Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell
Book Preface
Not simple, but as simple as possible
Physics should be made as simple as possible,
but not any simpler.
—A. Einstein
Einstein gravity should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.
My goal is to make Einstein gravity∗ as simple as possible. I believe that Einstein’s theory should be readily accessible to those who have mastered Newtonian mechanics and a modest amount of classical mathematics. To underline my point, I start with a review of
F = ma.
Seriously, what do you need to know to read this book? Only some knowledge of classical mechanics and electromagnetism! So I fondly imagine, perhaps unrealistically. More importantly, you need to be possessed of what we theoretical physicists call sense— physical, mathematical, and also common.
I wrote this book in the same spirit as my Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell.1 In his Physics Today review of that book, Zvi Bern wrote this lovely sentence aptly capturing my pedagogical philosophy: “The purpose of Zee’s book is not to turn students into experts— it is to make them fall in love with the subject.” I might extend that to “fall in love with the subject so that they might desire to become experts.” Here I am echoing William Butler Yeats, who said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
A portion of this book can be used for an undergraduate course. I have done it, and I provide a detailed course outline later in this preface.
Accessible is not to be equated with dumbed-down or watered-down. Also, accessible is not necessarily the same as elementary: in the last parts of the book, I include some topics far beyond the usual introductory treatment.
Mystrategy to make Einstein gravity as simple as possible has two prongs. The first is the emphasis on symmetry. As some readers may know, I have written an entire book2 on the role of symmetry in physics, and I absolutely love how symmetry guides us in constructing physical theories, a notion that started with Einstein gravity, in fact. The second is the extensive use of the action principle. The action is invariably simpler than the equations of motion and manifests the inherent symmetry much more forcefully. I can hardly believe that some well-known textbooks on Einstein’s theory barely mention the Einstein-Hilbert action. Symmetry and the action principle constitute the two great themes of theoretical physics.
To get a flavor of what the book is about, you might want to glance at the recaps first; there is one at the end of each of the ten parts of the book.
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