side.   He admits that it wasn’t oversimplified, but I do think that you would have to know something about physics before beginning.  (If I were to use the word ‘isotropic’, would you need to run to the dictionary?)  Other times, it seems to be a little silly.  I noticed an overuse of exclamation points.  By Chapter Five, he was using them in parentheses.  ( ! )

I think if I didn’t know much about science, I’d be lost.  There were a few places where I think someone wouldn’t have made certain connections.  For instance, Wald talks about Lorentz Contractions during the chapter on Special Relativity.  I don’t think most people would realize what this means for an observer’s frame of  reference affecting said observer’s measurements of the speed of light.

The other problem is that these lectures were given the year I was born.  I think it’s safe to say that our understanding of the universe, particularly black holes, has come a long way in my lifetime.  I figured I’d read the book because it was short and I could get a review out of it.  I definitely don’t think it would be worth buying unless you needed it for a class.  (Historical astrophysics?)  If you’re looking for a short book to read, I’d recommend seeing if your library has it or if there’s a historical astrophysicist that will let you borrow it.

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