Saturday, May 10, 2014

How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog by Chad Orzel

I'm a bit of a closet physics fan.  It's hard to admit, seeing as the classes I struggled with most in college were my physics courses.  But if you don't force me to work out equations for things like how a ball bounces, and just talk to me about all the weird stuff that physics predicts, I'm an enthusiastic student.  While there are a lot of mysteries to be understood in this world, there is one thing that really bothers me.  I don't get relativity.

You know, Einstein?  E=mc2, and all that?  Of course, if I can't even figure out how to superscript the squared in this equation, what hope do I really have?

Einstein's theories of special and general relativity are elegant and straighforward, as far as these things go (at least I've been told).  It's the ramifications of these theories that will blow your mind.  Things like black holes, time travel, and spaghettification (not a pleasant thing) become topics of discussion.

Orzel frames his book as a series of discussions with his clever dog.  While in theory, the premise is cute, it comes across as contrived.  Orzel's dog listens intently to each argument and then asks highly intelligent questions that my little mind didn't have the capacity to form.  And while I get the impression Orzel is a really nice guy, his jokes fell flat.  But he tried.

I also had a hard time with the diagrams.  I am a very visual learner and the diagrams just didn't do it for me.  I found them confusing and difficult to follow.  I guess I'm a sucker for Hawking's books (something I think Orzel wouldn't be thrilled to hear).  Is it possible I just wasn't Orzel's target audience, and this book was geared toward a more learned audience?  While that might be the case, in a book that's supposed to be understandable to a dog, it's not what I would expect.

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